JFL’s 40th anniversary was both spectacular and also somewhat different from the past. The comedy community hadn’t gotten together since 2019, which made it 3 years since we mingled, hung out and partied together in Montreal. It was a big reunion and people were very excited to see each other. I’ve been going to JFL for at least 30 years and probably more, and to prove it I brought my VIP pass from 1992 to show the powers that be. When JFL President Bruce Hills saw it he asked if he could take a picture of it, which he did. It was in pristine condition. They didn’t even have lanyards in those days. It was on a string. Rumours abound that I may possibly be the longest attendee! Because of all the canceled flights I decided to try and avoid that potential stress and I drove up this year which was not bad at all.
Paul Ronca who had been the director of special events and programming for the last 16 years left to start his own media/production company called “Ronca” of course, and was replaced by Christine Walters and Philippe Papineau! Congrats to them for a very successful first year!
What was most different was that the entire schedules were online this year. No printed schedules. Just those QR codes that everyone seems to hate! In the past people gathered at the press tables in the hotel lobby waiting for the next day’s schedule. It was kind of a ritual. I guess they were saving paper. The hotel lobby where everyone hung out was also different. Lots of construction took place and they took away the huge circular bar that was always in the center and replaced it with a beautiful circular bench surrounding a huge tree. Very pretty but it felt weird not seeing the lobby the way it’s been for so long. Plus part of the lobby was closed off for a new restaurant which was also very pretty.
The biggest change I noticed was that the biggest stars, especially the ones that won awards, did not hang out in the lobby at night. If they did it wasn’t while I was there. The only big stars I saw in the lobby were Marc Maron and George Wallace. Marc and I are friends for about 25-30 years. He hosted one of the big galas which I attended, and he literally got a standing ovation when he came out. His opening crushed. It was so awesome. George Wallace called me when he arrived in the lobby and I got to introduce him to a bunch of comics who were so excited to meet the legend himself. We shot a video together as well. In the past you’d run into Russell Peters, who often DJ’ed at the late night lobby parties, Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Hasan Minhaj, Ronnie Chieng, but this year the lobby was filled with tons of young comics that I didn’t recognize. It gave me an excuse not to stay up all night!
I got there on Wednesday the 27th and right away ran into two of the stars of Amy Schumer’s hit Hulu show Life and Beth, Rachel Feinstein and Yamaneika Saunders. I got to congratulate them both on their parts. Rachel is one of Amy’s best friends in real life and Yammie plays her best friend Maya in the show. Rachel looked fantastic! Motherhood agrees with her and I made sure to ask her if she was accepting compliments before I told her! These days you can’t just compliment people without their permission!
That night I went to see Best of the Fest and then caught Yannis Pappas’s great show at a theatre in the Place Des Arts, where I feel like I discovered new talent, which is always exciting to me.
A few weeks ago I was contacted by a young comic named Michael Harrison who asked if I would interview him for Comedy Matters TV because he was accepted to pitch a show at JFL. Mike has a podcast called “Character Debates” where the guests come on as characters to discuss pertinent events. He has two co-hosts, Drew Dunn and Jake Vevera who he said were both very funny. I had to take his word for it because they weren’t present for the interview.It didn’t dawn on me when Yannis’s opener came out speaking in a perfect British accent. I just assumed it was a UK comic I didn’t know. About 5 or 10 minutes in, he suddenly dropped the accent and spoke like a New York guy which he is and it turned out he was Drew Dunn, Michael Harrison’s co-host. Really funny, very different, does great voices, clever writer. I want to use him in the next show I produce. Then Yannis came out and totally crushed. He really went into the stupidity of cancel culture and the insanity we’re living with. He’s just so good.
The next day I called into The Bennington Show and talked about what I had seen and done so far. Always an honor to be on with those guys!!!
