This week, the curfew continues and so do the Montreal arts and music. We’ve got a music video and an actual outdoor event. Let’s get started!

Venus Furs’ New Inspiration Music Video

Before COVID hit and everything changed, you could find Montreal’s Venus Furs (aka Paul Kasner) playing POP Montreal and opening for acts like The Horrors and The Twilight Sad. Last year, though, the Montreal-based shoegaze (also know as dream pop) artist launched his own record label called Silk Screaming and released a self-titled debut album.

Then, this past Tuesday, he released a music video for the single New Inspiration. Justis Krar directed the video and Kasner plays all instruments on the track except for bass and drums.

Here it is:

Venus Furs’ self-titled debut album is available through SilkScreaming.com

Luminothérapie & Coeur Battant

This one’s actually something you can’t attend from the comfort of behind your computer screen. It’s two outdoor events that started over the holidays and continue until March 14th.

The first (Luminothérapie) is a circuit in Quartier des Spectacles comprised of five installations and activities that are accessible to everyone and COVID-safe, according to organizers. They feature light, sound, and interactivity.

The second, Coeur Battant, is designed to showcase downtown as the beating heart of the city. Each night, a different building will be lit up in red as the sounds of a heart beating play.

Of course, the night part of “every night” as well as the overall experience of both events had to be drawn back a bit due to the curfew. They end at 6:30pm as long as the curfew lasts.

Here is the promo video:

Luminothérapie & Coeur Battant run until March 14th. General info can be found on the Quartier des Spectacles website, but updates regarding curfew hours are on their Facebook Page

Featured Image of Venus Furs by Sean Mundy, courtesy of raison d’être Media

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

So we’re now under curfew, but the Montreal arts scene continues online. It’s kind of like they’re offering a way to go out at night without being fined or having to put on a jacket, or even nice clothes. (No music this time, but there will be next time) Let’s get started:

Art and Haircuts for Mental Health

During the pandemic, we can’t forget about people suffering from mental health issues. Sometimes the simple dignity of a haircut can really help.

The non-profit organization Coups de pinceaux, Coups de ciseaux plans to offer just that. They have teamed with hair salon Cam & Roro and 100 visual artists to help remove the stigma surrounding mental health and offer free haircuts to those with mental health issues.

The project is called 100 artistes pour une santé mentale sans tabou and from January 15th to March 15th, they will be selling works by 100 different artists for $150 apiece. $100 goes to the artist and $50 goes to the organization so they can provide these free haircuts.

The works will be available online as of January 15th at midnight and the launch will start the 15th at noon on their Facebook Event Page.

Black Theatre Workshop Launches Its 50th Season with Sanctuary

The pandemic won’t stop Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop from celebrating its 50th season. In fact, they’re launching it online Friday, January 15th at 3pm with Sanctuary, a reading of a new work in development by newly appointed Artistic Associate, Lydie Dubuisson.

Sanctuary is “a feminist conversation between a teenage girl and her sister, her godmother, her best friend, her pastor and God, as she takes refuge in the sanctuary of her church while searching for answers about her destiny.”

Directed by Tamara Brown and part of the Discovery Series, it features Vlad Alexis, Chadia Kikondjo, Mireille Métellus and Espoir Segbeaya. The stage manager is Danielle Skene.

You can watch the premier of Sanctuary Friday, January 15th at 3pm (eastern) on YouTube or Facebook Video. It will also be available on demand for four weeks after the premier. For the rest of Black Theatre Workshop’s 50th season, please visit blacktheatreworkshop.ca

Haunted Montreal’s Winter Ghost Stories: A Québécois Tradition

You may have seen our reviews of Haunted Montreal’s Virtual Halloween Ghost Tour or their online Christmas Ghost Stories. Or you may have attended one of their in-person haunted walks, paranormal investigations or pub crawls.

Throughout January, February and March, the company will be hosting a virtual tour called Winter Ghost Stories: A Québécois Tradition via Zoom. This is a highly theatricalized, though historically accurate, telling of some of the real local winter ghost stories as well as some Quebec legends.

In January, there will be a show every Friday both in English and French, then in February and March, French shows will be on Fridays and English shows on Saturdays.

For more info on Winter Ghost Stories: A Québécois Tradition or to reserve your spot, please visit hauntedmontreal.com

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

Of all the industries hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts and tourism were among the hardest. For those that wanted to stay in the public eye, the name of the game has been “adapt or die”, and Haunted Montreal is no exception.

In the past they’ve conducted Ghost Walks and Haunted Pub Crawls led by an experienced actor and storyteller, who reveals the spookier aspects of Montreal history to crowds of eager attendees. Sadly, COVID restrictions and the COVIDiots driving up case numbers have put a temporary stop to in-person events, but thankfully Haunted Montreal didn’t give up, offering their latest virtual event, Christmas Ghost Stories: A Victorian Era Tradition during the holiday season and into January. I caught the December 27th show.

I should say right off the bat that I’m not going to go into too much detail re: the technical issues related to the event, simply because the host/actor/experienced storyteller hosting it was none other than FTB’s Editor-in-Chief, Jason C. McLean, MY editor. In short, there were technical issues re: shifting from the virtual slide show to the storytelling itself and his costume and delivery, but these will likely be ironed out for future events, and I’d prefer to start the New Year on my editor’s good side.

The stories themselves were great, a delightful and insightful look into not just Montreal’s haunted history, but the history of Quebec itself. I did not know prior to the event, for example, that telling ghost stories over the holidays is very much a Victorian tradition, nor did I know that there are so many spooky tales to be had around me. Even better was that the stories told were a delightful mix of French Canadian myth and legend, and tales with direct links to Montreal’s growth and development.

McLean started with a tale of a Repentigny man, a quintessential French Canadian ghost story blending aspects of rural Quebecois life with Catholic notions of sin and redemption.

The next was about a wealthy industrialist whose ghost allegedly haunts Mount Royal. Though the telling of this story could have been more succinct, the link between the story and actual monuments that can be visited drew many viewers in, with one asking where they could find it in the Q&A session that followed the event.

