Jeff Singer is back in town this year looking for comedians for this summer’s Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. As I have noted before, Boston has been a valuable source of talent for the Festival in the past, from established comics like John Pinette, who kills there every time he’s on the bill, to their showcase for up-and-coming comedians.
Singer will be at The Comedy Studio tomorrow and Tommy’s Comedy Lounge Monday (the Tommy’s show is a benefit for Haitian earthquake relief, as well) to see a couple dozen of the best Boston has to offer (see the full line-ups below). I caught up with Singer this week to take about what he’s looking for this year, keeping the New Faces under wraps, and some of the other shows JFL has on tap.
Are there any comics you saw at last year’s auditions that you made a point to get back on the bill at this year’s auditions?
I generally defer to the club bookers/owners to choose the showcase lineups. They're in tune with the local scene and get to see the comics year round. I've built strong relationships with the clubs over the years so I trust their recommendations. Occasionally I may hear about someone local through the grapevine. If they're not on the preliminary list I'll ask that they be added, pending space. That happened with Philadelphia this year, which I am attending tonight. The club owners sometimes ask me the question you posed. So I'll tell them who I'd like to see again, but it's rarely a surprise. There are instances when I ask to see someone whom the club has no intention of bringing back. It happened this season.
The clubs and I don't always see eye to eye but I think that's healthy and can be mutually beneficial. In this case the club gladly accommodated my request. The comic did well, and it opened the owner's eyes to see her in a different light. Conversely, I can recall times when the club pushes their favorites, hyping them as slam dunks. I'll see them and just not get it. But then after some time, I'll take another look and eventually see what the owner saw. So you never know. I'd rather not specify names in Boston, but honestly there's been such a solid batch over the last few years. It becomes more of a question of how to fit all the great comics we're tracking along with first timers on one bill. And by the way, it's not only New Faces I'm showcasing. See the next answer below.
Any changes in what you’re looking for this year?
Not really. Same criteria with New Faces: Unique, original voices with distinct traits that set them apart from the pack. And of course they've got to have all the fundamentals down pat. Also as in seasons past, I'm looking for more than New Faces. We have other shows such as the televised Galas, for which I now serve as set consultant; Masters; The Ethnic Show; Amp'd (The Music theme show); The Relationship Show; Nasty Show; Nasty Girls; Alternative; Uptown, Frizzy Hair show, etc. Plus we're entering our second Just For Laughs Festival in Chicago which has its own needs. There's also JFL Toronto and cross-Canada touring. The growth has been tremendous and I'm thrilled to be scouting for all these endeavors.
Did anyone you picked last year do well at the Festival?
I thought the JFL team (including myself) made some great selections for last year's New Faces. I don't have the list in front of me, but off the top of my head guys like Kumail Nanjiani, Mike Bridenstine, Moshe Kasher, and Pete Holmes all shined. And one Boston ex-pat: Myq Kaplan. He's still considered a Bostonian, right? I think I once saw him wearing a Yankees cap. I was also proud of Godfrey, a veteran comic I pushed for who wound up killing at various shows at all three Festivals.
Any other cities do particularly well in auditions this year?
I've already done showcases in Austin, Minneapolis and Denver. These cities have become staples on my scouting trips. Based on past experience, I'm sure you'll see New Face comics make the final cut from at least two of those towns. I was in Seattle a few months ago for their comedy competition and got to see some good comics from around the country. A few from Boston, actually. I am just starting my East Coast leg: Philadelphia, Washington, New York and Boston. Then in March I go to Atlanta. Plus there are the taped showcases for cities I don't get to attend live. Those are important too. Last year we gave callbacks to comics from Indianapolis and Cleveland based on viewing tape.
Did you have anything to do with the Red Cross benefit aspect of the show at Tommy’s?
No not at all. That was all their idea. Obviously a great cause to help the people of Haiti so I hope the evening is a success.
How hard is it to keep the list of New Faces comics from leaking to the press early?
It's not so hard to keep it from the press unless you bribe me with clam chowder. I like Manhattan not New England, sorry.
The bigger challenge is keeping the list under wraps from "the industry." I live in L.A. now and I see how agents, managers, casting directors and other industry executives blanket the preliminary showcases and callbacks. It's much more intense compared to New York. But we try to keep our cards close to the vest and we've learned ways how not to tip our hand. One of the main reasons we do this is to maintain the integrity of New Faces. If the industry jumps all over them prior to the Festival, they're no longer "new." If and when we can, we also prefer to book a handful of New Faces who have no representation so that they can come into the Festival fresh with the potential of being a true "discovery." I may have digressed from your question - I do that - but it's related to why we make an effort to keep the list secret.
Do you think you’d pick anyone up for something other than New Faces?
Yes. I think I already answered that above. If the comic is an appropriate fit for any of our other shows, we'll give him/her serious consideration. I looked at several comedians last year in Boston specifically for Masters. Not sure what's on tap for this season.
Are you looking for specialty shows, as well, like Boston’s Naked Comedy Showcase? Or would you prefer those kinds of things be created in house?
I have heard about this show but haven't seen it. We look for specialty shows all the time, but if it involves multiple stand-ups it has to be something with a unique spin and an ability to draw an audience and sell tickets. A good concept sometimes isn't enough.
Aside from our recurring theme shows, we have developed many specialty shows involving stand up in years past: Dating It and Confessing It to name a few. UCB is also forging a partnership with Just For Laughs and they may bring in some specialty shows under their own umbrella. And we're always expanding our solo series and theatrical shows. But based on what I've heard about Boston's Naked Comedy Showcase, sounds like it's something worth looking at and considering. But if it involves seeing Lenny Clarke butt naked, I'll pass.
The Comedy Studio, Sunday, Feb 14, 8PM: Jessie Baade, Shaun Bedgood, Ahmed Bharoocha, Rick Canavan, Tom Dustin, Josh Gondelman, Brian Longwell, Maggie MacDonald, Steve Macone, Gary Petersen, Ken Reid, Sean Sullivan, Bethany Van Delft.
Tommy’s Comedy Lounge, Monday, Feb 15, 8:30PM: Graig Murphy, Lamont Price, Dave McDonough, Dan Crohn, Kelly MacFarland, Danny Kelly, Dave Russo, Carolyn Plummer, Chris Tabb.