Certain events really stuck out for me and were very special. Jo Koy’s panel for his new film Easter Sunday was really great. It’s an all Asian cast and is based on his stand-up which is a lot about his Filipino family. The film is a true breakthrough in representation for that community which often is not portrayed in a true, meaningful light. Also on the panel were Jimmy O. Yang, Asif Ali, who the next day presented the award for Stand-Up Comedian of the Year to Hasan Minhaj, and Jay Chandrasekhar from Super Troopers who not only acted in the film but also directed. Jo was so excited he was moved to tears, especially since the film was produced by Steven Spielberg who Jo said took a very active, very hands-on part in the production. Jo said he couldn’t believe he was working with Steven Spielberg. At the end of the panel we shot a video together and we were so happy to see each other because it’s been a few years. He’s such a great guy and very emotional like me. In the video he said he must have hugged me ten times already. I told him that was fine by me! The movie opened on Friday August 5th, and I wish them all great success with it.
As we were leaving the room, I had a very special thing happen. A guy tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself to me as Mohammed Ali. I said “What a great name!” He said he had been wanting to connect to me for years. Turns out he’s Asif Ali’s brother and a comedy manager from LA, who of course managed his brother besides other comics.
He gave me one of the greatest compliments. He said that when he wanted to become a manager he wasn’t sure what to do and he needed to learn more about comedy but there were no resources for him to learn about the comedians. He said he learned about comedy by watching my videos over the years, and had always hoped to be able to tell me. I made him sit for a video interview to get that story recorded for posterity. Truly amazing. You never know what you do, or say that could be helpful to someone else.
Amanda Seales was another great re-connect. We hadn’t seen each other in too long so I made sure to show up for her keynote speech called “By Any Joke Necessary” where she explained the power of humor and how she uses it to carry a socially relevant messages.But she’s also multi-talented, not only as an actress as she proved when she co-starred in Issa Rae’s Insecure as Tiffany Dubois, but she also admitted to having been a rapper before she got into comedy. She rapped under the name Amanda Diva and actually spit a few beats during her keynote speech to prove it! She also did a great imitation of her Mom’s Caribbean accent. Both of which will be posted on my Instagram page!!!
We shot a little video afterwards, and because my D.P. got stuck in traffic she was nice enough to have one of her team shoot it for me, which made it come out even better!!!
There’s a lot of heat around Preacher Lawson, but every time I attempted to attend his show something happened to keep me from getting there. It was crazy! Finally I got to one, and he’s really good. He brings great energy to the stage. We connected afterwards and I look forward to seeing him in New York.
People are stilled debating whether Andy Kindler’s hologram-delivered State of the Industry event was real or staged. I sat right up front and I couldn’t tell either. It was so strange seeing him in that huge light-box on stage. I didn’t see him in person either before or after so maybe it was real!
The main event was the JFL Awards show which took place on Friday the 29th. Instructions are very strict. You have to be ok’ed to cover the event. I always get a great spot on the red carpet but it’s a very stressful event because the big networks often hog the big stars, and as an independent you have to hope they stop off and talk. Luckily I know most of them personally so they stop and chat. Sign in was between 1 and 1:30. I asked my assistant Kimberly who lives in Montreal to meet me at noon. I always like to be early to try and avoid stress. When she didn’t show up until 1:20 I was a bit nervous, but we got everything we set out to get.
Jay Pharoah was a fantastic host of the award show. Just perfect! He was so funny and did a million impressions which is such a strength of his. I’ll never forget when he read Chris Rock’s foreword to my book “Make ‘Em Laugh” in Chris Rock’s voice in the lobby at JFL a few years ago, to the amusement of JB Smoove and all who were around! Jay and I reminisced about our times together at The Comic Strip and how we miss owner Richie Tienken. Jay looked great, and was dressed really sharp as usual! The man has swag!!!
Chelsea Handler was presenting the award for Comedy Person of the Year to Amy Schumer. Chelsea made it clear she was not doing any press. Nada. Nothing.She didn’t even walk the red carpet. She stood outside the red carpet talking to Bruce Hills. I just said hello and that was it. The press people said she was adamant about not doing press. She was in all black and looked really stylish.
Amy Schumer may have done some interviews at the beginning of the red carpet but as she got to my area she was walking briskly with a publicist and didn’t talk to any of the journalists that were on the carpet. She didn’t see me so I called out to her and she said, “I’ll talk to you later at the cocktail party”, which followed and she kept her promise.
