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.

To say that Jessimae Peluso is happy with her Just for Laughs booking this year would be quite the understatement.

“It’s the one show,” Paluso says of her upcoming gig, JFL staple The Nasty Show, “that for years I’ve said this is my show, this is my jam!”

Peluso has played JFL before. as part of Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud Live! series. While she considers her previous experience both enlightening and even a bit overwhelming. This time, though, she’s excited to bring the nasty.

“It’s purely based in what I love to do most and how I like to perform, which is uncensored and straight from my brain to my mouth,” Peluso commented in a phone interview, adding: “which, for the better part of my life, I’ve been in trouble for.”

Exile from the classroom and mouth washed out with soap (both of which Peluso mentioned) aside, the comic also hosts not one, but two podcasts. I asked her why so many comedians turn to podcasting and for her, creative control is the most alluring aspect.

“There’s no red tape, there’s no waiting for the network to okay the content, there’s no network notes or anything from people who have never set foot on a stage or written anything creative in their life,” Peluso observed, “it’s a liberating medium for any sort of performer or public speaker. It’s a great way to talk about something that interests you.”

And what interests Peluso? Well, talking comedy on her Sharp Tongue Podcast clearly does. Her Highlarious Podcast, though, has a dual focus of raising awareness about Alzheimers, which her father passed away from in October (and Seth Rogan’s Hilarity for Charity), and talking about the benefits of cannabis, in particular legalization.

When I mentioned that weed is legal now north of the border, Peluso was quite aware and prepared:

“I’m going to be out in a bikini at 8am smoking weed in public saying ‘sorry, sorry, just living my truth’, I’m excited.”

I could tell she was excited throughout the interview. I’d like to bring up more of what we touched on, like how a video of her LOL performance is inexplicably bleeped on YouTube, her discovery that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mom is also playing JFL, her three dogs or the fact she started the interview by calling me Jason Voorhees (some real dad joke-level humour there), but I can’t include it all.

Instead, I’ll leave the last word to Peluso. When I asked her what audiences can expect from her this year, she said:

“They can expect to see somebody who feels real honoured and at home on a stage that celebrates comedy without restrictions.”

Catch Jessimae Peluso as part of The Nasty Show July 17-27. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Man thrusts fist at viewer

For eight seasons on the shameless sketch comedy series MadTV, comedian Bobby Lee cracked audiences up with his impersonations of celebs like Connie Chung and Kim Jong-il…but just as often by simply running around naked, even to the point where one sketch featured an Intervention-style sit-down with his concerned co-stars. It was a career-launching experience for the California native, who makes his Montreal debut this week as the host of Just For Laughs The Nasty Show. With his successful podcast introducing him to new fans, the 47-year old is happy to reflect on the good ol’ Mad days and share just how nasty he plans to get.

James Gartler: How did your popular TigerBelly podcast get started back in 2015?

Bobby Lee: My girlfriend asked “how come you don’t have a podcast?”And I said, “No one will listen if I have one.” So, she went to the store and bought all the equipment and told me “Well fine, I’m going to do it on my own then,” and for a couple of weeks she did. One day I just walked by the room and she was sitting by herself looking so sad, so I said “Fuck it, okay, I’ll do one with you”.

It turned out really well and we started accumulating a couple of episodes and building some good traction and eventually I was able to get really good guests, like Jordan Peele, Eric Stonestreet, Craig Ferguson and others. It kind of reinvented me in a sense. People wanted to see me again. So it’s been great.

JG: Do you feel podcasts are great medium for comedians? It seems like an open-mic night that can go on for as long as you want it to and no one can censor you really…

BL: Also you find your real audience that way, I’ve done a lot of different things – a couple of lines here and there in movies, TV shows and whatnot – but podcasts were the way to reach the people that share my real sensibilities and people that enjoy what I have to say. It’s reinvented my shit, man, and I’m pretty happy.

JG: Have you never performed in Montreal before?

BL: I’ve never performed in Montreal before. I’ve done Vancouver a bunch of times, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, all those rooms, but Montreal is the one festival I’ve never done, which is weird because I’ve been in the game for so long.

JG: You’re hosting JFL’s The Nasty Show, which is a popular ticket. How do you decide what material works best for that kind of evening?