There was one tale that sounded more like a Darwin Award than a ghost story, but enjoyable nonetheless. McLean followed with another French Canadian tale, by far the scariest of all the ones told that night. Last but not least, he spoke of a building that continues to be haunted to this day despite thousands of annual visitors.

Though McLean could have left out a few “woo” sounds that nearly crossed the line from spooky into silly, the event was enjoyable over all.

If you enjoy quality storytelling with a little history thrown in, you need to check out more of Haunted Montreal’s virtual events. They are fun, fascinating, and different.

Christmas Ghost Stories: A Victorian Era Tradition runs in English and French with various storytellers until January 29. For tickets or more info, please visit hauntedmontreal.com

While our Shows This Week column, both for music and arts, is clearly on hiatus until we can, you know, go to shows again, we thought we’d highlight some of the Montreal and Montreal-friendly music, art, theatre, comedy, film etc. that you can partake in.

Let’s get started…

The image + nation Launches Canada’s First-Ever Queer Short Film Festival

image + nation, Canada’s first LGBTQ+ film festival just concluded its 33rd edition, albeit in a totally online form. While you can still see the films that won awards at the festival until December 12th, image+nation has something else to offer.

From December 9th until the 31st they are running the first-ever pan-Canadian Queer Short Film Festival. This new event is focusing on a few key areas including growing up and growing older as an LGBTQ person, films from countries and perspectives that see little representation in the queer cinema canon and outreach to Francophone communities outside of Quebec.

I+N Courts Queer Short Film Fest runs December 9-31. The full program is available in an online catalogue and you can watch the short films until the end of 2020

Wooden Drone’s Never Ending Loops

Montrealer Emmanuel Lauzon, aka electronic music producer Wooden Drone released his debut album this past November 14th. Titled Never Ending Loops, it is a 14-tracks of electronic ambient music meticulously produced over a decade.

That’s right, this is the product of ten years’ worth of work. During that time, Lauzon was also developing the video game We Happy Few as a senior 3D artist. Both projects were released simultaneously.

Wooden Drone will be releasing a single in the new year, but for now (in addition to the full album) we have this teaser video:

Never Ending Loops by Wooden Drone is available for download on Bandcamp

Igloofest Will Return and Has An Online Shop for a Good Cause

Igloofest, the annual outdoor-in-winter music fest has the distinction of being literally the coolest festival in Montreal, but also, due to its timing, one of the few big annual events that actually got to hold an in-person 2020 edition.

This year, with a COVID vaccine’s potential widespread distribution still months away, there won’t be an in-person Igloofest this winter. Organizers are working on a digital version in its place and promise surprises and video capsules starting in January and leading up to the 15th edition scheduled for 2022.

Right now, though, you can buy festival merch. Their online shop, the Iglooboutique, launched this past Thursday, offers items like the classic toque sold at the event each year, hockey jerseys and socks.

If you buy a pair of socks, another pair will be donated to people suffering from homelessness. This is due to Igloofest‘s partnership with Montreal-based Robin des Bas.

You can find updates on the online festival at igloofest.ca and shop at boutique.igloofest.ca

Featured Image from Mother Bunker (2020) playing at the I+N Queer Short Film Festival

If you’re involved in a project or know of one that you think should get coverage here, please let us know at arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net We’ll do our best, but no promises

In what has got to be their earliest partial lineup announcement ever, or at least in a while, Osheaga has given us the headliners for its 15th Edition. It will be Foo Fighters on Friday, Cardi B on Saturday and Post Malone on Sunday.

The event is scheduled to take place July 30, 31 and August 1 in Parc Jean-Drapeau, so it might still be a bit of time before we get the full lineup. Those are usually released in March, anyways.

This early announcement, while sparse, is quite welcome. After a summer devoid of in-person festivals and a spring and fall devoid of live in-person shows of any kind, it’s good to know that what is arguably Montreal’s largest music festival will be roaring back next year, and with some huge names, no less.

It’s also a reminder that while Montreal is pretty much locked down now, there are some things on the horizon like a vaccine, a return to semi-normal and, by the end of the summer, Osheaga.

Montreal is a city of ghosts. Usually when I tell people this, I’m bitterly referring to the fact that while I was living abroad for over a decade, most of my Montreal friends went and moved away  — or, even worse — grew up. After recently participating in the online version of the Haunted Montreal tour, I learned that Montreal is indeed a city of ghosts, but in the more literal sense.

Due to the latest round of COVID-19 red zone lockdown measures (Tabarnak!), the always-popular Haunted Montreal ghost tours have been, like much of our 2020 lives, relegated to purgatory of Zoom video-conferencing.

The tour started with Donovan King, founder of Haunted Montreal, standing in front of a green screen that at first cycled through campy Halloween backdrops.

As the presentation got rolling, King presented an introduction of Montreal’s early founding and colonial history, and why that has perhaps led to our humble island home being such a haunted place.

The bulk of the hour-long presentation involved King recounting four vignettes about Montreal’s haunted past, illustrated by historical images on the green screen behind him. The four tales were drawn from a mixture of the various in-person tours usually offered by Haunted Montreal: Haunted Downtown, Haunted Mountain, Haunted Griffintown, paranormal investigations of local haunted sites, and the always-popular Haunted Pub Crawl.

Being a history nerd, I appreciated learning about these macabre Montreal legends, most of which I had not heard before. These stories were in steady hands with Donovan King, who is a seasoned storyteller.

King’s background in both acting and history makes him the ideal vessel to disseminate these creepy snippets of Montreal lore. His delivery was part authoritative history professor and part P.T. Barnum, complete with makeshift sound effects and even a minor jump scare or two.

The tales included that of the ill-fated tale of Simon McTavish, and how his death led to sightings of cadavers tobogganing down the slopes of 1820’s Mount Royal. King went on to detail how much of Montreal’s shiny downtown was built on burial sites — both Native American and early European, as well as mass burial pits from Cholera outbreaks in the 1800s. A thumbnail sketch of Montreal’s cemeteries was also full of welcome factoids.