To my knowledge I’m the only one who got a video interview with her at the party. And uber agent Mike Berkowitz from WME, one of the most powerful agents in the biz, who reps Amy took pictures on his phone of me interviewing Amy. We laughed about it afterwards and he jokingly said he has a whole wall of Jeffrey Gurian photos! I’m pretty sure he was kidding!
Then Amy all on her own turned to her friends around her and said, “Let’s all take a picture with Jeffrey Gurian” and she grabbed Hasan Minhaj and Rosebud Baker who is also in Life and Beth.
Yamaneika said that Amy is so nice on set and very supportive and puts all of her friends in her projects. She has Gary Gulman playing Yamaneika’s love interest Shlomo, an Orthodox Jew, while Dave Attell is playing a Rabbi! Hilarious!!!
Hasan Minhaj got the award for Stand-Up Comedian of the Year and he’s always so gracious. It’s like he can’t wait to be nice. It always helps when you know people before they were famous. Once people are famous everyone wants to know them, but when you know them before there’s kind of a special bond, and with me I feel so proud of them because I know how hard it is to make a name for yourself in this business. Hasan was there with his wife Beena who I finally got to meet, and Hasan and I did two interviews one behind the red carpet and one ON the red carpet. We shared the joy of his success with his newest one man show The King’s Jester.
Pete Holmes did the red carpet, stopped off to chat and laugh with me, as we always do, and promised me that if there was a 4th season of Crashing I’d be on for the whole season! As I said we laughed a lot! Pete presented the award for Breakout Comedy Star of the Year to Taylor Tomlinson whose Netflix special “Look At You” got great acclaim, and in it she discussed the most personal things in her life like her break-up and how she was diagnosed as being bipolar. She also admitted to once having bangs!
Netflix exec. Robbie Praw who used to be a JFL exec. Presented the award for Best Comedy Special to Jerrod Carmichael who I was hoping to meet and readers of the Interrobang may remember why! Jerrod’s new special, the Bo Burnham directed “Rothaniel” was really something special. The name Rothaniel is a combination of the names of his two grandfathers but he never said what those names were. I’m totally guessing Robert and Nathaniel? What he did open up about was that they were both cheaters. One had four children outside of his marriage, and the other had , … get this, … 23 children outside of his marriage and Jerrod’s father was one of them. As if that wasn’t hard enough to admit Jerrod came out as gay during this special which was shot in NYC at the Blue Note jazz club, directly across the street from The Comedy Cellar. He said he got a lot of heat from his community after coming out and I wanted to commend him on his courage, but he didn’t do the red carpet, and he left as soon as he got the award and didn’t hang out at all. Hopefully he’ll read this because I wanted to give him some respect for having the courage to expose himself emotionally like that.
I’ll end this long piece with a nice story. My last night was a midnight party. It’s packed. Absolutely packed. Emilio Savone, owner of New York Comedy Club who I love, and know from when he was still a ticket seller at The Comic Strip many years ago, called me over. He was hanging with Nimesh Patel and Chris Distefano, another guy I’m so proud of. Chris and I are going to do something fun together in September, but this night we were just about having some laughs. Emilio says “I want you to meet somebody.” He always introduces me to people he thinks would be good for me to know. He brought me over to meet Adam Gilbert, a young comedian from Chicago who happens to be moving to New York in a couple of weeks. I had noticed Adam earlier but didn’t know he was a comedian and that he killed on the New Faces show. I noticed him because of his diminutive size which I later found out is because he was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, and they were all raving about how funny he was. To the point where that very night, in front of everyone, Emilio made him a regular at New York Comedy Club, and Chris Distefano told him he’s hiring him to open for him on his national tour. Who ever said the comedy world is not a community? Adam and I exchanged information and I can’t wait to see him perform when he gets to NY.
Next day I drove 7 hours to get home, but I was really glad I attended.
Please follow me on Instagram at @jeffreygurian, and on TikTok at @jeffreylgurian and I’ll see you all soon!
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