Every year when I get ready to go to Montreal I wonder how long it is that I’ve been going. This year I found actual proof that I’ve been going for more than 25 years because I actually found my “VIP” pass from 1992, and I know it wasn’t the first year I went. The festival was only 10 years old and the pass was laminated but my name was written in marker and the pass was on a string. A plain white string. I brought it with me to show Paul Ronca, whose official title reads, “Director of Industry and Special Events Programming”. He’s the guy who works tirelessly to make sure that everything comes off right.
So during the festival I get into the elevator and who’s in there but Maureen Taran, currently an executive with truTV, just upped to the position of VP of Talent, but in those days was working at the festival in logistics. I show her the pass and she’s like, “Jeffrey, that’s my handwriting. I wrote out that pass for you in 1992, 25 years ago.” And she couldn’t believe it was on a string and that “Victor” the JFL gremlin’s logo was colored in green on my pass which meant something special. She actually remembered doing it but she couldn’t recall what it was. It was really amazing that of all people I happened to show it to her and she remembered writing it so long ago.
Since that time literally millions of jokes have been told at JFL, and I was there to hear a lot of them. This festival was the 35th and somehow magically seems to get bigger every year. My main focus besides seeing as many shows as I could, was covering the two main red carpet events, one for Kevin Hart’s LOL Network, where I hoped to interview Kevin, and the other was the JFL Awards honoring Trevor Noah as the Comedy Person of the Year, Kenya Barris as the Comedy Writer of the Year, Ali Wong as the Breakout Comedy Star of the Year, Mike Birbiglia as the Stand-Up Comedian of the Year, Craig Ferguson getting the Alumni Tribute an award created just for him, and to me the biggest was Jim Carrey receiving the Generation Award being presented to him by no less than Judd Apatow, now not only the King of Hollywood but also the King of cable TV.
It would be impossible to describe my time there in chronological order so I’m going to present some of the highlights in no particular order. It starts at the airport coming and going. Going up was with the APA team and Rick Glassman. Coming home it was Corinne Fisher, and Krystyna Hutchinson, New Face star Blair Socci, and Nathan Macintosh with Aaron Berg. Funny story about Aaron. I’m just about to sign in for the Kevin Hart red carpet. The woman asks me my name and before I get a chance to answer, literally at that very second, Aaron comes down the street with Annie Lederman yelling out at the top of his voice, “Is that Jeffrey Gurian? Look Annie it’s Jeffrey Gurian!” and the woman from the PR company says, “Well I guess you’re Jeffrey Gurian,” and signs me right in. The timing couldn’t have been better!”
It was the David Spade Gala watching Godfrey, Sarah Tiana, the Lucas Brothers and Jeffrey Ross kill it for the cameras. Then it was the Colin Jost/Michael Che Gala for TV where they came out to a high-energy standing ovation which seemed to shock them both by its intensity. It’s obvious they have so much fun performing together and evidenced by their opening. They not only co-host Weekend Update but are also really good friends, and we all hung out to celebrate at the hotel lobby bar afterwards long into the night. Phil Hanley crushed on that show as did Lil Rel, Jim Norton and Steve Byrne who Colin said was the first comic to ever take him on the road and to whom he was very grateful.
I was hanging with Big Jay Oakerson at his What’s Your Fucking Deal show, and seeing Kevin Hart hold court at a security sectioned-off site in the lobby with Russell Peters, Bryan Callen, Sherrod Small, Tony Rock, and whoever else was let past the watchful eye of Kevin’s security. He’s always well protected wherever he goes, and before I even saw Kevin just seeing a section of the lobby cordoned off I kind of knew it would be Kevin. When he came over to greet me I told him I’d be seeing him the next day on the red carpet.
I attended the press junket for CNN’s History of Comedy docu-series which is a gift to all true fans of comedy and got to videotape an interview with W. Kamau Bell a frequent guest on the show along with Mark Herzog one of the Executive Producers.
It was Andy Kindler’s annual State of the Industry speech which he told me he’s been doing for 22 years, which followed directly after the JFL Awards show and the Guys We Fucked Live Experience with my girls Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson who had a sold out show at the Maison Theatre, which had to have held at least 500 people. In their prank call section of the show, they called a guy who does gay porn for money but claims to be straight, to get even with him for breaking up with a girl who had sex with him raw, and after offering him a gay porn gig got him to admit he was gay on the phone. In the airport on the way home, the girls told me they thought it was their best prank call ever.
It was Comedy 101’s late night show sponsored by The Interrobang hosted by Ron Bennington and Gail Bennington with judges Jim Norton, Jimmy Schubert, and Dan Soder plus surprise judge Tommy Johnagin. Comedy 101’s been killing it at shows in NY, and it’s basically new comics coming up and being judged kindly and sometimes not so kindly by highly experienced comics.
