Lewis Black delivers keynote at JFL

Comic blasts TV execs at event's Just Comedy Conference

TORONTO -- If you felt your ear hairs curl Thursday, it may have been because vein-popping comic Lewis Black was savaging network TV execs at the Just for Laughs yukfest in Montreal.

"People say the Illuminati doesn't exist. I say it does and (Jeffrey) Zucker is the head of it," Black ranted while questioning how the NBC Universal topper still had a job after the Conan O'Brien/Jay Leno fiasco.

Delivering a blistering Just Comedy Conference keynote speech, Black accused network talent execs of being clueless about comedy.

"I'd like to see what baby seals would come up with. Whatever they arff, it will get on TV," he told a room full of stand-up comics and comedy pros.

NBC also took stick for casting Kathy Bates for a role in the David E. Kelly legal drama pilot "Kindreds" originally written for Black.

"Unbeknownst to me, there was a better me," he grimaced.

Then there was the network TV exec who once turned down a sitcom Black and a partner submitted, because it was "too funny."

"If I was in the room when he'd said that, I'd still be doing hard time," the veteran comic conceded.

Black's keynote rant was in keeping with a Just for Laughs tradition that will continue with Andy Kindler's State of the Industry address Friday where comics take delight in seeing one of their own bite the hand that feeds them.

And Black wasn't the only comic to let his neurosis run amuck while dissecting the chuckles business at Just for Laughs this week.

Actor, writer and producer Michael Ian Black told stand-up comics looking to do sitcom work not to treat the production crew like a nightclub audience.

"Don't ever trust the crew," Black commanded during the Stage to Screen panel. "If they're laughing, something's wrong. If they're recoiling, something's very right."

The TV industry tongue-lashing at Just for Laughs was all grist for the mill for festival COO Bruce Hills.

Montreal this year bolstered its industry component by introducing a $99 Just for Laughs ComicPro Fan Pass to get comedy zealots round the festival and industry conference, and into separate pitch sessions for movie, TV and online projects.

The result, insists Hills, is a whole new audience, including the blogosphere, for a Just for Laughs festival growing year-on-year.

"We're comedy fan-friendly, we're driving ticket and pass sales, tourism, and we're speaking to the industry in a bigger, more concentrated way," he insisted.

The logistics required to see the range of comedy on offer at Just fror Laughs this year is also made easier by virtually all the venues now being within a short walk of the Hyatt Regency, the festival's headquarters, including schmooze central nightly at the hotel bar.

The hot ticket Thursday night is the Jay Roach cocktail reception, John Pinette's one man show at Theatre Jean-Duceppe and "Amp'd: The Music Comedy Show" at midnight at Cabaret.

The Just for Laughs comedy festival runs through to Sunday.
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