The climax of the presentation came with a recounting of the tragic story of Headless Mary Gallagher. The murdered prostitute is said to still haunt a certain intersection in Griffintown on the anniversary of her grisly death, every seven years.

The online Haunted Montreal Ghost tours will be running all winter long, with a special presentation being held on Halloween night at 7pm. Regularly updated stories about Montreal’s creepy past can also be found on the Haunted Montreal blog. I look forward to participating in tours led by some of the other talented Haunted Montreal presenters.

Oh…an odd thing happened just after the tour (Insert X-files theme whistle here). I closed my laptop and sat on a couch in the basement of a 100-year-old NDG house, listening to the radio and taking notes on the tour.

Suddenly, I heard static, and an old rock song from the 1960s replaced the newscast I had been listening to — the radio changed channels all on its own — which is something it has never done before. I experienced full-body goosebumps, turned off the radio, and ran upstairs like a terrified five-year-old.

So if you do take the tour…turn on your radio afterwards and see what happens. Warning: results may vary (insert Vincent Price’s Thriller laughter here)

Full disclosure: Jason C. McLean, Editor-in-Chief of Forget the Box, is a tour guide at Haunted Montreal. Matt Poll, this post’s author, is not.

The Haunted Montreal Virtual Ghost Tour is currently running in English and French. Visit hauntedmontreal.com for more

Featured Image: Haunted Montreal

If you are a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, then Just for Laughs had show for you! As part of the Just for Laughs 2020 free virtual festival, they presented Canada’s Drag Race panel, a Crave original, moderated by Sabrina Jalees.

In the wake of the finale of Canada’s Drag Race, the Canadian version of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the panel consisted of the four finalists, Rita Baga, Jimbo, Scarlett Bobo, and the winner, Priyanka. Also on the panel was Canada’s Drag Race judge, Stacey McKenzie, who was streaming from her home in Jamaica.

I love Canada’s Drag Race and I saw every single episode. It’s one of the many shows that has helped keep me sane through the stay at home recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, this panel did not disappoint, and I was riveted from start to finish.

The show was moderated by stand-up comedian, producer, and host Sabrina Jalees, who was a guest judge on Canada’s Drag Race. She was a competent moderator who clearly has a lot of affection for the queens.

The queens, for their part, did not disappoint. They appeared on screen in full drag.

Montreal’s Rita Baga was resplendent in a red wig, sharp nails, and a pleather outfit reminiscent of a vampy superhero. Jimbo wore a black wig and enormous fake boobs — which he routinely played with during the show — and had makeup more elegant and beautiful than I had ever seen on him during Canada’s Drag Race.

Scarlett Bobo was dressed in a lovely dress made up of black straps, with hair and makeup reminiscent of glam rockers like Debbie Harry and Courtney Love. Priyanka was in full glam makeup and hair, with a leopard print outfit.

While Baga and Jimbo were perfectly poised throughout the show, Priyanka and Scarlett Bobo’s excitement and enthusiasm were infectious.

The panel discussed everything from the popularity of Canada’s Drag Race, to individual challenges both on and off the show, to how everyone’s lives have changed since the show ended. There was some cattiness, mostly from Priyanka, who, despite winning the show, regularly interrupted people to scream and throw shade.

In spite of this, you can tell there is genuine affection between the queens and Stacey McKenzie, who shied away from being brutally honest about some of the queens’ poorer performances.

One of the highlights of the panel was Stacie McKenzie’s impression of the late fortune teller Ms. Cleo, an impression which Priyanka bombed during the show’s Snatch Game.

If the show had one flaw, it’s that there were moments where Jalees or McKenzie disappeared, and you could not tell if they were still in the panel participating. My guess is this was due to a tech issue.

If you’re a fan of Canada’s Drag Race, you would have loved this show. It had all the glitz, glam, lipstick, and witty repartee one would expect from a panel of drag queens. Here’s hoping Just for Laughs does this again.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge effect on the arts. The Montreal Fringe Festival was postponed, the Jazz Festival was cancelled, and theatre productions everywhere have been put on hold. The name of the game seems to be “Adapt or Die,” and while Just for Laughs could not have in-person shows, they had something else to offer in its stead.

The 2020 Just for Laughs Festival was a scaled down digital event that took place from October 9 to 11, 2020. While there were fewer offerings, the shows streamed free of charge on the Just for Laughs website, and were available until midnight the day after the performances. Among the offerings was Conversations with Funny People featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel.

For those of you unfamiliar with the pair, Amber Ruffin is a comedian and writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers. She also has a new eponymous show on NBC’s free streaming service, Peacock. Jenny Hagel is also a comedian and writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers, and she is the executive producer and head writer for The Amber Ruffin Show.

This show was not for everyone. If you were expecting straight-up comedy, you will have been disappointed. There were laughs, as the show was unscripted and the chemistry and shared past between Hagel and Ruffin was adorable.

However, if you’re not a fan of Hagel or Ruffin, the show was not for you. The talk focused the technicalities of performance, of writing, of comedy, and of the general creative process.

While I am a huge fan of both Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin and I did laugh myself silly on a few occasions, I generally felt the show in its format needed tweaking. I am interested in performance, writing, and the creative process and I love comedy, but I felt the show dragged a bit about two-thirds of the way in.

Perhaps this format of show works better in person, but watching in the comfort of my own home, I felt it would have been better had the show packed a bit more punch — a few more clips of past shows they could tease other about, or even an exchange of embarrassing stories just to keep up the enthusiasm when another show is just a click away.

Conversations with Funny People with Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel had a lot of potential, but I feel the format needs more fine tuning for a digital audience. It’s a decent start, but it could have been a lot better.

Standup comedy is an art form that particularly relies on live audience interaction. Comics frequently tour the world and perform in front of as many crowds as possible. That’s exactly what DeAnne Smith was doing until COVID-19 hit.