It was the Comedy Central party in the hotel lobby that went on till about 4 A.M. and unlike me I stayed till the end, and it was also the exclusive Funny or Die party in what they call “The Esplanade” of the Place Des Artes, a HUGE space that was taken up by thousands of comedians and their guests eating poutine and drinking their heads off while dancing to really cool music provided by a D.J. who was spinning till 3 A.M., at which time I left with Annie Lederman and Jeffrey Ross to head over to the after-party. On the way over we had a conversation about energy, healing, and TMJ problems, and Jeffrey told me about his next special he just shot for Comedy Central on immigration. Annie, who often opens for Jim Norton, told me about her first feature film coming out soon called “The Long Dumb Road” in which she plays Ron “Office Space” Livingston’s wife. Jason Mantzoukas is also in it and it was written by her friend Hanna Fidell. When I finally dragged myself out at 4:30 A.M. it was still going strong with Yamaneika Saunders and Calise Hawkins holding it down on the dance floor. It wasn’t till I got home and looked at my photos that I saw that the photo I took with Annie was photo bombed by Michael Che.
It was the Superior Donuts cast panel in the Grand Salon room of the Hyatt, where I got to congratulate my old friend Jermaine Fowler on not only co-starring in his role as Franco, but also on being an Executive Producer of the show. Seeing Judd Hirsch and Katey Sagal there was also very special as was Judd’s take on working with Andy Kaufman, who he said was very hard to get to know. He showed up for a few days as Tony Clifton, and was late and uncooperative to the point where they had to fire Tony Clifton and someone had to call Andy to tell Tony he was being fired. Judd also told of the first time he met Jermaine at a table read and had to ask, “ Who the heck are you?” Jermaine is always, and has always been very humble and seems to be handling his stardom very well.
I was hanging out with Noam Dworman and George Buchalter, partners in The Comedy Cellar when I felt someone come up behind me and embrace me, and it turned out to be Paul Provenza who was up there doing both of his shows Set List and The Green Room. Paul and I got to spend some meaningful time together on our way home from Comedy 101 and while sharing a donut and ice tea, ( his treat!), he said I was probably one of his oldest friends in comedy. We met on a radio show hosted by Jackie Mason back in the early 80’s. Jackie was filling in for Bob Grant and Paul was starring in a play called “Only Kidding” at the time. Paul had chipped a tooth on stage and Jackie suggested he come to me to get it fixed. Paul said, “Why would I go to a comedy writer to get my tooth fixed” and after I fixed it for him he understood why, and went back on stage with a perfectly bonded tooth!
It was the Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here panel the night before the JFL Awards red carpet where I went specifically to see Jim Carrey and the other stars of the show. It’s very rare to see a star of Jim Carrey’s caliber anywhere but JFL gets them the way it did this year with Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin Hart. But I’ve been watching and enjoying the show and wanted to see Michael Angarano, Erik Griffin and Andrew Santino all of whom I had the chance to meet and talk to at the Funny or Die party. That was really a highlight for me. There’s something special about watching someone on TV and feeling you know them and like them and then getting to meet them in person.
Andrew Santino and I discussed how hard it is for him to play Bill Hobbs, such a detestable character on the show and how he has to work hard not to bring that energy home with him to his wife at the end of the day. He said he learned for the first time how hard it is to not take home work, and that he had to learn to center himself to get rid of that negative energy. It’s a true testament to his talent that he can play someone so unlike himself. It was very special for me to have such an in depth conversation with someone in the midst of a crazy party. That doesn’t happen often. He’s a really spiritual guy! Very special!
And Erik Griffin who plays Ralph, is such a strong presence on the show and told me about his new special “The Ugly Truth” which debuted on July 7th and was the highest rated special on Showtime. And Michael Angarano who plays new comic Eddie Zeidel told me about his friendship with his on-screen pal Clark Duke who plays Ron Shack. He said his part felt comfortable from the very beginning and that he and Clark were best friends when they were 7 years old. Then they hadn’t seen each other for a long time, and then just by coincidence both were cast in the show and met up again at a table read. Michael’s been acting since he was 6 and did a pilot with co-star Ari Graynor when they were both 9 years old. He also did a film with Melissa Leo when he was 15 and another one in which she “roofied” him and seduced him.
During the panel Jim discussed going on stage for the first time at 15 at Yuk Yuks and tried imitating people on the Carol Burnett Show, bombing so badly he didn’t try again for two years. he said when he came back at 17 he did much better and when he went home where he lived with his parents he started getting perfumed letters from fans with lipstick on them and then his parents understood why he said he had such a good time. He made a lot of crazy Jim Carrey faces and was very physical in his answers. He told some really fun stories about sharing a joint with Richard Pryor, and his interactions with a young Sam Kinison.