BL: Well, not every joke I’m going to tell is going to be a dirty one. I feel like I’ll do an act that I would do in L.A. and that’ll suffice. People say that I’m really dirty – I don’t see that. I could have done The Ethnic Show a couple of years ago, but I decided that maybe the dirty one was more up my alley.

People think that when I perform that a lot of Korean people come out. I have no Asians come out. My audience is a mix of everyone. Obviously, I have Asian people that like me, but I wouldn’t say that’s my audience. If you see someone like Jo Koy, he has a huge Asian audience. I don’t think Asians like me that much.

JG: Why’s that?

BL: I won’t tell you who it was but many years ago there was a Korean actor at The Comedy Store who saw me perform and he came up to me and said: “you’re a disgrace to your people”. So that’s when I knew, “ohhhh, I don’t really connect with them really” (Laughs). Like, if you look at my audience, the people have tattoos on their eyeballs, or they have some weird thing they’re doing with their hair, they look a little dirtier, much like me. I’m just a dirty ethnic guy.

JG: On MadTV you showed a real propensity for running around naked. Did they request it or did it evolve over time?

BL: I just had this thing growing up where I just kinda liked being naked. It’s a control thing, to be honest with you. The other reason why I do it is because I never thought that I was that sexy, but once I started getting naked and being more comfortable with my body is when I feel like women started going “Oh – he thinks it’s good. Maybe it is good?”

It was a way to build my self-esteem, really to be honest with you. And also, getting naked on MadTV was nothing – I used to do some crazy shit. I used to poo in people’s dressing rooms. I pooed in the executive producer’s office once. So being naked is not the worst thing I did.

JG: So by comparison they overlooked it…

BL: Oh yeah. But MadTV taught me so many things about life. It really influenced me because it was so difficult being on that show, especially in the late 90s/early 2000s.

I was a little Korean guy on an American sketch show and that rarely happens.

For me to be able to get that show and learn how to act and memorize lines and perform on TV was so valuable. And also it taught me that “oh shit – maybe you can make it”. Getting there was so important to me on so many different levels.

JG: And a lot of the cast has moved on to great things. Alex Borstein, of course, has her great voiceover career and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are doing well for themselves. Who are most jealous of, from your costars, if anyone?

BL: Honestly, I’m not jealous of any of those guys because those guys are all family. I’m more jealous of people who are more my type. When people my type do better than me, then I get a little crazy.

JG: What’s your type?

BL: I think my fear is that when other when other Asians make it people think that I’m that person. Like when Ken (Jeong) got Hangover and it became a big hit, I would walk down the street and people would roll down the window and yell “Hangover!” so people thought I was Ken for years. That’s what I dread the most – when other Asians make it and people think that I’m them.

JG: Was there a backlash for MadTV alums after you left the show? The material didn’t pull any punches. You made fun of everything and everyone and it was hilarious. Was it hard to go into an audition and say “hello and yes – I’m the guy from MadTV”?

BL: At the time when we were doing it, it felt like… We had no control over what the show was.

When Keegan and Jordan and Ike (Barinholtz) were there, I knew, even though we weren’t really a hit, we were under the radar, but I still knew that the level of talent on MadTV that could rival SNL. I’m not saying we were better, but I was able to see so many good guys.

When I joined the show, Alex was still there, Will Sasso, Michael McDonald…all those guys are my friends and it was just a great introduction to comedy. Keegan and Jordan and Alex and all these people being successful only helps my cause. I feel like Key & Peele reinvented the way the industry views MadTV. I know that Key & Peele was their own thing, but they are MadTV people and they met on MadTV. The kind of talent I was exposed to completely and utterly blew me away.

And also, I got sober on that show. I discovered recovery on that show. I relapsed, I got sober and that’s how I was able to do movies after that. So even though there was some darkness, I have fond memories when it comes to Mad.

The Nasty Show runs July 17 to 27. Tickets are available at hahaha.com or by calling 514-845-2322. Follow Bobby Lee on Twitter @thetigerbelly.

comedian dave merheje

Dave Merheje is a comedic force to be reckoned with. Growing up in Windsor, Ontario to Lebanese immigrant parents, he worked for a sightseeing company along with other odd jobs, soon after, he got into comedy.