“I had just moved to LA in January,” Smith told me in a phone interview, “and spent the first few months travelling back and forth to Canada and around the US as per usual. Luckily I had already decided I wouldn’t go back to Australia this year in 2020 and that is part of my usual routine as well.

Everything halted for me in March and my whole touring calendar just got completely cleared out. I’ve been stationary in LA since March, which is truly the first time in about 14 years of doing comedy that I’ve been in the same place for so long. So it’s really different.”

After a few months of appearing in other comedians’ remote shows, Smith decided to try something new: hosting a monthly comedy shows on Zoom. It’s called DeAnne Smith and Acquaintances and you can access it through Smith’s Instagram or Twitter (which are also worth following in general).

“It’s at least a way to feel connected to people,” Smith said, “and to feel a little bit of a sense of community like it would have been if we were all in person.”

While still missing the large in-person group experience, Smith is able to re-create the live show feeling somewhat by performing to a visible audience that have the option of unmuting themselves and laughing and interacting for all to hear.

“In some ways it’s more intimate because I’m literally seeing people’s names on the screen and their faces and they’re all very well lit up,” Smith observed, “in a comedy room a lot of times you can see the first one or two rows and that’s it, but you don’t know people’s name or see their living room or their cat. I’m trying to focus on the ways in which online performances can be more intimate and more interesting than the live performances we’re all used to.”

At Just for Laughs this year, Smith will be part of a different type of live online performance with Hannah Gadsby. The pair will appear as part of the festival’s Conversations with Funny People series.

While they were initially offered a moderator, the two comics who have been friends for well over a decade (Gadsby even sublets her place in LA to Smith when she’s in Australia) opted for a different approach to the show.

Smith gave me the scoop:

“I had this goofy idea that I’m really surprised she went for. I have these little cards that I picked up at a sex shop once and they’re called Speed Dating Questions and they’re just like little get-to-know-you questions. We’ve been friends for so long and there’s still a lot of stuff we don’t know about each other, so we’re going to be reading these goofy speed-dating questions back and forth and answering them for each other.

I think it will be a really fun thing for us to do as friends and she has such a huge fanbase that I don’t think has probably seen her in this way before, so I think it will be really interesting for people.”

Smith lived in Montreal before moving to LA and hasn’t ruled out returning for more than a JFL visit:

“There is a chance I might come and live there. Everything is very uncertain at the moment, so I don’t really know where I’m going to land.

What I miss about Montreal is really hard to articulate. There’s a special quality to the city…Let me try and explain it through an anecdote:

When I lived in Montreal, I had these two friends who knew each other through me and they had known each other for at least five years. They had Thanksgiving dinners together. I mean they knew each other. About five years into them knowing each other, one of them flipped and said something about their career and the other one said ‘Oh, I never knew what you did!’

And I thought that is so special that in Montreal, it’s just not so career driven. It’s focused on everything else. These people who had known each other for five years never once started a conversation with ‘What do you do?'”

Conversations with Funny People Featuring Hannah Gadsby and DeAnne Smith streams live on Saturday, October 10th at 10pm for FREE and will be available through Video on Demand through October 11th at midnight

Comedian and writer Jenny Hagel has good advice for aspiring writers: just write….but also…fake it ‘til you make it. I chatted with Jenny Hagel recently about the writing process, as well as her upcoming appearance at this year’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, which, like most live entertainment events in 2020, will be held online.

Jenny Hagel has a graduate degree in Writing for the Screen and Stage, and cut her comedy teeth while performing for five years with Chicago’s legendary improv troupe, The Second City. Hagel has written for many comedy TV shows over the years, and currently performs and writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers.

While she won’t get the chance to perform in Montreal for this year’s (online) Just for Laughs Festival, she has visited before, and the town left her feeling all warm and fuzzy. Tired of people kissing Montreal’s ‘Charming European’ ass, I worried that Montreal was getting smug, and asked Hagel if there was anything that miffed her about Montreal.

“My brother lived there for a little while, I used to visit him and man, what a beautiful, beautiful place. No, I probably have a different baseline for miffed, because I’ve lived in New York, so when I go to any other city, I go ‘These people’s manners are amazing!’”

My French is terrible though…I speak Spanish, I don’t speak any French. The one time I drove to Montreal, I listened to a French CD in the car the whole way up there, trying to learn phrases, to be a polite traveller, to be able to have some phrases when I got there. I’ll be honest, it was years ago, so those phrases have all left my mind. I tried at least, although I’m sure people in Montreal, when they heard my French accent for one second were like ‘No no, this does not help.’

But when I travel, I always feel the weight of the stereotype of the terrible American tourist, so I try very hard to be a one-person goodwill ambassador. I’ve tried really hard to reset that balance.”

Jenny Hagel’s upcoming Just for Laughs show with Amber Ruffin (Drunk History, The Second City, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Amber Ruffin Show), Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be live and unscripted. I asked Hagel if she had any memorable improv calamities she wanted to share.

“Oh absolutely. One time when I was touring with The Second City we were doing a show, and the whole audience was a convention of economists, and I’m sure are very interested in economics, but they were not interested in laughing. At least they were not interested in the jokes we were providing, and it was truly, truly, a gruelling and silent 90 minutes, I’ll never forget it.

I think about 45 minutes in, I thought ‘Well I took two semesters of economics in college, I’m sure I can pull out some fun economic references,’ and I really tried, and they were also not interested in those. I think I tried to pull out something about a PPF curve or something, I really was digging deep. Nothing worked. It was really a rough hour and a half of my life.”

Hagel went on to describe the format of this weekend’s Just for Laughs show, where she and Amber Ruffin ‘will be asking each other questions that they have not seen before.’

Basically we’re going to be interviewing each other. We’ve done a lot of panels in our lives where the moderators ask the two of us questions, but this one, we don’t have a moderator, so I’m going to interview Amber, she’s going to interview me, we’re going to go back and forth, so we each have a list of questions the other hasn’t seen.

