I Went To Canada, & All I Got Was Everything I Wanted & More
I'd like to start off by stating the obvious: I'm apparently very easy to please, as "everything & more" mostly just means a place to sleep and some dough.
As an unconventional person, I rarely do things conventionally, nor do opportunities or experiences present themselves to me in a "normal" manner. I sent a film to the Montreal "Just For Laughs" festival a few months ago and forgot about it. A few weeks ago, JFL contacted me and told me my film had been accepted into the Comedia film portion of the festival, and I was invited to come with full accreditation, (which is the fancy way of saying "you get a badge") and even perform some live songs at the showing of the film, if I liked. A badge is important, because it's the major difference between being an invited guest of the festival (totally respectable and even admirable) and a curious comedian who's "just there to hang out out" (so not cool).
Can I see your badge?
Unlike many festival comedians, I was not being flown in on a fancy jet plane, costs covered, or being put up by the festival in the regal Hotel Delta, comedy ground zero if you will, where all industry and talent converge in a vortex of hope, desire and disappointment, laden with excessive amounts of alcohol. No, I did it Delfino-style: I took the drive up to Burlington with my friends who happened to be going there anyway, and then hitch-hiked from Burlington to Montreal.
Hitch-hiking is something I've done since I hit my adventurous/dangerous teens. In Maine, where I grew up, as well as surrounding Vermont, New Hampshire and Canada, hitch-hiking isn't such a scary activity as it is in NYC, land of the psycho killer. As a matter of fact, in these hilly states and provinces where people's typically old beater cars tend to break down a lot and jobs aren't exactly springing up like the psychadelic mushrooms do in the plentiful cow plops that surround the terrain,
hitch-hiking is quite common. So, when I go home, if I don't have a ride and only have a short distance to go, that is my preferred way to get around. It's cheap, it's fun, and there is never a lack of interesting characters behind the wheel. Normal, boring people simply don't pick up hitch-hikers.
I was picked up by an elderly fellow in Burlington who took me to a small town about 20 miles north. He worked at a solar energy plant and would have been a hippy if it were 1962, but he'd grown up and all that shit. He insisted of taking a photo of me with all my gear and my sign.
Heels are the best hitch-hiking shoes
Next, I was picked up by Bruce, a dirty but kind gentleman who drove a drafty, tiny red sedan. Upon opening the back door to put my guitar in, I noticed a twelve pack of beer that was a few short. My kind of fellow. I hopped in and ignored his lecherous leers, chatting him up in my cheeriest voice, being sure to mention I was carrying a lethal knife, which I mostly used for arts and crafts, in the most delightful cadence I could muster. After a little while, he stopped giving me the creeps and started telling me about his past DWI, his two failed marriages, his two kids, and his future plans of a career in truck driving. He offered to drive me right up to the border, though he knew his DWI would prohibit him from entering Canada. I thanked him for the ride, but mostly for not raping me, as he dropped me off at the last exit before customs. He offered me $10 for the road before I jumped out of the car. The poorest, most downtrodden folks are, in my experience, always the most generous.
The next ride took awhile to land, as I was surrounded by trees and strange birds, but not much traffic. I went right out to the highway, though it is illegal to hitch-hike on the highway. I held up my sign and hoped for a VW Bus. After about 45 minutes, I saw a VW bus. And it stopped. Inside was a terrific gentleman named Sylvester who worked for the CBC, which is Canada's PBS. He was getting ready to take a trip to Antarctica to film a documentary. He was a handsome, old school super cool ex-hippy-like man, but he was way too sophisticated to be a hippy. He spoke to me in fluent english with a sexy french accent, and though he was surely in his 50s, I would have let him be my new boyfriend.
Handsome older hottie
We hit it off immediately, and chatted light-heartedly all the way to Montreal. We stopped only once, and that was when we got searched at the Canadian border because he told the border police he'd picked me up hitch-hiking. I was surprised he told them, but he said it's better to be honest about everything so you don't get caught lying, because then they get pissed. By the time he dropped me off, we'd exchanged information and made a plan to meet again someday.
I arrived in Montreal on Saturday afternoon around 3 PM. The plan was, I would stay at a friend of Nick Fox-Gieg's, the guy who did the animation half of the short film I was going to represent. Her name was Freida. I took the Metro to her apartment to meet her in the "Myland" section of Montreal. She was not home when I got there, and didn't come back for two hours. I sat on the park bench across the street, and waited until it started to rain. I left a note on her door where I'd be - at an amazing divey Mexican joint that made their own tortillas - the fat yummy ones that look like pancakes. I had a huge feast of beans, rice, salsa, salad and tortillas for $7. She came in and met me with her long purple dreds and friendly face. She was an artist. I took a breath of relief, as artists are generally superb people.