Since then his star has only risen; he’s played at multiple Just for Laughs festivals in Montreal, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, the Halifax Comedy Festival, and his 2018 comedy special Good Friends, Bad Grammar was nominated for a 2019 Juno Award. This year, Merheje is appearing at Just for Laughs as part of The Ethnic Show and a solo show at Katacombes as part of Off-JFL & Zoofest.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Merheje at Just for Laughs HQ downtown.

As he’s doing The Ethnic Show this year, I asked if he considers himself to be an ethnic comedian. He smiled, calling it a tricky question and said that he never sought out to be an ethnic comic, but sharing his culture, upbringing and experiences may lead others to perceive him as such.

He considers his comedy to be closest version of himself, on stage as off stage. Early on in his career, he says a fellow comedian advised him to avoid talking about his ethnicity because “everyone was doing it”. It led him to shy away from the sensitive material, until, while talking about his father to another comedian, they suggested he discuss it on stage, now he embraces the subject, and so do audiences.

Merheje portrays his family as this hilarious dichotomy between his calm serene mother, and his aggressive matter-of-fact father. I asked him how his family feels about how he represents them, and he said they’re “dope” about it. Though his father won’t be at Just for Laughs, he comes to many of Merheje’s shows including the Juno Awards this year.

“They can take it.” He says, “they understand it’s humour and they’re not offended.”

Merheje says that some people build their own narratives about him when they find out he’s Middle Eastern, and he considers it his job to tell his truth on stage. He has experienced problems with xenophobic heckling before, with one heckler asking what age he learned to detonate bombs, but he rolls with the punches because at least the comments are said to his face.

He said some Middle Eastern people enjoy his comedy while others think he’s giving people the wrong impression about his culture but if they do. It’s on them, and he’s still going to keep doing what he does.

When I asked Merheje how feels about Montreal audiences compared to others, he said they’re a very comedy-savvy audience.

“It’s a good energy. They watch comedy, they see it every year, it’s the biggest festival in the world so they’re here for it. They’re hip to it.”

Merheje is grateful for all the extra attention he’s been getting lately but is determined to maintain a proper work ethic. He knows that you can’t buy into the attention too much or you can get hurt when it doesn’t go your way.

I asked him if there was one thing he could say to audiences, what would it be.

“Just have fun. Don’t take everything so personally. It’s just a show. It’s entertainment. Just have fun with it.”

In addition to his set at Just for Laughs’ The Ethnic Show and his solo show for Off JFL & Zoofest this year, Dave Merheje can also be seen on the Hulu show, Ramy, where he plays the main character’s devout Muslim friend (a character he says is very different from himself). Check him out.

For tickets go to hahaha.com

James Mullinger has a very interesting story to say the least. A few years ago, he was living a celebrity-filled life in London, England as an editor for GQ. Now, he lives in New Brunswick and is building a name for himself on the standup comedy circuit.

FTB’s Hannah Besseau had a chance to speak with him before his Almost Canadian Tour arrives at Montreal’s Theatre Sainte-Catherine this Wednesday:

Win Tickets!

James Mullinger will perform Almost Canadian this Wednesday, April 24 at 7:30pm at Theatre Sainte-Catherine, 264 rue Ste-Catherine Est. To win a pair of tickets, simply comment on this post, or on FTB’s Facebook share with your favourite city or town in New Brunswick. You can also tweet your favourite city or town in New Brunswick to @forgetthebox

We’ll randomly draw the winner from the entries we receive and announce who gets the tickets Wednesday morning. If you don’t win, you can buy tickets through ThePointOfSale.com.

Julia Sánchez may be a first-time political candidate, but she has years of experience in highly politicized circles, tackling, for the most part, climate change. Now the former Managing Director for the Global Campaign for Climate Action is carrying the NDP banner in the Outremont by-election.

FTB’s Hannah Besseau had a chance to speak with her last week:

Featured image via NDP

Usine 106U is not like other art galleries. It’s not immaculately clean or impeccably organized, and its outer mural is as colourful and eccentric as the art you’ll find within.

Located in the Plateau next to the iconic Else’s Pub, the gallery attracts everyone from painters to sculptors to dollmakers and photographers. The gallery’s openings on the first Thursday of every month feature works that range from the classic to the extreme and the atmosphere is one of an eccentric family reunion rather than a formal affair.