We each dug up a clip of the other one performing — I don’t know if it will be embarrassing, but it will be something that the other person doesn’t know is going to be shown, so it’ll be fun. When you do a certain number of panels, over time you start to get the same questions over and over, so I think it will be fun to answer questions that we weren’t expecting.

Oh, and I’d love for people to check out The Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock if they’re able to.”

Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin also plan on discussing their approach to writing, and will be giving advice for aspiring writers. I asked Hagel if she could give us an overview of her advice for writers.

“I think I would just say write. I mean nobody wants to hear that, it’s not sexy advice, but it is the most real advice. The best thing you can do if you want to write is just write.

The best thing you can do when an opportunity comes along is to be prepared and have a bunch of writing to show someone. Like (if they say) ‘Hey, I saw you before, you’re great, do have any writing samples?’ If you haven’t written them it is too late, because they want them then.

Or they’ll be like ‘Hey can I see them tomorrow?’ You can’t go home and stay up all night and write a body of work, so the best thing you can do is be writing all the time.

“If you have one particular writing form you are trying to succeed in, write that as much as you can. If you are interested in a bunch of different writing forms, try them all out, and do them over and over again.

“At Late Night with Seth Meyers, I write monologue jokes, and I did not know how to do that originally. I learned how to do it by applying to late night jobs.

One time I had to do an application, I watched several monologues by the host of the show I was applying to and I transcribed them. Then I looked at them on paper and said ‘OK how do these feel?’ and then I wrote a bunch of stuff. I’m sure they were very terrible at the beginning, and a little bit less terrible later on, and slightly less terrible after that.

And over time, it’s just truly like going to the gym and doing reps. I think the best thing you can do as a writer is just keep writing, and it may not feel like it’s getting better, but it is.”

I expressed my admiration for Hagel’s old school ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ attitude, and meekly mentioned the growing pile of Idiot’s Guides I have piled on my coffee table.

“But that’s OK, as long as you’re doing it. It sounds silly, but I like to run, and I am not a world-class athlete at all, but I know that every time I run, I go a little bit farther, and my legs are a little bit stronger. You don’t want to strive to wake up one morning and be a genius, you want to be just a little bit better each time.

You also want to know that every once in a while, no matter how good you get, you’re going to write something that stinks. That happens to me every week — I turn in so many things each week that inevitably, many of them, I would say most of them, are rejected.

And your job is just to keep coming up with new things, and it’s OK — some will be great, some will stink, a lot will be somewhere in the middle, and all of that is OK.”

Hagel and I discussed how writers have to learn how to be prepared to deal with endless rejection…

“But I don’t even think of it as rejection, I think of it like…if you watch someone play baseball, you watch somebody take a bunch of swings, right? Every time a batter misses a ball, it’s not rejection, it’s just ‘OK, well that one didn’t connect. So let’s hope the next one connects.’”

On comedians/late night comedy in the COVID-19 era:

“You know that’s a great question. I think ‘comedians’ is such a big category, and there are so many different forms comedy can take, that I don’t think that there can be one answer to that.

I know for television, during the spring and summer, a lot of late night shows found ways to tape from home — do safe, remote work, and I think that’s what helped late night shows survive. Now some of those shows are starting to bring it back — like the host is in the studio, and SNL had a small audience last week.

So I think that the way comedy is surviving is the way that we are all surviving, in general in the world, which is to continue to adapt to each new phase of the pandemic, to each new challenge that the pandemic brings.”

On the challenges of doing comedy without a live audience:

“I think you just have to go more on gut, like when you’re writing a late night show that has an audience, then the audience tells you what works and what doesn’t, right? And I think without the audience, you have to go with your gut.

One thing I have really liked about that, and not to say that the pandemic is good, but I feel that an interesting outcome of it, is that I think that shows have started to gravitate a little more to their own weird, quirky personalities, because then it becomes less about writing and choosing jokes by committee.

Then it becomes more like, ‘OK, what is the culture, what is the belief set, the comedic taste of this show?’ It emerges a little bit more specifically, which is interesting to see. But I certainly wouldn’t take this over a normal world, where we all get to be together.”

I asked Hagel if she ever wrote jokes that were so outrageous or ridiculous that she never expected them to get on the air at Late Night with Seth Meyers.

“I think that happens all the time, like if you write enough jokes in a row, you stop being able to tell what’s funny to other people. It probably happens at least once a week where I’m like ‘Oh really? OK!’ and then meanwhile, there are other jokes that I think are a complete slam-dunk and my boss will be like ‘Pass,’ and I’m like ‘Really…OK.’”

“That’s absolutely one (Hagel’s ‘How to Properly Wash your hands’ skit) where I pitched it and was like ‘Well obviously this is not gonna get approved,’ and boy, to my surprise, the next thing I knew, the props department was building a bunch of different skeleton hands for me.”

On the 2020 COVID-19 “everything on Zoom” reality:

“I don’t know, I think it’s a mixed bag, I think everybody thinks it’s a mixed bag. There are some days when I think it really helps, like one day recently where I had a crummy day, and it just happened that a group of women that I’m friends with, one of them texted ‘Hey should we all Zoom tonight?’ Fifteen minutes later we were all on Zoom with a glass of wine, and it really helped.

And then there are some days where I feel like if I have to look at one more human face on a screen I’ll die. So I think it’s probably like a weird blessing and a curse to me, and to everybody — I think we’re getting both a little bit of solace and a little bit of loneliness from it at the same time.”

Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.

Stand-up comic Andy Kindler loves Montreal. He loves it so much that he’s even (half?) joking about moving here one day. He loves the rest of Canada too, for that matter. Well, most of the rest of Canada.

During my recent chat with him, I got the impression that he was a low-key Canada-phile — he knew quite a bit about our geography, culture, politics, hockey, official languages, and he even had a shocking position on The Great Bagel Debate.

