Last year Just for Laughs made its Australian debut at the Sydney Opera House with John Cleese, Dylan Moran, Margaret Cho, Martin Short and more. This year it’s even bigger with an expanded line up and some huge names – Drew Carey, The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding, Rhys Darby from Flight of the Conchords and just-announced addition, Aziz Ansari – under the watchful eye of curator Adam Hills, who is also hosting the International Gala. “I am considering swanning around with a cigar in my mouth,” he explains, “and a badge that says ‘Curator’.”
For those for whom the first they heard of Just for Laughs was last year’s event, can you explain why it’s such a big deal internationally?
The Just For Laughs festival is the stuff of legends. It is where stars were made and deals were done in the bar. Seinfeld was first spotted there, so was Ray Romano and Tim Allen. It's rumoured they signed sitcom deals before leaving Montreal. It's also where the best comedians in the world come to play. Martin Short once gave me a backstage pep talk before a gig. Eddie Izzard showed me his new TV series on his iPhone in the bar, before anyone had seen the series or an iPhone. This year Kermit the Frog introduced me on stage at one of the Galas. It is quite simply the Festival that everyone wants to play.
Talk us through the line up so far.
I have known Noel Fielding for over a decade. He is brilliant, bizarre and a sex god. The last time I saw him we were sitting in the pool of the Delta hotel in Montreal, and his hair was still perfect. Even in a spa he looked like Rod Stewart from the '70s.
Drew Carey is still one of my heroes. His sitcom was just a beautiful piece of TV comedy, and when he complimented me on my act in Montreal one year it was all I could do to not giggle like a Japanese schoolgirl.
Sam Simmons was the talk of both the Edinburgh and Montreal Festivals this year. I heard rumours of TV deals, agents, producers all swarming around him. He may well be the next Seinfeld – if Seinfeld was Australian, and was having a weird dream, and had an amazing moustache.
Rhys Darby and I appeared in a production of Breaker Morant together in the Edinburgh Fringe a few years back. I remember him wondering where his career was about to take him. Since then Flight of the Conchords made him a household name in the States, and he appeared opposite Jim Carrey in the film Yes Man. He's doing alright for himself.
Ed Byrne is simply one of the best stand-up comedians in the world. Oh sure he's cute, and has a wonderful Irish accent, and good hair – but take all that away and he is a razor sharp, consistently hilarious, brilliant stand-up comic.
Dave Gorman is one of my closest friends in the comedy world. Whenever I watch his shows I feel a mix of awe at the concepts he has come up with, jealousy at the standard of the jokes, and concern that he is taking his obsessions way too far. Mainly though, I just laugh embarrassingly loudly.
Gabriel Iglesias is one of those people that is an enormous comedy star in the US, but unknown in Australia. I expect that to all change after the JFL Sydney Festival.
I did a TV taping with Jeffrey Ross in Montreal last year, and he did no material, riffed on the crowd for twenty minutes and was in equal parts amazing, offensive and brilliant. He often hosts the Comedy Roasts on US TV and is equal parts amazing, offensive and brilliant. He will be hosting the Nasty Show. It will be amazing, offensive and brilliant.
I will be hosting is an International Gala, so my job is to find the best of the best from around the world and bring them all together. To be honest, it's pretty easy. All I have to do is say "Wanna do a gig at the Sydney Opera House?" then hand over a contract. My aim is to put together a group of people that will just crush a fifteen minute set. As a host, it will be my job to get the audience in the right mood, then make sure each act has the best set possible. In many ways I am a comedy fluffer.
Last year we had Ms Cho, but so far there are no females in the line up at all…
I'm assuming there will plenty more ladies in the line up once the full schedule is announced. For starters, the Australian ladies alone are making waves internationally. Why import an American, when you can choose from Felicity Ward, Celia Pacquola, Denise Scott, Hannah Gadsby and Sarah Kendall? Each one of those people is garnering such amazing buzz about their shows in Edinburgh this year. Australia is fast becoming renowned for the quality of our female comedians. Plus there's Judith Lucy and Kitty Flanagan back home too. We're spoilt for choice. Having said that, I love people like Jo Brand, Maria Bamford, and of course Whoopi Goldberg, so I intend to extend an invite to them all.
How’s post-Spicks & Specks life treating you?
It has been lovely to get back into the routine of being a stand up comic again. Already this year I have performed at the Kilkenny Comedy Festival, Just For Laughs Montreal and now the Edinburgh Fringe. I have plans to do some more stand up in New York and LA this year, and it feels good to get back to what I have always loved doing. Weirdly, I have had a few tweets from people who have just discovered Spicks and Specks for the first time via repeats on ABC2. It makes me feel old to know that people are finding this "new" show after it has already finished. I do miss the fun of it all, but mainly I miss hanging out with Alan and Myf. Maybe the three of us need to have a dinner party with a few comedians and musicians just to relive the old times.
Also joining the line up for Drew Carey’s International Gala are The Project’s Charlie Pickering and Judith Lucy as well as Bill Burr and Dave Gorman doing guest spots in addition to their solo shows. Other highlights include godfather of stand-up Dom Irrera, trash-talking Mike Wilmot, Brendhan Lovegrove, Ben Hurley, Urzila Carlson, Chris Brian, American stand up Hannibal Buress and Mighty Boosh alumni Rich Fulcher – aka Bob Fossil – will both take to the Studio stage for intimate solo stand up performances.