JFL: Big laughs at this year’s Awards Show

Pop Goes The News – Comics at this year’s Just For Laughs Awards Show couldn’t help make jokes about the show itself, which is held annually in the Grand Salon of the Doubletree Hilton (formerly the Hyatt) in downtown Montreal.

The ballroom’s entrance, at the top of escalators, overlooks the Complex Desjardins shopping mall and food court.

“Hard to believe that these awards used to be held in the basement of a Hyatt hotel,” said presenter Jimmy Carr. “Look at us now, we’re in a Doubletree. We made it.

“Where is the best place to host an awards (show)? Is it in the basement of a hotel? Is it a shopping mall? Why compromise?”

Accepting his award for Breakout Comedy Star of the Year, Hasan Minaj deadpanned: “It is very humbling to be a part of an awards show that is designed to bring Kevin Hart to a banquet hall at three o’clock in the afternoon.”

Before introducing Hart, JFL president Bruce Hills defended the show. “We always wanted this to be an awards show for you [comics] and we wanted it to be loose,” he said, “and, you know, maybe it would be better if it was at night with cocktails but this was the only time we could get you all together.”

Hart, who confessed to being “a little tired” when he arrived, took the time to speak to every reporter on the red carpet (take note, Howie Mandel and Jimmy Carr). He was there to accept the Generation Award, whose past recipients are Jude Apatow and Jim Carrey. 

Hills traced the comedy star’s JFL roots back to an appearance on the New Faces stage in 2001. He recalled sitting down with Hart in the Complex Desjardins mall more than a decade ago. “He talked to me about his plan,” said Hills. “He laid it out in detail, how he was going to become a major star.”

Taking to the stage, Hart listed people who helped him reach his goals. “I use achievements as motivation to do more,” he said. “The beautiful thing about the sky is you can’t fucking touch it.”

Hart wrapped it up with: “I’m a fan of comedy until I die. This is dope. I’ve got to go to fucking work. I’m late.” (He’s shooting Fatherhood in Montreal this summer.)

The speech was far shorter and less emotional than the 14-minute one Tiffany Haddish gave at last year’s JFL Awards, where Hart honoured her as the Comedy Person of the Year.

Alonzo Bodden, hosting the show for the third time, suggested in his opening monologue that things stay light this year. “We’re going to have fun,” he said. “Last year it got heavy. A lot of people talked about their struggle to get here and there were tears… no!”

Stand-up Comedian of the Year winner Jim Jefferies used his time on stage to encourage up-and-coming comics.

“Being a stand-up comedian is the best thing in the world and in this room right now there are lots of stand-up comedians, many of whom are bitter people,” he said. “Bitter, angry, sad people.

“Here’s the deal: You’re bitter and you have your dream job. This is the job you always wanted and you’re still fucking obsessed. Don’t worry what anyone else is up to. Chase the dream, not the competition, if I could give you any advice.”

Jefferies, who made his JFL debut years back in The Nasty Show, pointed out that he has lost acting jobs and that he could easily lose his TV show “but I’ll always be a stand-up comedian because they can never take it away from you. They can never cancel you.”

The Australian comic ended his speech on a personal note. “I don’t want to get all sappy but my mother died seven weeks and I rang my dad and told him about this award and my dad said, ‘Make sure you dedicate it to your mom.’ So mom, this one’s for you.”

Jefferies held his award both towards the sky and, then, towards the ground. “I don’t know which way she went,” he joked.

Amanda Seales was on hand to accept the award for Rising Comedy Star of the Year, presented by SNL comedian Chris Redd. She thanked her peers for recognizing her “humour and diligence and discipline from day one” and told the audience: “You can’t get nowhere in this shit if you ain’t actually fucking funny.”

Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett accepted the Comedy Writers of the Year award for their work on the decidedly grown-up Netflix animated series Big Mouth. Jason Mantzoukas, who voices several characters on the show, introduced them.

Hasan Minhaj was supposed to receive his award from Trevor Noah but the host of The Daily Show pulled out so he could rest up for his Bell Centre gig later that night. His Daily Show colleague Ronny Chieng stepped in.

(On the red carpet, Chieng joked about his career after Crazy Rich Asians. “I’ve been able to parlay that into being second choice at the Just For Laughs Awards for presenting, so it’s been great, yeah,” he said. “It’s done wonders for my career. If you do the biggest romantic comedy in the last 10 years maybe you, too, could be second choice for an awards show where you present for no money.”)

Describing Minhaj as “America’s favourite pretend immigrant,” Chieng said he is proof “that if you look like a Bollywood movie star and have natural charisma and complain about being Muslim all the time, you can probably make it in America.” He credited him for paving the way “for Asian voices on Comedy Central to be finally heard on Netflix.”

Chieng recalled working with Minhaj. “He gave me lots of advice – on the rare occasions he could remember my name,” he joked. “Told me stuff like, ‘If you ever cross me, I’ll fucking 9/11 you.’”

Minhaj’s first words at the mic? “Why did Trevor have to be sick? I knew you were going to bring up the Muslim stuff. I told you not to do that… we’re in Quebec.”

On the red carpet, Minhaj reflected on his beginnings. “I was really into speech and debate when I was a kid and when I got to college I realized, when I first started watching stand-up comedy, I had this sort of ‘aha’ moment where I was like, ‘Oh, that’s funny speech and debate. You’re making an argument but you’re just doing it in a funny way.”