Inside Usine 106U

While most galleries in Montreal charge huge commissions and exhibiting fees, Usine 106U takes fifty dollars a month and ten percent commission on any sales. In exchange, every artist gets four by five feet of space to show their work to passersby and regular visitors. Artists who volunteer their time running the place get all fees and commissions waved.

A Concept that Grew Over a Decade

The official caretaker of the gallery is Eric Braün, a multidisciplinary artist known for his acrylic paintings of creatures. His style for me is reminiscent of Bosch and Dali, with a hit of Nightmare Before Christmas thrown in.

Usine 106U has been around for 12 years. In the beginning, it was just a show of the same name.


Eric Braün

A guy from Paul’s Boutique record store lent Eric and other artists a paddock with the goal of creating art on the spot, filling the walls as they went. The show lasted one week and was hugely successful, with the media and others coming in to wait, ready to buy the works in progress once they were finished. Almost everything was sold.

The show’s success led to an offer to continue it through to the end of the month, followed by an offer to rent the space on a monthly basis. From there came the idea of artists sharing the cost and management of the place and the rest is history.

When I asked Eric about the name, he explained that it was a French play on words.

“If you pronounce in French the number ‘cent six’ – one zero six – and the letter u it makes ‘sans issu’ and ‘sans issu’ sounds like ‘sans issue’ which means ‘no way out’ and that was the title of my anthology cause I used to do comics so it was always a collective. But back then it was international and silent so it could be distributed in many different countries without having to translate.”

In addition to Eric’s paintings, he also has copies of his comic books and sculptures for sale at the gallery. When I asked what kind of artists he feels the gallery attracts, Braün spoke of people who do very intense personal work, “outsider art” that doesn’t fit current fashion, and some old style abstract pieces.

Open But Selective

Eric is discriminating in his choice of artists who get to show there: “If someone does some really bad copies of some photos that you see on the internet I tell them they should work more on their stuff and come back later,” he said.

When looking for artists to admit to the gallery, he’s not looking for perfection but originality and honesty in the work. Currently there are 40 different artists showing their work with the common thread being that:

“Everything is figurative, there’s a narrative, there’s a story being told and everything is kind of explorative. People take chances, they develop their own language, they go into their own world, and they keep working at it to create something that is original and unique.”

If there is a word to describe the art at Usine 106U, unique is certainly it. Whether it’s the hyperdoodled paintings and guitars of artist John Lanthier, Jean Martin Raven’s sculptures, or the realistic yet wonderfully eerie paintings of Xavier Landry.

John Lanthier painting a guitar at Usine 106U

Much of the art is not for the faint of heart, with art depicting graphic nudity, sex and violence displayed alongside cutesy hand knitted dolls. That said, Usine 106U is more than a gallery.

Home Away From Home

For artist John Lanthier, it’s a home away from home. He’s been showing his work at Usine since 2015 and like many artists, he volunteers his time in exchange for showing there:

“I enjoy making art in the environment here and appreciate having a permanent gallery space where my psychedelic paintings, sculptures and custom guitars can feel at home amongst the many diverse local artworks that cover the walls. Thanks to Eric Braun I’ve also had my Hyperdoodling paintings and Guitart instruments featured in the last nine magazines…which is pretty cool.”

The magazine in question was created following Eric Braün’s failed attempts to get his work in a local art magazine which was poorly managed and written. So like any pioneer, Braün decided to publish his own, and Usine106Us quarterly free magazine features work from a variety of artists showing at the gallery.

As a working artist, Usine 106U saved me from a dark time in my life. Their collective welcomed me with open arms, a tale shared by many who come to the gallery hoping for an affordable space to show their work. In addition to the monthly vernissages, they also do free collage workshops (bring your own glue).

When I asked Eric Braun what advice he had for aspiring artists, he was very pragmatic:

“Get a job to pay your bills and then do art with your needs taken care of or you’ll go crazy.”

The gallery is located at 160 Roy East and is open every day from noon to 6pm. Check it out.

Photos by Samantha Gold

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of those shows with a cult following. Devotees of Rocky Horror and other Angry Inch fans (called “HedHeads”) love Hedwig for its nods to drag, gender bent characters, humor, queerness and glam rock. The story is at once heart wrenching and inspirational, with catchy tunes that make you want to dance in your seat and sing along.

