Though Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy confab extends for nearly the entire month of July — mostly for the benefit of French-speaking locals delighted by slapstick routines — for the last week of the month, the lineup switches languages, drawing some of the world’s top English-speaking comics, along with a small army of industry scouts.
In addition to being the event where Variety unveils its latest “10 Comics to Watch” list, Just for Laughs serves as an unofficial class reunion for alumni selected in years past. At Just for Laughs’ annual comedy awards, for example, Variety vet Andy Samberg received the Comedy Person of the Year award from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” co-star (and list alum) Chelsea Peretti.
“Silicon Valley” castmates (and fellow comics to watch) T.J. Miller and Kumail Nanjiani presented Comedy Director of the Year honors to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, quipping that the duo’s upcoming, South Korea-skewering “The Interview” could provoke merciless retaliation from Kim Jong-un. “We’re all going to die for a bunch of dick jokes,” quipped Nanjiani, adding, “I haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen their other movies.”
The casual kudofest was hosted by Pete Holmes (a 2011 Comic to Watch), who brought along hip-hop comic Zach Sherwin to perform custom-written raps after each award. When Nathan Fielder collected his Breakout Star trophy, Sherwin sang, “He’s not the ‘Outbreak’ star — that’s Dustin Hoffman. He’s the Breakout Star, and that’s fuckin’ awesome,” and after the final prize was presented, Samberg joined Sherwin on stage, hyping his fellow rapper’s rhymes.
Comedy Central’s programming chief Kent Alterman also used the award show as a chance to announce the third-season renewal of Fielder’s “Nathan for You.” As it happens, Fielder was also one of Variety’s picks for its 10 Comics to Watch list this year — nine of whom were in attendance for the Thursday evening cocktail, sponsored by entertainment law firm Cohen Gardner. The others were Cristela Alonzo, Pete Davidson, Fortune Feimster, Ron Funches, Greg Poehler, Lena Waithe, the Lucas brothers and Adam Lustick and Jen Curran (representing “two-ninths” of the Harvard Sailing Team sketch troupe).
On Friday, the Variety comics gathered for a panel about what makes them tick. Alonzo told the story of how she didn’t let ABC’s passing on her pilot deter her from shooting it anyway (“Cristela” will premiere Oct. 10), while Feimster shared how she’d done just the opposite when the network shot down her show — though things have turned out just fine, assuming the Tina Fey-produced “Cabot College” goes forward at Fox (the show is caught in limbo after Kevin Reilly’s exit).
Over the course of the week, the comics performed sets all over town, coming together Friday night for a special Variety showcase. Audiences weren’t the only ones laughing either. At one point, cracking himself up onstage, Funches turned to the audience and asked, “Not used to a large black man that giggles like an Asian princess?”
(Pictured: Cristela Alonzo, Pete Davidson, Fortune Feimster, Harvard Sailing Team, Variety’s Peter Debruge, the Lucas Brothers, Nathan Fielder, Ron Funches and Lena Waithe attend the 2014 Variety’s “10 Comics To Watch” panel)