Andy Kindler is a stalwart comedy veteran from Queens, New York, known not just for his well-honed stand-up routine (with appearances at the Just For Laughs Nasty Show), but also for his recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, and his many appearances on Late Show with David Letterman. He is also a contributor to the Daily Show, and is the voice of Mort on Bob’s Burgers.

Local comedy fans may know Kindler from his legendary State of the Industry Addresses at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. Andy Kindler has given the speech, which has become a cult institution among comedy fans and industry insiders alike, every year since 1996.

Of course, this year’s address, his 25th, will be a little different, given 2020’s quote-unquote “uncertain times.” To be read in that gravelly voice that radiates grim empathy…you know, the voice that now narrates every commercial…

I asked Kindler how stand-up comedians were faring during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown, especially when a live audience is the lifeblood of the industry.

“I mean everyone is scrambling. I started doing Cameo…do you have Cameo up there? Like if you want a comedian or celebrity to wish you happy birthday or give you a pep talk, you go on Cameo. So what I’ve learned from that is that people will not pay $45 to hear me say happy birthday…but they will pay $35! So if I needed the cold slap of reality in my face, I know what I’m worth now.

The other thing is that I’m doing this speech for the first time virtually from home, and I actually think I’m the only person who looks forward to not having an audience. I mean I know it’s gonna be weird, but so many times I spent in the past castigating the people who aren’t laughing.

And I won’t be sitting down for the speech, I’m gonna put a little effort into it, I’ll be standing. And I’ll be dressed nicely from the waist up. I always dress nice, my mother used to say ‘You mean you wouldn’t wanna wear a dress shirt, open-necked?’ You always gotta have a nice shirt.”

While on the topic of virtual comedy, I asked Kindler about how he has taken to the whole ‘everything online’ zeitgeist of 2020.

“Well in some ways I feel like there’s a green, eco-friendly side to this, and a lazy side to it where I would love to, in the future, not go back to going in for every interview. I actually like going in the studio, but I do think that in some ways, that having Zoom, you can do a lot of things that you had to be in person for, but you can do them remotely now, so I think we’ve learned things that way. It also makes you really focus on what you’re doing because you have so much time on your hands. But obviously I think we’re all hoping it (COVID-19) lifts.”

This being Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address, I asked him to comment on the most notable changes in the industry since he gave his first address.

“Yeah, it’s an unbelievable anniversary, unbelievable that I keep the streak going. I think in 1996 it started. So what happened is the first time I came to the festival (Just For Laughs) was ’93, and I had written an article for National Lampoon called The Hack Comic’s Handbook, you can find it on my website.

Then I did a live demonstration of hack comedy in 1995, and Bruce Hills (President, Just For Laughs) said ‘Why don’t you do another speech?’ and then my manager came up with the idea to roast the industry, and it just became a thing, like a summer camp kind of tradition where I would just give the speech.

I think that what’s changed for sure, is that when I first started coming to the festival in ‘93, it was right when a lot of comics were getting sitcom deals from comedy festivals — you had Raymond (Romano), Tim Allen — all these people got deals from the festival, so you had a lot of presidents of the networks there, so there was more of a charged atmosphere. Everybody knew what sitcoms were coming out and all that kind of thing, so it was…not easier, but I knew how to focus it better.

Now, it’s to the point where there’s no fall TV season. I mean yeah, there are fall TV shows, but it’s all changed. But I kind of like it now, because I like the festival now, not the virtual version, but I’ve liked the festivals in the past few years because it feels like people were up there to have fun. And there are actually really great fans in Montreal.”

The most pressing issue Kindler addressed was whether he would bring up Louis C.K.’s penis, which he has discussed at his previous two addresses. We also discussed who else in the industry deserves to be blasted in this year’s address.

“Nah…you know, I think at this point I will get off of his penis (chuckles), but I probably will bring him in at some point. But you know what, there are so many other people to talk about. Like Joe Rogan. And it used to be I would make fun of Jay Leno, but I kind of want to apologize to him because I used to make fun of him just for having bad comedy…but now, with Adam Corolla, he’s not just a horrible comedian, he’s also saying that COVID-19 is fake.

And everybody is going after Chris D’Elia as a person, but let’s not forget that he was also a horrible comedian. What he was doing on stage, it was also a crime.

So I don’t know exactly how I’m going to tackle this thing, but I am totally going to tackle this idea of these people who weren’t very good at stand-up comedy who have gone into things like…Adam Corolla does shows with Dennis Prager and all this right-wing media about how there are no safe spaces on campus, it is a very odd and disturbing trend, so I’m gonna analyse that a little bit.”

No interview with a New Yorker is complete without getting their take on the great Montreal vs. New York Bagel Debate, and Andy Kindler’s response genuinely surprised me. Poutine, and other Montreal and Canada-related topics were touched upon in this exchange, and his proficiency in French also came up.

“Well certain things about Montreal are always going to be great. The bagels will always be the greatest in the world. I decided to try Montreal bagels one year, and they’re lighter and they’re sweeter (than New York bagels). I took a bunch of them to my family in Long Island, and they didn’t travel well, and they made fun of me for years. But overall I much prefer, right out of the oven, a Montreal bagel.

I don’t know what it’s called…oh yeah, the smoked meat. When I first tried it, it was ‘Oh my God it’s the greatest thing in the world,’ but that did wear off. And let me say something…not that anyone cares about poutine, but there’s nothing charming about it. It’s a national joke, right?

But what am I complaining about? It’s really hard, coming from LA or New York to complain about Montreal, I mean when I first went there in the 1990s, I was single at the time, women’s legs were taller than me, I couldn’t even believe it. And the French, everything French, I just love it. And the food, the French food…it’s really hard to get tired of it. But I will say this — Montreal is very touristy.”

When the topic of politics was sideswiped, Kindler brought up a Canadian political figure I was not expecting.