I had the privilege of speaking to producer of the current Montreal run and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal by email. Originally from Los Angeles, she made her theatrical debut playing Chrissy in Hair and her film and television credits include Star Trek: First Contact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: Voyager and Cracker: Mind Over Murder.

Hannibal has had a love affair with Hedwig since she saw her friend Michael Cerveris assume the role from its creator John Cameron Mitchell in the late nineties. There had only been one or two productions in Montreal over the years and it had always been in the back of her mind as something she wanted to do.

Composer and lyricist for the original show Stephen Trask was present for opening night to do a post-show Q&A. He said that originally the show didn’t have a script, only John Cameron Mitchell’s idea to do a show about himself and a request that Trask adapt a story from Plato’s Symposium. That said, I asked Hannibal if they had an actual script to work with for the Montreal show.

“When the show was produced off-broadway in 1998, there was a fully realized script. That is the version we used,” she said, ” prior to that production, it was developed in bars and at parties, beginning with Hedwig’s debut at Squeezebox, a drag bar where Stephen was the music director. When the Broadway version was produced in 2014, there were many differences. In order to create a bigger show more fitting for a large Broadway house like the Belasco Theatre, there was additional dialogue and an added song.”

Hannibal also told me that she was in contact with Stephen Trask throughout the rehearsal process as it was important to her that they present his preferred version of the songs given the differences between those in the film, the off-Broadway version, and the Broadway version. He provided one or two notes after their dress rehearsal.

There has been a lot of controversy in the media recently with regards to cis actors being cast in transgender roles. Given that Andrew Morrissey, who is a cis male, is playing Hedwig, I asked Hannibal if she considered casting a transgender actor and she provided an important clarification with regards to the character’s gender identity:

“John Cameron Mitchell describes Hedwig as genderqueer and not trans. As she has had genital reconstruction surgery because of circumstance, I think it is important to mention. We auditioned every actor and non-actor who submitted and cast the best person for the role.”

The band is quite important to the show given how they interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak. I wondered if they cast musicians with acting experience or actors who could play.

“With the exception of Kevin Bourne (guitar), who came highly recommended by a couple of friends, I have worked with both Stephen Menold (bass) and Sebastian Balk-Forcione (drums) on other productions,” Hannibal answered, “I prefer working with people over and over. There is an established trust. I am fully confident they will be able to handle anything we throw at them, including snazzy costumes, eyeliner and hair colour!”

As a huge fan of the movie, I noticed that this show focused a lot more on the abusive relationship between Hedwig and her husband, Yitzhak, something that was minimized in the film. Hannibal said that John Cameron Mitchell wrote the book with detailed stage directions and notes and they decided to stay true to his vision. With regards to Yitzhak’s character, Hannibal points out that the film doesn’t give him any back story whereas the stage script does. In the stage script, Yitzhak is described as the most famous drag queen in Zagreb.

With regards to the show’s animations, most were done by their director and choreographer Nadia Verrucci. For The Origin of Love Animation, Hannibal found it on YouTube and reached out to the artist to get permission to use it in the show.

For all those who have seen the movie and not the show, and to those that had never seen the show or film before, Hannibal said to come in with an open mind. I say do that, and come with an open heart as well. The story is at once funny, sad, and uplifting.

* Featured image by Romantic Photographic

After being infamously evicted from his St. Laurent Boulevard location by his landlord last October, Terry Westcott has re-opened his jewel of a bookstore, the Librairie T. Westcott.

The revived store is in the St. Hubert Plaza, a bustling shopping area that promises to provide a new community of devotees for the beloved old landmark. The address is 6792 St. Hubert, and its accessible location – halfway between the Jean-Talon and the Beaubien metro stations – makes it an easy destination for bibliophiles. (ED’s Note: Yes, we know the area is currently under construction, but even in Montreal, that won’t last forever)

“It’s a good location, it’s a nice long store,” Terry says, “and I have the same number of bookcases I had before.” The space is indeed long and narrow – actually quite a bit longer than the previous store – and perfect for housing Mr. Westcott’s extensive collection.

Not so long ago, on a bleak and rainy day, I’d been a grim witness to the effects of rising rents, as a chunk of the 20 000-volume Westcott collection was carted away by a 1-800-GOT-JUNK dump truck for recycling. I asked Terry how much of his collection he’d been able to save.

