JFL: Jokes, Truth, & the Duty to Offend with Alonzo Bodden

This is officially the best summer in years. Restaurants are full, dance floors are back in business, and be still my heart, our festivals have returned. The Coachella of comedy, JFL is back for it’s 40th edition, and I found out that the comedians have missed us as much as we’ve missed them.

“I can speak for every comic involved and tell you we have missed the festival so much and we are going to be so glad to once again be invading your city with stupid questions, and with jokes, eating off food trucks and just hanging out seeing the City of Montreal. Can’t wait to get back.”

Alonzo Bodden is a Just for Laughs legend. He was one of the JFL New Faces in 1997, winner of Last Comic Standing in 2004, and this year he’s back to host Just For the Culture Show – formerly The Ethnic Show (“it changed its own pronoun,” he quips).

“The beauty of this is everyone’s bringing their own voice to the show. So when we say just for the culture, it’s not like you’re only going to be talking about your culture, you’re going to be talking about the world from your viewpoint. With the Americans, you know, my culture is both Black and American. So I have both involved. And the same thing with the Canadians, you know, Dave [Merheje] is going to be who he is, but he’s also going to be Muslim and he’s going to be Canadian… the only thing I can tell you about the show, it’s going to be funny, and it’s going to go long, because we all have something more to say than what they want us to say. We are going to have a fantastic time and we are going to be uncensored, we are not going to worry about ‘don’t say this, don’t say that’. The thing I’ve always said about the Ethnic show, and now the Culture Show, is we are people who should be at war and yet we are laughing, so join us. I will do my best as host to tie it together, but quite often I’m simply one of the audience members with the best seat in the house.”

Current affairs are a mainstay in Alonzo’s comedy, so it should be no surprise that he’s a news junkie who’s been doing his own podcast for over 10 years now.

“The podcast is called Who’s Paying Attention?, and it started because the news stopped paying attention…We don’t have a Walter Cronkite anymore, we don’t have an Edward Murrow, we don’t have somebody saying, wait a minute: this is ridiculous. They cover Marjorie Taylor Greene like she’s real news. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the only reason Lauren Boebert is so angry is she thought she was crazy, and then Marjorie came along and she’s been out-crazied. Let’s not talk about Ted Cruz, but you guys could have kept him in Canada.”

I made it clear that we don’t want Cruz, and will not be accepting that return. Jokes aside, I ask how he manages to keep his head above the never-ending flow of bad news.

“I’ll be honest, I have to take breaks from the news. It will wear you out. The constant barrage of stupidity is beyond belief.”

Which is exactly why his latest tour is called Stupid Don’t Get Tired. With that in mind, I ask him where he finds hope.

“You know, it’s really tough…on my podcast whenever I have a guest in, I ask them ‘what’s the good news’, because we have to try to find some good news in this dumpster fire. My hope, honestly, is the youngest generation. I think they’re the ones who hopefully will take over and restore some form of sanity, Even that they’ve given up on though, you know, because they started with Generation X. Okay, when you start at X, it shows there’s no long range plan. Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, what then? Oh, we’ll have destroyed it all by then.”

From looking forward to looking back, I asked Alonzo about the new mini-series he’s a part of called Right to Offend: The Black Comedy Revolution.

“I am so honored to be a part of that. It is such a brilliant documentary, going from vaudeville, and the minstrel and blackface era. right up into today with Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock, and Tiffany Haddish and everyone in between. Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Wanda Sykes, Moms Mabley Whoopi Goldberg, so many brilliant voices in comedy over the years, and to be asked to be a part of that, to comment on that, and my history, it’s truly been phenomenal. They could have called it the duty to offend. We have to push buttons. And we do it unapologetically, because you can’t apologize for the truth. You can try to cancel us, you can do whatever you want to do. We are going to continually tell the truth…When I started, Somebody told me ‘listen, if 20% of the audience isn’t upset, then you’re not doing your job’, so I am okay with that. The truth hurts sometimes, but the other side of that, is there are people who are like ‘thank God for your voice. We’re so happy to hear you’. We need somebody telling the truth out there. Jon Stewart famously became a major news anchor and he was like, ‘you know I’m doing a comedy show. They were like ‘no, no, no, we’re coming to you for the truth’…We’re the last voice. Years ago, Lewis Black, brilliant comic and an old friend of mine said listen, we don’t want this job but no one else would do it. Right? We’re the last ones to tell the truth and laugh at how ridiculous it is.”

I know it’s selfish, but I had to ask what he loves about Montreal, and what makes us special on the global scene. It’s akin to a civic thirst trap, but sometimes you just want the likes.

Getting lost walking the streets of Old Montreal; the art galleries the whole vibe… I go to Old Montreal to get…centered… I truly miss that: walking the streets of Old Montreal, and looking at the beautiful people. Your city has beautiful people. And I enjoy that. You’re stylish.”

We chat briefly about Quebec’s politics and distinct identity crisis. There’s much to laugh at when you take a step back.

“Yeah, it is a different crazy,” he says. “But it’s a crazy that doesn’t involve bullets. I appreciate that…hang on to that.”

We’re sure as hell trying.

Just for The Culture runs from July 13 to 28 hosted by Alonzo Bodden, featuring Dave Merheje, Jessica Kirson, Paul Rabliauskas, Sheng Wang, Yannis Pappas and Zainab Johnson. Tickets available through hahaha.com

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