“You know what, I like that Chrystia Freeland. I don’t like Bill Maher, I can’t watch him anymore, but I used to like her when she’d go on Bill Maher. You know, Canadians are better people than Americans. I know you have prejudice up there, and I know you have First Nations issues, but anything bad you’ve got, down here, it’s dwarfed — we’ve done it worse and with less taste.”

On performing in Canada’s Western provinces:

“I remember going out west, it was the late ‘80s early ‘90s, that’s how old I am, I used to play the Western part, and I remember I used to bomb a lot. I was bombing in Edmonton…these crowds were not for me, and the bartender was like ‘Yeah it’s hard to impress us because we have everything here.’ Y’know, they’d just won all those Stanley Cups, so they were very smug in Edmonton. But it’s pretty amazing how diverse the crowds in Canada are, from Halifax and Vancouver, to Montreal.”

On speaking French:

“I speak French very poorly. I took French in grade school, it was terrible, it was in New York and Queens: ‘Bone-jouar class…ou est le porte, ou est le fenêtre?’…so when I go into a room (in Montreal) now, it’s ‘Where is the window, where is the door?’”

On Donald Trump:

“At least you have a regular government there. I’m gonna get in trouble, but (Trudeau isn’t bad) compared to a fascistic madman running around. Well you know the thing is, there’s a Comedy Central clip…there used to be a show on Comedy Central called The Root of all Evil, Louis Black hosted it, and I actually argued that Donald Trump was the root of all evil, and I was making fun of Trump University. So I don’t want to say I’m a seer, but I pride myself on being the first person to compare Trump to Hitler. At least Hitler was a veteran. So that’s basically my take on it.

So you know I’m holding on by my elbows, or whatever you hold onto when you’re trying to keep yourself suspended over a vat of hot oil. I just can’t think past November, I think America is going to be sunk as a country if Trump gets re-elected. We’re in such a deep hole, because it literally is like Orwellian times a million.

Everybody he puts in every department knows nothing about the department, and just wants to undo that department. There are so many parallels (to Hitler), I mean people in the conservative Weimar government, they thought they could play ball with Hitler, people made fun of him. He obviously was smarter than Trump, there are so many parallels — he looked like a crazy man with the way he talked and everything. Actually Trump looks a lot like Mussolini, you know how he shakes his head up and down, self-satisfied.

I don’t think he’s gonna win. I think he might implode before, he’s going nuts I think now, it’s really crazy. That Mary Trump book, I got it and I love it. You really see how he is a sociopath. That will never change (Trump’s support from his base), it will always be about that 40%, but I don’t think he’s gonna get people coming onto him like he did four years ago, I think people are scared of him.”

(Ed’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the news that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19)

What else Andy Kindler is working on:

“I do a podcast called Thought Spiral, and my co-host is Josh Elvis Weinstein, he used to be on Mystery Science Theater 3000. We advertise it as ‘Two jews, two microphones, two hours,’ so it’s basically us just bantering, I really love it. It took me a long time to love it, because it’s a different kind of skill, but we’ve been doing it for three years, so if you need more of me, that’s where I would go to. And I do have an album that’s still available in digital download anytime you want, it couldn’t be any less COVID dangerous.

You know what? You want an answering machine message? I’ll do it for you for $25.”

Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.

For the past decade and a half, the Montreal International Black Film Festival (MIBFF) has had a mission to foster diversity by showcasing Black stories from around the world. This year, in spite of everything that’s happening, and also because of it, MIBFF’s mission will continue.

Given the current reality of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the fact that COVID is still raging around the world and disproportionately impacting communities of colour, a festival that gives a platform to Black artists that would otherwise be invisible more than makes sense — it’s essential.

Understandably, the format will be different this year. MIBFF’s 16th Annual Edition will be almost exclusively online.

Most film festivals operating for the first time without the in-person cinema experience have been forced to geo-block their content to a particular region or country. MBIFF’s lineup, though, will be available to stream all around the world.

Speaking of that lineup, this is Canada’s largest Black film festival and this year features 120 films. An All-Access Pass costs $49 and gives you access to all of them throughout the festival’s run.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • The Cuban: A film by Sergio Navarretta about a young woman who meets and unexpectedly becomes friends with an elderly Cuban musician while working her first job at a nursing home.
  • Black Market: This is a series of free panels focused on the industry side of cinema. Topics include: Racebending in Film and Television, Black Stories Matter, and Black Women Behind the Lens.
  • MBIFF in the Neighborhoods: When we said the festival will be almost exclusively online, this is the exception. It will take place at the Maison Culturelle et Communautaire de Montréal-Nord, and feature screenings of Mahalia Melts in the Rain and Briser le Code, followed by discussion.  
  • Black Boys: A documentary from Executive Producer, activist and two-time Super Bowl champion Malcolm Jenkins and writer/director Sonia Lowman celebrating the full humanity of Black men and boys in America and revealing the emotional landscape of racism in order to ask the viewer to re-imagine a different world.
  • Canadian Films: This year MIBFF is putting a spotlight on Canadian filmmakers.

The 16th Annual Montreal International Black Film Festival runs from September 23 to October 4. You can watch all 120 films whenever you want during the run of the festival by purchasing an All-Access Pass for $49 through MontrealBlackFilm.com where you can also see the full lineup.

In spite of indoor public gatherings of up to 250 people being allowed, Montreal’s annual Fantasia Film Festival has opted to go online this year due to COVID-19. The event is described as a “cutting-edge virtual festival, taking place August 20 to September 2, 2020.” Among the festival’s offerings this year is the film Anything for Jackson, a horror film whose subject matter is reminiscent of the 1970s films of the same genre. I had the privilege of speaking with star Konstantina Mantelos about her role, and the effect the pandemic has had on the film industry.

Anything for Jackson is about Mantelos’ character, Shannon Becker, who at eight months pregnant is kidnapped by a pair of elderly Satanists, played by Canadian actors Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings. The two Satanists are hoping to bring back their dead grandson via a Satanic ritual involving Becker’s unborn child. When I pointed out the similarities of the plot to 1970s horror films, Mantelos enthusiastically agreed.