“There are certain sections I’ve had to rebuild – my Latin American history section, my Jewish History section, my travel books, my Chinese History, my Russian History.” But, after 25 years, he’s not starting over from scratch.

Most of his treasured collection survived the purge. Concerned about his wide-ranging science fiction section, I was relieved to discover it was intact, although still packed up.

Did he have any misgivings about opening an English bookstore in a largely francophone part of town?

“Oh, I looked around,” he explains. “The problem with NDG, for example on Monkland, or in Verdun – they’re busy on the weekends but they’re slow during the week because those are mostly residential areas. People are at work. Children are at school. So on weekdays it’s very quiet. But St Hubert Plaza is quite crowded, seven days a week. That’s what a bookshop needs to survive. And of course it’s much busier on the weekends.”

Terry adds: “There are a lot of people moving over to the Petit-Patrie from the Plateau. Everything’s so expensive over there and so things are shifting over here.”

I wonder how it seems to be working out so far, considering the preponderance of English in the store. Terry is upbeat.

“A lot of French people are glad to have an English bookshop [in the area],” he says. “There are two French book stores down the street – a Renaud-Bray and Librairie Raffin– and there’s also a second-hand bookshop, Parenthèse. Most people in the Montreal area that read are fluently bilingual. So they’re happy to get an English bookshop. This is their chance to get a lot of English books, and also publications like Indiana University Press or South Georgia University Press that are never going to be translated into French.”

As before, Terry will no doubt make use of every square foot in the store, where the books were organized by subject and piled almost to the ceiling. Finding what you wanted was sometimes a challenge, as well as a balancing act, but Terry seemed to always know what he had, or at least, where it was likely to be found if he had it.

I express my relief that he didn’t have to retire and spend his days watching golf on TV, something he’d contemplated during the demise of the old shop. Instead, he’s now looking forward to having his bookshop become a new community hub again, like it was in the old location on St. Laurent.

Then I notice a photo of an impressive feline on the wall. Terry denies that it’s there as a reminder of his previous cat companions Emma (as in Jane Austen) and Eliot (as in T.S.) who had the run of the place.

“It’s a Florida panther,” he explains, “and they’re endangered. So I leave it up there so people can see…. He’s got a very intelligent look on his face. No deception: ‘I am what I am.’”

Whether deliberate or not, there couldn’t be a more apt metaphor for Terry Westcott and his resilient bookstore. While some see bookstores as endangered, Terry is steadfast in his chosen occupation.

He is what he is – and so as long as there are people with a passion for books, Terry Westcott and his Librairie will serve a vibrant new community of readers.

* Photos by Dan Svatek

Montreal’s The Holds are a band inspired by the greats and their local contemporaries. Frontman Ryan Setton cites classic R&B artists like Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder, classic rock acts such as The Animals and Led Zeppelin and  local acts like John Jacob Magistry and The Damn Truth among the band’s influences.

“When we approach what we do,” Setton said in a telephone interview, “we’re influenced by the past but we’re not thinking about it. We’re definitely in the moment of what’s going on now (on the Montreal scene). The result is The Holds.”

Setton feels that the scene that influences them is also one that gives back.

“Montreal’s always been a very supportive scene, a lot of people are supporting the bands,” he said, adding that “it can be tough, though, at the same time because there are a lot of bands. So it can be intimidating sometimes as an artist to find out just where you fit in.”

The Holds is Setton on vocals and guitar, Justin Wiley on drums and percussion, Eric Hein playing lead guitar and André Galamba on bass. That was the same lineup I caught at their EP launch two years ago, shortly after the band’s formation.

“We are lucky enough to have the same lineup for years,” Setton observed, “building chemistry and having a good band chemistry and interaction between the musicians is super important. With the first EP it was more like ‘Hey, let’s do this!’ We didn’t really know where it was going to go. But doing this second record it was clear we’re all on the same page…There’s no confusion as to what direction we’re headed in as a band.”

While The Holds are a band that sticks together, they also tried living together for four days in the country. This was in order to record their first full-length album Juke, featuring songs they had already written over the course of a year and a half.

“We had recorded many times in the city,” Setton remembered, “and at the end day everyone would go home and we’d have to come back in the morning and get back into the flow. That’s why I thought if I get everyone together, we’re in one place, we’re stuck there…and it was totally worth it because it all worked out for the best.”