I was at the HBO’s Vice Principals cast moderated by the never tired Ron Bennington, with Danny McBride, Walton Goggins, Georgia King, Edi Patterson, and Kimberly Hebert Gregory along with the producers. I’m a fan of Walton’s and Danny from his Eastbound and Down days, but had never seen the show. The panel was so interesting that when I got home from Montreal last night as tired as I was I watched two episodes. Can’t wait to watch the rest.
I was at the outdoor presentation of Josh Adam Meyers’ Goddamn Comedy Jam. I don’t know how he keeps his voice intact with all the yelling he does on stage but he’s amazing. They did the show in a few different venues but I wanted to see it on the outdoor stage which was incredible. Great performances by Dulce Sloan, Sasheer Zamata, Big Jay Oakerson, Adam Ray and Erik Griffin, and then me and the Bennington crew hung out in the street just chilling till late. They said they saw me at Godamn Comedy Jam and tried to call out to me but I didn’t hear them over the noise.
It was running into Kurt Braunohler and his wife Lauren Cook in the elevator on their way to do their podcast Wedlock, which they just started in April available on Audible, and it was running into Donnell Rawlings just after he crushed on Jane Krakowski’s gala who told me he’ll be opening for Dave Chappelle in 10 out of his 15 shows at Radio City starting August 1.
I’d have to say the most special part to me was the JFL Awards red carpet and show that followed where I got to interview just about all the award recipients and the presenters. Natasha Leggero presented to Kenya Barris and was followed on the red carpet by her husband Moshe Kasher, Alonzo Bodden who was the host kept up a running gag throughout the show asking each person to keep him in mind if they needed a character to play a security guard, and he made it work, Jay Baruchel who presented the award to Craig Ferguson and who told me he gave himself the mohawk haircut he was sporting, W. Kamau Bell who presented to Ali Wong, Jimmy Carr who presented to Mike Birbiglia, Jeff Ross who presented to Trevor Noah, and Judd Apatow who presented to Jim Carrey.
Mike Birbiglia said of Jimmy Carr, “he always looks like he’s dressed to give an award.” and then said he was always promised a TV deal which he never got, and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him.
Judd Apatow had great stories in his intro of Jim Carrey. As a young comedy writer he used to write sketches for Jim for “In Living Color” in hopes of Jim getting more screen time and although he wasn’t considered part of the show Jim paid him 5G’s out of his own pocket to write for him. Judd introduced Jim to his fiirst manager Jimmy Miller, and told the story of Jim being bumped at The Store by Sam Kinison and Dice and then stayed on stage for two hours improvising where he created the character of Fire Marshal Bill. When Ace Ventura was about to come out, Judd asked Jim if there were any scenes grounded in reality and Jim said there weren’t. He said, “I will either be the biggest star in the world or I will never work again.” It was a great intro.
In Trevor Noah’s acceptance speech he referenced Jim Carrey and thanked him for talking about Depression. He said “ Comedians don’t win unless you get to the end without comitting suicide.” Trevor is so grateful for his success and reminisced about growing up so poor he didn’t even have a flushing toilet. He gave me a wonderful personal interview on the red carpet.
So the next day, it was literally thrilling for me to have the opportunity to interview Jim Carrey on the red carpet. The night before during the Showtime panel someone asked him if he would ever return to doing stand-up, and he said something to the effect of “No, not for now. There’s no more Jim Carrey to sell. I don’t really think of myself as a person!” and he left it at that. It really struck me and I made a note to ask him about that if I got to speak to him on the red carpet. So on the red carpet, I saw him coming towards me and felt really excited, remembering iconic performances in things like The Mask and Man In The Moon where he played Andy Kaufman. He was very gracious with everyone he spoke to on the red carpet. Many times stars of his magnitude skip the carpet but with Jim I think he did it out of kindness but also out of respect for his cast on the show. When he got to me, we talked about comedy in the 70’s and 80’s when he started and he told me he had actually performed in the NY clubs as well in The Improv, at Catch and The Comic Strip. And when I asked him about there being no more Jim Carrey to sell he explained in in existential terms. He said ,” we spend our whole lives trying to invent ourselves and figure out what this is, and it’s just a collection of abstract ideas, your ethnicity, your nationality, … all that stuff are just ideas”, and I totaly got what he meant. I said to him, “ You mean the only reason you’re Jim Carrey is because your parents told you you were. Like my parents told me I’m Jeffrey Gurian and I believed them.” And that’s when he said to me, “ “ Right, and Jeffrey means ‘Go eat ‘em up’, … ‘Jeffrey means, “Make us look good!” He may never remember it, but It was truly a special moment for me. You’ll be able to see it all very soon on my Comedy Matters TV You TUbe channel!
And on that note, … I’m OUT!!!