“When the director and writer first met with me they referenced Rosemary’s Baby meets Hereditary. They really pulled on a lot of older, classic horror film ideas and they modernized it. They’ve taken a new twist on horror films that are happening right now and used these themes as metaphors for real life things that we face. It sounds like a zany concept, but there’s a lot of love in the story, there’s a lot of themes of motherhood and caring for those you love, and that’s really what’s at the centre of the story.”

Konstantina Mantelos

I wondered if given this ongoing trend in horror, Mantelos felt the film’s subject matter was especially relevant given the current apocalyptic times, or whether Anything for Jackson was just a bit of fun. Mantelos laughed and said it was a bit of both.

“I think there’s an interesting factor in the story, an older couple trying to bring back their grandson with no regard for the fact that they are doing this to a young woman who has her future ahead of her and who has this child that she would love and be her own. There’s a sort of selfishness there, as well-meaning as these two are, as you’ll see in the film that they are quite endearing, at the end of the day there is a sort of slightly larger metaphor of older generation: what’s happened to the planet, what we as a younger generation are facing now. There’s a little bit of that. We discussed it when we were working on the film that we think is not a prominent theme in the film, but what I think can be gleaned from it.”

When I asked which of the countless horror sub-genres Anything for Jackson fell into, Mantelos said that despite the subject matter seeming quite campy, the movie sits more within the realm of reality.

“The stuff that we’re facing is quite out of this world, but the way it’s dealt with is in a quite down to earth, dark manner.”

Given the intensity of the part she plays in the movie, I was curious as to the challenges she faced working on the film. Mantelos laughed at this question, discussing the challenge of playing someone who is eight months pregnant when she herself has never been pregnant.

She did some research and reached out to friends who have been pregnant. Mantelos speaks affectionately about how helpful her co-star Sheila McCarthy was when speaking about her own pregnancy experience, and about the extreme emotional and physical changes involved. She described the heavy jelly-filled pregnancy vest she had to wear throughout most of the filming day, and the challenge of being chained to a bed for much of the film.

Given all the talk in the media about the decline in the arts due to the pandemic, I wanted to know how it had affected Mantelos’ work. She pointed out the obvious decline in auditions she was getting, as well as many productions shutting down.

“Funny story, we shot this film — it was a three-week shooting schedule. We literally wrapped on the day that all production got shut down. I essentially went from this very hectic, busy shooting schedule to coming back home to Toronto and essentially being stuck in my house!”

Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings in Anything for Jackson

Though auditions have shut down, Mantelos has found a way to make the best of things. She has used the isolation to be productive on personal projects, including screenwriting and producing, which she’d never had time to sit down and give the attention they needed. She mentions that being stuck at home allowed her to complete the first draft of a script she was working on.

When I asked her what else she was getting up to during the pandemic, Mantelos mentioned doing a movie marathon, where she watched a film every day and posted about it on Instagram. Though she no longer watches one every day, she’s already reached 160 movies, mostly fiction. In addition to the movie marathon, she has also been baking, recently making a strawberry and cream bread from The Hobbit Cookbook.

Given how much adapting the arts have had to do since the pandemic started, I asked Mantelos if she thought the changes would be permanent. In response, she mentioned that Anything for Jackson is set to come out on Super Channel Fuse in October, which was planned in advance.

“They’re doing a really wonderful job, and part of it is nice because things like Fantasia are things I always wanted to participate in or have participated in and attended, but a lot of people don’t know that there are things that the public can buy tickets to and the average Joe can get tickets to a big movie premier, and it’s really amazing that it’s accessible. In that way it’s nice because now people are going to be able to access the premier all across Canada, and that’s something wouldn’t have happened if we were doing a traditional red carpet premier in the theatre.”

Anything for Jackson premieres tomorrow, September 1, 2020, as part of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival. Info and tickets available through FantasiaFestival.com

It’s been a few months since we’ve been able to have a drink and check out a band with others in public. It’s been considerably longer since we’ve been able to do that at the Jailhouse Rock Café.

The now-legendary Montreal music venues closed its cell door at 30 Mont-Royal Ouest for the last time in 2001, so we’re talking almost two decades. Now, thanks to a new book by Domenic Castelli (if you remember the Jailhouse, you know who he is) you can relive the scene.

The Jailhouse Rock Café – Show Posters 1988-2001 Montreal is exactly what it sounds like and then some. It’s a visual history of the venue from its early days as Bar La Terrasse and then as Jailhouse under original owner Jacques Corbo to when Castelli convinced his brother David to buy the place in 1998 and the Castelli Bros moved everything around, turning it into the venue most of us remember, and right up to when the landlord refused to renew the lease.

Jailhouse was mostly known as a punk venue, and for good reason. Many a local and touring punk band graced their stage (and wrote on the backstage wall).

But the venue also featured rockabilly, ska, rock, you name it, they had it at some point. They even had burlesque, vaudeville and horror theatre all rolled into one.

Full disclosure: I was part of that particular show, Dead Dolls Cabaret, and yes, some of our posters are in the book. I also went to other shows at Jailhouse, some where I had friends in one of the bands and some just because.

While I only really started going to local shows in the later years of Jailhouse, the whole book is full of memories for me. That’s because in those days, you didn’t have to actually go to the show to remember the poster.

Show posters were part of Montreal’s landscape. You couldn’t walk around the Plateau without seeing a bunch of them.

Whether they were made by a professional graphic designer or the bassist who also happened to draw, they were art. A lost art form that comes alive again in this book.

While there are plenty of photos, both on stage and back stage, as well as the odd set list, newspaper listing and bit of text explaining things, the show posters are key. And they look great, even on a computer screen.

Of course this is meant to be a physical coffee table book, the kind you invite a few friends over to look at over drinks while listening to music from the Jailhouse era.

UPDATE: You can now order the physical book or the book with a Jailhouse T-Shirt or Hoodie or the e-book (also available in an Amazon Kindle Edition).

Featured image courtesy of Domenic Castelli