You can hear for yourself this Saturday when The Holds play live and release Juke. In the meantime, enjoy this video from their first EP:

* The Holds Juke Album Launch with special guests Celina Wolfe and Lea Keeley is Satuday, August 25 at 9pm (doors 8pm) at le Petit Campus, 57 Prince Arthur Est. $10 (includes a dropcard with a download code for the album)

Dawn McSweeney has been writing for years: short stories, poetry, even some journalistic pieces for this very site. Now, she has finished and published her first novel, The Mountains We Climb By Accident.

“The story lent itself to the length of a novel,” McSweeney said in a phone interview, “I started writing it with the hopes that it would be a book, but I’ve done that before and they don’t always get there. This one did.”

McSweeney did try self-publishing once before, back in the early 2000s, which meant actually paying for paper and doing it yourself. She finds that now there is much more opportunity for authors to get their work our there, but, of course, there are limitations.

“There’s no support, there’s no net, there’s no person who is the expert who is guiding this whole ship, it’s kind of like ‘here are some words, I hope they stick’,” she observed, while also noting that her daughter’s friend got her book as an Amazon recommendation, so “maybe there is a fair shot to be had.”

Location may have played a part in that recommendation as McSweeney’s book is set in Montreal, which, as she puts it “not enough” are. This choice was, in part, because it’s what she knows, but also due to some of the unique aspects of life in our city.

“People tell me that in other places they don’t use parks the way that we do.  We treat a park like a beach and  lay out in a way that in other cities maybe they don’t,” the Montreal born and raised author observed, noting  that “the things we take for granted and just process every day are actually flavourful experiences that are site-specific.”

McSweeney grew up thinking that if you set your story in Canada, it will be considered just a Canadian story, without the prospect of getting traction internationally. However, she now feels that a Montreal story is different.

“We’re OG hipster in that way,” she observes, “we have that caché of a very small space that we have injected so much personality into.”

Family relations also play a big part in her story, too. And one planned plot point was unexpectedly mirrored in McSweeney’s own life as she was completing the book.

“I didn’t plan for that to happen,” McSweeney observed, “and it was strange to be writing about that concurrently.”

The Mountains We Climb By Accident follows its central character Talia from the present day, to a few years prior, to her childhood, then back to a few years ago, then back to the present, then to her teenage years and so on. It reads like several short stories woven together thematically rather than chronologically.

McSweeney says she chose this structure to better emulate how a person actually thinks:

“We are just a collection of our disjointed experiences,” she explained, “they are all each a chapter and are all each a separate narrative. You can remember something from your childhood so poignantly and then completely forget a conversation you had last week. One becomes the afterthought and one becomes the centerpiece memory. Sometimes I struggle to write something in a straight line because that’s not how it feels when I experience it.”

You can experience this unique narrative structure and a story based in Montreal right now.

The Mountains We Climb By Accident by Dawn McSweeney is available now in paperback and can be pre-ordered as an e-Book

When it comes to Tom Green, “expect the unexpected” is pretty much a given. Still, nothing could prepare me for the star of Freddy Got Fingered reciting all the Prime Ministers of Canada since Confederation in order.

But that’s exactly what he did at the end of our phone interview plugging his one-night only show at Just for Laughs. He got it right, too (yes, Wikipedia and I fact-checked Tom Green) and would have done the US Presidents, too, if it wasn’t time for him to move on to his next interview.

Green said that this history lesson will be part of his one night only show at Just for Laughs. Last time I caught him perform, modern US politics were center stage, too, as it happened in the lead-up to the last US Presidential Election. This time around, though, don’t expect him to focus on the current state of US politics.

“I don’t like my audience to think they are coming out to hear somebody preaching against Donald Trump for two hours,” he said, “because that’s not really what my show is about.”

Green feels that politics are all anyone is talking about in the States these days, including him, so while he does do a few minutes on the topic, he focuses more on “social issues and talking about the absurdity of life in today’s world, all of the things that aren’t directly associated with politics but are still kind of interconnected with them.”

Green has been performing stand-up since he was 15, with a break to get famous on MTV and in movies. For the past decade, though, he has been making live audiences laugh pretty much full time.

