If there’s a single thread running through Andy Nulman’s wide-ranging and successful career, it’s that he’s always tried pushing the boundaries of what people think is possible. The Montreal-based businessman, best known for co-founding and promoting the Just For Laughs comedy festival, has also created and produced more than 150 festival TV shows all over the world, and he’s taught a variety of classes at McGill University in Montreal, where he lives.
We caught up with Nulman, who’d escaped with his wife to a rural retreat in eastern Quebec to enjoy their favorite winter sports, to chat about his career and why he’s nuts about mmhmm.
What’s a top takeaway from your 45-year career spanning journalism, business, and entertainment?
I like to take risks and try new things. And you know, most of the time people will say, “You’re crazy, that’ll never work,” and that is really the thing that has driven me my entire career—to prove them wrong. When we started a comedy festival, there was no such thing as a comedy festival. And when we started mobile media company Airborne in 1999, back when phones had green screens and black dots, we said, “One day people are gonna be watching television on this.” Even our investors thought we were insane.
You know, I laugh when I say this, but it’s really true: I’m 50% retired and 50% unemployed. And I try to occupy myself with fun things and to do things people say can’t be done. There’s a beauty in making things people say will never work actually work.
You’ve been a very avid mmhmm user from the start. What drew you to it?
I saw the demo video, and I immediately sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org on July 8. I wrote: “I shed tears while watching your demo.” Teaching remotely, this is a godsend. And I still remember I actually shed tears while watching your video. At that point in time, I had spent months integrating another tool for teaching, but when I ran a demo it was a complete and total nightmare. When I got into the mmhmm beta, I was like a kid. It made me so happy.
Teaching remotely, this is a godsend.
With mmhmm, now that I have a better camera and I have a green screen and a light filter that allows me to position lights, it’s precision at this stage of the game. Since then I’ve used it for teaching, for live events that I've been hosting, and I record stuff.
Shared screen is a buzzkill because what happens is the whole key of any presentation, whether I'm doing it live and trying to teach or presenting recorded—like a Hanukkah special fundraiser I did for this Jewish organization—I’m talking to an audience. And when you buzzkill with this full screen, you've taken yourself away. That's hard when you're trying to establish a connection. But with mmhmm, the beauty is I'm able to react and they’re able to see that.
What’s the best thing that’s come out of the pandemic for you?
I've had a good pandemic. It's taught me two things. First of all it's taught me the three words, “Why not me?” Like in the beginning, when McGill needed teachers, I thought, “Why not me?” So I just went ahead. A lot of the doors that may have been closed are suddenly open because people were in need of new people, new things, and new ways of doing things.
The other thing is that I was always a big gym rat and suddenly there was so little to do, so I went to the gym in our building six days out of seven since March. So, I stayed in better shape and I learned a whole bunch. I still wish it was over, but life could’ve been worse. I’m thankful and grateful.