She'd just moved into a cool apartment, and not much was really unpacked or set up. She cleared a space in her painting studio, and I pitched my sleeping bag on the floor. I took a nap and then took the Metro into Montreal to my first show. The Metro is not air conditioned in Canada, as A/C is reserved for the rich! While I waited for my show to begin, I walked over to Club Soda for The Nasty Show, which sounded like my cup of tea. Of course it was. My friend Jay Oakerson was performing, along with one of my favorite filthy-mouthed assholes, Patrice O'Neal. I watched the show, which was terrific, and later accidentally met up with Patrice and Jay as they ate at a nearby restaurant. I told them my story of hitch-hiking and staying on Freida's floor. We talked for awhile and then I went back to my show. A little while later, Jay came over to my show and told me he had a double room - two huge beds in his hotel room - paid for by the festival - at Hotel Delta! He invited me to go and stay with him for the week, starting that night. I went back to the art studio, but in the morning, I went to investigate. I showed up at the hotel, and it was magnificent. It was like the scene in "The Wizard Of Oz" where Judy Garland goes from black and white into color. There was a pool, free internet, JFL welcome tables set up, goodie bags for performers, transport vans to take performers where they needed to go, comedians and familiar faces walking around, rich people everywhere, radio stations broadcasting live - it was a happening environment. Transport generously drove me to Freida's to pick up all my stuff. Freida seemed bummed that I jetted out so quickly, and I felt a little bad, but the offer was too good to pass up.
Once at the hotel, life was divine. Every day was pretty much the same. I swam and went in the hot tub and sauna every day. I sucked up more A/C than 50 rich people. I hung out with comedian pals Mike Britt, Jay Oakerson, Patrice ONeil (who is such a bad ass faker - though he pretends to be a cock, he is the one who told Jay to go get me and let me stay in his room!), Reggie Watts, Steve Byrne (who hosted the show I was in), Pete Dominick, Jordan Carlos and a bunch of others over the course of the trip. I'd walk around the city, go to my shows in the evening, go to parties that the festival set up, go see great comedy shows (I saw Demitri Martin's "These Are Jokes", Ray Romano's documentary "95 Miles To Go", The Nasty Show and many others, all free with my festival pass), meet and talk with industry people, chat with natives, practice my shoddy french, and enjoy how pleasant and nice Montreal and it's people were. They were too nice to be actual human beings. I have a theory that they are aliens.
In bed with Reggie Watts (that should be the name of his TV show)
Jay left on Thursday morning, and my last 2 shows were on Thursday night. I was wondering where I'd sleep after my shows. I called concierge and they told me that Jay's hotel room was paid for through Sunday. I considered just staying there alone, but feared the festival might get really pissed if they found out I did that. So, I just gathered all my things together, performed at my last two shows on Thursday night, went back to the hotel, did an interview with XM through a new comedy pal Laura Nikiforchuk and took off for Bus Central. I hopped on an 11:45 pm bus and was in NYC just in time for a massive, apocalyptic lightning storm.
Montreal is an amazing city. It's like mini-New York but without much of the bullshit. There are only about 3 million people there, so people are nice because they aren't cramped, and have room to walk without getting elbowed or stabbed in the head by some oblivious asshole's umbrella. They are 95% bi-lingual, english and french. All the signs are in french by a law that says the french sign has to be as big or bigger than the english sign. It's easy to get around, many people ride bikes. I had some great shows. The first was small, but they just kept getting bigger and better. I sold CDs, signed autographs, met lots of other filmmakers and talented weirdos, and just had a terrific time.
Montreal is way so super dope
Here's the icing on the cake: I didn't get paid for travel or board by JFL. I found out a lot of people actually don't get paid or put up. But yesterday, they called and said that they decided to pay me after all. They ended up paying me more for performing in five shows than many people make working a 40 hour work week.
So, this has been a story all about my trip to Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival.
Thank you for reading this long-ass diatribe. Stay tuned for other lengthy stories that are probably more interesting in my brain then they are on paper.
Special thank yous are owed to Andre for his kindness and Carolyn for being one of the coolest, friendliest people I met while I was there, Jay Oakerson, Mike Britt and Patrice O'Neil for looking out for a girl, and the Hotel Delta for all the free shampoo. I'd also like to thank my peeps, Lopi, Christopher and Norbert for the ride from NYC north in the mini-van, one of my favorite vehicles in which to travel.