Published on July 29th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson


JFL Comedy Conference, Day 2: Secrets, Cartoons, Reality, & Variety’s List


Moderator: Tendo Nagenda (Vice President of Production, Mandate Pictures)

Panelists: Michael Aguilar and Kent Alterman (Co-Founders, Principals & Producers, Dos Tontos), Tom McNulty (Producer & President of Production, 21 Laps Entertainment), Todd Phillips (Director/Producer, The Hangover)

Big names, yes. But I’m not gullible enough to order an early wake-up call so I can attend a seminar promising the “secret sauce” of successful comedy, no matter how much cred the panelists have. Doesn’t the title seem like something you’re promised if you agree to sit through a timeshare presentation? If there was a formula to this stuff, wouldn’t we all be successful development execs and rich screenwriters?

I did arrive in time to receive the advice “there’s no script problem that’s ever been fixed by ignoring it”. Which is good advice. And the same advice I’ve been offered in intro writing classes. I realize I may have missed something of value, but considering the very vague subject of the session, I suspect i didn’t. Not the panelists’ fault by any stretch. It’s at this point at the conference that I started to wonder if these individuals’ experiences couldn’t be put within a better context for our benefit. Surely there are topics more specific, more related to their high profiles, that could spawn conversations we wouldn’t hear anywhere else? Some of the topics were simply too broad.



Moderator: Athena Georgaklis (Manager, Original Production, Teletoon Canada)

Panelists: Tommy Blacha (Co-creator, Metalocalypse), Donick Cary (Creator, ‘Lil Bush: Resident of the United States), Vernon Chatman (Creator, Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel), Dino Stamatopoulos (Writer / Creator / Producer, Moral Orel), Nick Weidenfeld (Director of Program Development, Adult Swim), Dave Willis, Co-Creator (Aqua Teen Hunger Force)

Lots here about the creative and development process of animation, which surprisingly isn’t that different than any other comedy. Funny script first, worry about production of the visuals later.

Interesting insight #1: Nick Weidenfeld talked about how when Adult Swim was pushed up to 10pm to maximize ad revenues, they had literally nothing they could run in that hour. Cartoon Network is a kids station, after all, and Adult Swim tows a thin line of appropriate content. It was a struggle. And what happens when they inevitably begin airing at 9pm, Weidenfeld asked himself? He isn’t entirely sure.

Interesting insight #2: Dino Stamatopoulos “hates” Comedy Central, citing the stupidity of them making someone like Bob Odenkirk pitch instead of just letting him do a show. He says he would never do Moral Orel there, because “they would run it once and bury it so nobody else could do it.”

I hereby nominate Dino to be the moderator of next year’s development panel.



With Rob Clark, President of Worldwide Entertainment, Fremantle Media

If you want to make a reality or game show, and you’re thinking big – REALLY big – Clark’s presentation was for you. Fremantle is responsible for such international franchises as the Idols, the Got Talents, the Apprentices, etc.

Clark offered tips like how writing in trademark-able elements is a big part of what makes a show sell-able worldwide, instead of steal-able. Example: those three Xs on Got Talent.

I expected to see more people in attendance at this one, based on name recognition alone. This guy is definitely a “get” for the Conference. But perhaps the issue is that Fremantle Media specializes in reality shows, not comedy shows (and yes, I’m aware they were responsible for Thank God You’re Here… and my assessment that they don’t do comedy shows stands).



Moderator: Peter Debruge (Associate Features Editor & Film Critic, Daily Variety)
Panelists: Jon Dore, Kumail Nanjiani, Matt Braunger, Nick Kroll, Aubrey Plaza

This panel? Hella fun. How could it not be with these five on stage?

Depending on your perspective, moderator Peter Dubruge had an easy job or a difficult job. The comics took the ball and ran with it, passed it off, ran with it some more… lather, rinse, repeat.

Jon Dore took on the role of attention whore, because every group needs one. He made obscene gestures while the others were talking, spent a few minutes bringing up one of Aubrey Plaza’s Youtube videos on his PDA while she was talking, quietly slipped the Variety logo flag off the microphone and stuck it in his pocket, and took a seat in the audience to ask himself a question. The others took great pleasure in their mock resentment of him. I wondered how many people in the audience were mentally preparing a sitcom pitch based on this panel.

Silliness aside, a few questions did get answered seriously, even by Dore. The first two seasons of his Canadian series, the Jon Dore Television Show, will begin air on IFC in the US, and he admits having mixed feelings about it because “I’m not proud of every episode.”

Nick Kroll knows all about series’ pride. Regarding the epic failure of Cavemen, he said “the critics didn’t love it, but what I took solace in was that the viewers didn’t either.”

And the joke that you could just feel the guys bursting with pride over,

Kumail: “Hey, what show did you do last time you were at the Festival, Nick?”
Kroll: “I did the Jew Faces show!”

One question in the q&a came from a woman who books comedians for charity events, and asked if that’s something the panelists have had opportunity to do. The answers were a mixed bag of yes and no, with a few mentions of the positive vibe that fundraisers tend to have. Plaza was the last to answer, saying that comedy and charity work seems like a good match, because “a lot of us get into this partly because we want to make people happy.”

I trust she was being sincere — and if you know me, you know that’s exactly the kind of statement I like to hear. Yeah, I’m a big softie. But it actually elicited a few snickers from behind me (I hope the result of her deadpan delivery) and absolute silence from the rest of the panel. They wouldn’t touch that sentiment with a 10 foot pole – no nods, no half-smiles of acknowledgment, not a peep – just let it twitch and die in the middle of the stage before the subject was changed. What the hell, boys? Is it just us girls who perceive the goodness of this profession? Of all the envelope-pushing done on stage, this is the taboo subject? Phhtt, men.


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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

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