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Nearly 200 Comedians, All Playing The Same City


You know, with a lot of the news we've been hearing recently, who could blame us for wanting a laugh on a Friday morning? And it just happens to be the week that Montreal's annual comedy festival Just For Laughs is taking place up in Canada. Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, Jane Lynch, Margaret Cho are just some of the headliners at this comedy festival. Each July it takes place in small clubs and big theaters and out on the streets. Nearly 200 comedians perform in Montreal. It's an event for thousands of fans and also industry types like network executives and producers and also NPR's Elizabeth Blair, who is there. And she's on the line with us. Elizabeth, good morning.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So who's made you laugh the hardest so far?

BLAIR: Oh, it would be impossible to single any one comedian out.


BLAIR: I've seen Dave Chappelle. And he is just as irreverent and unapologetic as ever.


BLAIR: Bill Burr, who's a Massachusetts comedian who has an incredible connection with the audience, he was terrific. So there are some very big names here. But there are also some sort of up-and-comers or comedians sort of at the midway through their career. For example, there's a young stand-up comedian from Toronto named Mae Martin.


MAE MARTIN: I just got out of a long-term relat. The first sign that you're not mature enough to get married is you're abbreviating relationship to relat.

GREENE: (Laughter) I'm going to use that word from now on.

BLAIR: Relat, yeah. Let's have a relat. And there's another Canadian comedian, kind of a deadpan-style comedian, named Jon Dore.


JON DORE: You know what I just realized?


DORE: I have never had an epiphany.

GREENE: (Laughter) OK, nice revelation.

BLAIR: Yeah. And then an English comedian named Sarah Millican.


SARAH MILLICAN: My husband and I don't have children. We can't have children because we hate them.


GREENE: (Laughter) OK, I can see why this is fun to be attending. What does this mean for these comedians? Is this a really important festival for them?

BLAIR: I mean, Just For Laughs has made many careers - or at least helped launch many careers - Dave Chappelle. Jimmy Fallon has credited Just For Laughs for, you know, helping launch his career - Kevin Hart, many others. You're exposed to some of the most important agents and network executives working in comedy. There are people here from HBO and Fox. Comedy Central has 20 people here. Journalists are here. And it's also really good for midcareer comedians to be noticed by veteran comedians, their heroes.

GREENE: Now, on the opposite side, is there a big risk? I mean, if you totally bomb here, can your career, you know, be sunk?

BLAIR: That's such a great question because on the one hand, there's so much pressure to bring your A-game because of the people who are in the audience. At the same time, because these are people who really understand the craft of comedy and how long it takes to become a great stand-up comedian, it's almost like you are performing for a crowd that sort of understands the pressures. So we haven't really seen anybody bomb because I think to be here at all, you have to have graduated to a certain level.

GREENE: Any surprises so far?

BLAIR: Yes, Kurt Braunohler from New Jersey.


KURT BRAUNOHLER: So I've been married since September - nailing it. It's easy. I don't know what everybody's talking about.


BRAUNOHLER: Marriage is easy, guys.


BRAUNOHLER: Second day - two days after getting married - took my wife to see "Gone Girl."



GREENE: Not the best approach.

BLAIR: No, not a good idea to take your wife to "Gone Girl" because it's very dark. Their relat does not end up so great, so not a good idea.

GREENE: Anyone you want to leave us with, one more laugh for the morning?

BLAIR: Yes, Hasan Minhaj. He is a "Daily Show" correspondent. He's doing a show here called "Homecoming King." And it's very funny, but it's also very, very poignant, about his life as the son of immigrants from India. And he begins the show with a story about how his parents met in their village in India.


HASAN MINHAJ: Seema, she was, like, the talk of the town. Like, in '83, oh, Seema could get it. She was like the iPhone 6. Like, people were like, oh, my God, have you heard of Seema? She's very slim and slender. Her family owns a camera. What, a camera? I don't believe this - right? So my dad, he hears this hype and just bee-lines down to my grandfather's house. And he just lays it on the line. He's like, what's up? I'm Najme. I'm a chemist. I'm going to America. I want to marry Seema. YOLO - bam - 10 minutes...


MINHAJ: He married a woman he had never laid eyes on. That's just crazy, right? It's like - it's Tinder with no photos. I'm like, are you crazy, dad?


GREENE: That's fantastic.

BLAIR: It was excellent.

GREENE: Well, Elizabeth, have fun up there.

BLAIR: Thank you.

GREENE: That's NPR's Elizabeth Blair talking to us from Montreal, where she's covering the annual Just For Laughs comedy festival. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.