In an almost last-minute decision, strings were pulled, favors were called in, nouns were verbed, and I found my passport, which means it's time to head across the border for the 2009 Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. Sure, talk to any member of the show business industry who has been around since Just For Laughs first took over this French-speaking Canadian city more than a quarter-century ago, and they'll be quick to tell you that the festival isn't what it once was. It's bigger, and yet not so big that comedians can return to the States with their dreams and pockets filled with six-figure development deals from the TV networks. No, times are different. We have the Internets now!
As I get ready to make the journey north once more, here are a few of the things I'm looking forward to seeing, following and preparing for over the next four days and nights.
1. Learning what the heck Zoofest is, once and for all. It's not part of Just For Laughs, but then again, it is. It's just the edgier shows? The shows with animals? I really don't know.
2. Seeing the industry hype machine in full effect, in both its most artificial and organic ways. Last year, I saw firsthand as NYC-based stand-up Sean Patton emerged from the "New Faces" showcase specifically because to the industry, he was a new face that they hadn't seen or heard from before, and they liked what they saw and heard. I've also read some silly things in the trades about certain comedians each year who got "buzz" and, having seen those comics, firmly believe that the trades sometimes get hoodwinked by the "buzz" comedians and their managers and agents who manufacture said buzz.
3. Speaking of which, that "buzz" machine also serves as a sad reminder of Michael Roof, aka "Chicken," the comedian who became infamous for scoring the last big TV development deal out of Montreal (the WB built a sketch show around him), only to find his career and life unravel. He took his own life last month.
4. What is Broken Lizard up to now? The sketch group made a big splash with their first independent film at Sundance, and followed up Super Troopers with a few more films, including Club Dread and Beerfest. They'll be performing new live sketches, taking questions and showing off their new movie, The Slammin' Salmon.
Comedy Central is promoting its new season of half-hour Comedy Central Presents specials by asking its participating comedians with whom they are feuding. Here, Michael Showalter playfully takes on Human Giant for not recognizing The State as their greatest comedic influence.
In jest, perhaps. But Showalter sure doesn't take all comparisons of comedy troupes quite as lightly. Back in July, Showalter hosted the first anniversary party for Union Hall in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with a bill that included Eugene Mirman, Todd Barry, Janeane Garofalo and David Cross. Things were fun and dandy until Garofalo got sidetracked during her set (surprised?) and started talking about how she'd watched the movie Beerfest the night before and was laughing out loud (for real, an actual instance of LOL). "I didn't understand the Broken Lizard thing until Beerfest," Garofalo said. She then wondered if that's perhaps that's why Stella didn't succeed on Comedy Central. Perhaps you need to know the guys to laugh at their jokes. That was her premise. She moved on to Tony Snow's cancer, her best friend, her sleeping and TV viewing habits, touring with Henry Rollins, and other matters.
When Showalter returned to the stage, he called Garofalo out on comparing Stella to Broken Lizard. Garofalo reminded him that Wet Hot American Summer (very much a State/Stella production that also featured Garofalo) and Super Troopers (the first Broken Lizard comedy film) debuted together at Sundance. That didn't make Showalter feel any better about it. "I'm not angry. I'm hungry," Showalter said. Then he added: "To me, comparing Stella to Broken Lizard is like comparing The Police to White Tiger. But that's just me. So fuck Broken Lizard's butt." Garofalo insisted that perhaps Showalter wasn't giving them enough of a chance, saying that their comedy may be funnier for audiences who already know and understand what they're about.
David Cross, who went up afterward, began with an aside to Garofalo: "That went swimmingly. That could not have gone smoother." Laughs. "Well, that's what can happen from wearing your honest pants." Cross then proceeded with his set, deciding not to weigh in further on this particular feud.
Photographs from earlier that day/night after the jump...
Broken Lizard may not be Monty Python, or even Kids in the Hall, but they prove they're darned funny in their own right with the release of Beerfest.
I had the chance to meet Broken Lizard members Steve Lemme and Erik Stolhanske earlier this month when they came through Boston on a special screening/drinking tour. In Beerfest, Stolhanske plays one of the two Wolfhouse brothers (the drunker one!) who discovers the hidden world where drinking games have become an underground Olympics in a German warehouse. Lemme plays the lab tech who the Wolfhouse brothers recruit for their American squad to reclaim the family's (and with it, the nation's) honor. Enough with the plot. What matters is that the film really gets going at this point, with madcap antics getting more madcappy until the finale (and even then, to a potential sequel sequence during the end credits). Mo'Nique and Cloris Leachman both turn in funny supporting performances, and it's by far the funniest Will Forte (SNL) has ever been. It's silly. It's sophomoric. But it works on a beer-gut-busting level.
While other troupes put silly characters in everyday situations, Broken Lizard tends to go the other route, with its members portraying regular guys who wind up in over-the-top scenarios.
Erik: "Our style is more playing in the natural world, it seems."
Steve: "We like to have sort of ridiculous situations but play it straight. As though it could really happen. We try not to make it unreasonable. Granted, Beerfest. Well, you know, there is a beer Olympics. It's not so far-fetched…"
Erik: "I think we're also pretty grounded in Everyman characters. Like, I'm from Minnesota, Jay is from Chicago. Paul is from Colorado. I sort of play Everyman Joe kind of characters."
Steve: "Certainly with Beerfest, we just wanted it to be, these are the beer lovers. As simple as that."
Is that the Broken Lizard staple then, or do they want to create stronger characters like Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen did earlier this summer (and before then, too)?
Erik: "That's a good question, because the movie we want to make is called The Greek Road. In it, three of us play Greek Gods. So when we make that, it'll probably go more in that direction."
Steve: "And the other two are Socrates and Plato."
Erik: "Yeah, those are larger than life characters. You know, it's just our style, I think. I don't know if it was ever drafted that way….that's how it evolved over time."
They also have lots of hockey players as friends. Why not enlist them for a hockey-themed flick? Steve: "I'm reading a book called 'Zamboni Radio,' which was submitted to our production company, to see if there's anything we could do with it. I haven't finished the book yet. There are people who are jonesing to actually remake Slapshot, which I think is a bad idea. Because I hate when they try to go after the classics."
That led to a discussion of the Caddyshack and Blues Brothers sequels.
Erik: "I think there was a rumor around town that somebody was actually going to remake Caddyshack."
Steve: "In fact, didn't they ask us? I think somebody asked us if we would consider, if we wanted to do a take on that. There are a bunch of them. They're remaking Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School. They're
Erik: "They wanted us to pitch an idea for that, too."