While he always has old and new material in his head and a tentative plan for the show, it’s never set in stone. He edits his show in his head depending on where the crowd wants him to go.

“When I do a joke that may be a little, let’s say, outrageous and if I feel that the audience loves that sort of outrageous commentary, maybe I’ll do a few more jokes like that,” he noted, “but if they’re getting tired of a certain type of subject matter, I’ll know maybe before they do and switch.”

While Green admits that many comics employ improv and audience work like him, what sets him apart are the different energy levels he brings to a show.

“It’s not just about the material,” he said, “it’s about how I’m saying the joke, the speed that I’m going. I’ll literally have nights where I’m doing standup and I’ll realize that this crowd wants me to be more weird, so I’ll change my personality on stage. Then there are some nights I’ll be performing in Las Vegas where I’ll notice the crowd wants me to be a bit more normal.”

But did all those TV stunts Green pulled off with people on the street influence his approach to stand-up?

“It’s almost in reverse,” he said, “people forget that I did stand-up for several years before I started The Tom Green Show. They don’t really necessarily realize that all that stuff on the street, that was rooted in stand-up. The rhythm of me walking down the street with a hand-held microphone talking to people on the street kinda came from me doing stand-up in a comedy club and talking to people in the crowd.”

Green does admit that they definitely both have influence on each other as he has brought his years of trying to pull comedy out of people on the street to the stand-up stage. He even tells people interested in his live show that only know him from TV and movies:

“It’s kind of like those bits I do on the street, except it’s happening live with people in the front row.”

Having seen him perform live once, I can attest to that. This time, though, the people in the front rows should probably brush up on their Canadian and American history.

* Tom Green: One Night Only, part of the 2018 Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, is Wednesday, July 25, 9:30pm at Maison Théâtre, 245 Ontario Est. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Francisco Ramos is a newcomer to Just for Laughs. A Venezuelan who moved to the United States in his teens, he has a unique perspective on what it’s like south of the border for immigrants, something that is prominent in his comedy and which has surprisingly remained constant even in the current political climate.

“I thought it was going to be more especially when Trump became President,” Ramos said in a phone interview, “but it hasn’t. It’s kind of been the same in terms of stereotypes that people have not for Venezuelans but for Latinos in general. I still use it to get my comedy out there and get the stereotypes out.”

Ramos, who will be performing in this year’s JFL Ethnic Show, doesn’t feel that American comedians, in particular those from visible minority backgrounds, have an obligation to address the current state of US politics. He has noted, however, that he never experienced racism or discrimination in Venezuela, but has since he arrived in the US.

“I think that when you’re an ethnic comic, especially in the States, and I know a lot of them, we don’t talk about it because we need to or we have to,” he observed, “ it’s stuff that has happened to us and we have some kind of experience and then we talk about it.”

While Ramos’ comedy does touch on politics, it’s not the main point.

“For me the main thing is to always be funny, he commented, “I’m not going to talk about anything that’s not funny. I do hit it but I don’t go so direct to it. I will be talking about it but it’s give them the funny first. I also don’t try to divide people. Everybody’s got their own beliefs and I try and respect that. I will tell my point of view, but in a funny way.”

One thing that does come out quite a bit in his comedy, and surely will at The Ethnic Show, is the all too common misconception in the states that Latino means Mexican.

“I mean I get it,” Ramos observed, “because the majority of Latinos in the US are Mexican. If that’s what you grow up with, that’s what you think everybody is. For me I’m trying to go ‘yeah, there’s Mexicans, those are Venezuelans, those are Colombians and we’re similar but we also have our differences’. I try to take it as a whole as hit on those universal things that I can do with my comedy. If I hit that, more people will be interested in seeing me and hearing more about the other stories they haven’t heard of.”

Ramos majored in the admittedly un-funny fields of Finance and International Business and started working at an investment firm after college. Then, after what he describes as a “quarter-life crisis” he moved to LA to do standup.

This journey has led him to the JFL stage for the first time. He is thrilled to be here, and when asked about the current state of US-Canada relations:

“I’d say, well now you feel how we feel. I’d say to Canada ‘keep doing what you do’ because you’re doing a great job with your prime minister and everything.”

* Francisco Ramos performs as part of The Ethnic Show in the Just for Laughs Festival starting Wednesday, July 11. Tickets available through hahaha.com