The 10 Comics to Watch variety panel will be held in Montreal

When a global pandemic hits and you’re a standup comic whose livelihood and art form depends on performing in front of audiences in person, look for other creative opportunities and short-term professional endeavors to survive — or even just barely make it through the day .

For comedian Matteo Lane, that distraction came in the form of the ubiquitous video game, Fortnite.

“My friends and I just decided we’re getting Fortnite and it really saved my life,” Lane said with a throaty laugh. “I’ve never laughed so hard because a bunch of gay guys are playing Fornite. You watch straight guys playing Fortnite and they all say, ‘Go left,’ and we’re like, ‘Oh my god, look at that.’ My friend Nick walked in and we were like, ‘Hey, Nick, do you think we should go get guns?’ and he said, ‘What do you think you should do: get guns or sit around and jerk off each other?’”

Lane, who is currently developing an animated half-hour series starring Bob the Drag Queen inspired by her comic book series Kickass Drag Queen, is one of them diversity 10 Comics to Watch taking part in Friday afternoon’s panel discussion held during the 40th edition of the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.

Nine of the ten comics selected for the coveted list were present at the event, which was sponsored and hosted by the law firm of Cohen Gardner diversity Feature Editor Malina Saval. The panel has helped launch the careers of comedians such as Zach Galifianakis, Tiffany Haddish and Amy Schumer.

Also present: Rosebud Baker, writer on Saturday Night Live; JR De Guzman, whose comedy album Dual Citizen hit #1 on Billboard and iTunes; Vanessa Gonzalez, opening act for Chelsea Handler’s Vaccinated and Horny Tour; Jay Jurden, an original writer on Apple TV+’s The Problem With Jon Stewart; Atsuko Okatsuka, who recently made her late-night stand-up debut on The Late Late Show With James Corden; Blair Socci, who hosts the Dear Owen Wilson podcast for iHeart Radio; Moses Storm, whose comedy special Trash White is airing on HBO Max; and Sheng Wang, who is a writer on Fresh Off the Boat and whose upcoming Netflix special will be produced by Ali Wong.

Australian comedian Claudia O’Doherty, who appeared in and is one of Netflix’s Love diversity 10 Comics to Watch, couldn’t attend the festival.

“I got certified in Reiki,” Socci said of her time in the pandemic lockdown. “I got certified in so much shit. I couldn’t stop taking classes. it was crazy I’ve also done ayahuasca and gone to the pink marshmallow jungle. It’s a miracle I’m here.”

“Blair called me during the pandemic and said, ‘I’m doing breathing exercises,’ and I said, ‘You’re breathing right now,'” Baker joked.

“I think it was a time when we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what wasn’t our interests — you know what we weren’t,” Okatsuka offered. “Am I a Reiki Healer? Can I grow lettuce? am i a farmer I wasn’t any of that. It all leads back to the question, ‘How do you figure out what your thing is in this industry?’”

Spiced with humor and philosophical insight, the conversation touched on comedy’s exponential growth on digital platforms and the people comics have supported in their careers.

“Women built me ​​up the most,” said Gonzalez, who worked as a preschool teacher in Austin before turning to comedy full-time. “I moved to LA in 2018 and everyone thinks it’s cutthroat and dog-eating-dog. But all the women were so supportive when I got there. They say, ‘Come to this show or let’s go for brunch.’ They would tell me all the secrets and what guys suck and not talk to them. And that was super helpful.”

For Baker, it’s the “women in comedy who have helped her the most.”

“I owe pretty much everything I know to women in comedy,” she said. “I don’t know about the ones I don’t know. But honestly I love that I can talk to other women in comedy because when I show up to a show and I’m just as strong as every other comic in the lineup and the booker shows up and he’s a guy and he goes ‘you gonna do great.’ And I’m like, ‘I fucking know that.’ You know, women understand that’s not how you talk to comics. We have to deal with men patting us on the back like they’re proud of us. And it’s like, ‘Um, hello, you hired me.’”

The comedians also talked about how they developed as artists and how they discovered their creative strengths.

“There’s a lot I love about the writer’s life,” Wang said of his stint on Fresh off the Boat. “And I also learned that I wanted to go back and do stand-up. To be a writer and to have the support of the Writer’s Guild and to be on a network TV show like this – it’s absolutely amazing. Every day I was just grateful. But for me, I finally wanted to get up. I wanted to come to at least an hour of special and then see what happens after that.”

Jurden, who moved back in with his parents during the pandemic, experimented a lot with social media for a time to see if it was a compelling creative niche.

“At that time I was just editing a few videos and starting to do more social media and that was an outlet for me and it was fun. But it was also kind of soul-sucking at the same time,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed posting clips every day. I guess I’m still figuring it out with writing and auditioning and stand-up. I’m just trying to keep seeing what works.” The 10 Comics to Watch variety panel will be held in Montreal

Charles Jones

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