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Brownstein: Perfect timing for Subban special

Photograph by: Allen McInnis , Montreal Gazette

The worlds of hockey and comedy don’t often collide — not intentionally, anyway. But they did last summer, producing one of the biggest stories of 2016 in Montreal.

P.K. Subban, one of the most beloved players ever to sport the bleu, blanc et rouge for the Montreal Canadiens, was traded to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber on June 29. A little more than a month later on Aug. 1, Subban was back at another Montreal venue, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, hosting a Just for Laughs festival gala, a fundraiser for Subban’s Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, for which he has pledged to raise $10 million.

Not surprisingly, the Subban comedy gala became the hottest ticket in town, even hotter than one for a Habs game – according to local ticket merchants. It also proved to be the highlight of the festival.

Those who missed the all-star defenceman delivering one-liners at the JFL gala now have an opportunity to catch P.K. Subban: Shots Fired, on Jan. 2, at 9 p.m., on CBC. Clearly, timing had a lot to do with the decision to air the show a day before the Predators play the Habs, in Nashville, for the first time since the trade. Glad to see that the irony of it all has not been lost on the CBC. (Then again, it may all be for nought, as Subban has been on the sidelines for the last two weeks, out with an unspecified “upper body” injury.)

The gala was perhaps more P.K. love-in than comedy spectacle, a fitting farewell party to the transplanted Torontonian who so embraced Montreal. The continuous standing ovations and applause were among the biggest and loudest ever registered at a local show. While mirth was much in abundance, the evening could have just as easily been described as a Just for Tears event.

Subban didn’t pull his punchlines. Shots — some nasty — were taken at Habs management. Act or not, anger over his sudden departure appeared to lurk.

But give P.K. props for being ever-smooth, composed and charismatic. And, funny, too: “Obviously, I can’t believe this happened, either. I heard all the rumours, but believed they were just rumours. But then my agent called and said … ‘You’ve been booked to host a Just for Laughs gala.’ I just couldn’t believe it!”

Subban, while sad to leave town, conceded he has had to adapt to new cities before. In Montreal, he learned French. In Hamilton, “I learned to breathe through my mouth.” And in Nashville, he figured he would have to “learn being pulled over by cops.”

But probably not. More likely that he will become mayor of Nashville if he ever brings the Stanley Cup there.

Even last summer, Subban was beginning to immerse himself in the Nashville cultural scene by boning up on C&W tunes. In fact, he even dedicated such country songs as I Fall to Pieces to Bruins foe Brad Marchand, Good Luck with That to former Habs teammates trying to win a Stanley Cup with coach Michel Therrien’s system, and Take This Job and Shove It to Habs general-manager Marc Bergevin — the man who traded P.K.

To further display his apparent dismay, when he asked for a beer on the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier stage, he rejected the one offered him: “Not that Molson stuff.” Message no doubt received by Habs owner Geoff Molson.

Subban was aided and abetted at the gala by some sharp comedy courtesy of Dom Irrera, Jeremy Hotz and the Sklar Brothers.

Irrera, in particular, was at his classic deadpan, hysterical best. He expressed surprise about being the last one standing after Bowie and Prince: “But I’m not long for this world. My eyes are closing — and I’m not even tired.”

The similarly laconic Hotz struck gold with a cleverly wry sexual analogy involving a finger and an ear, while the Sklar Brothers, in perfect tandem, knocked it out of the park with their reminiscences of baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, their dad and a basket of rolls over a 25 year-period.

Though Subban has been praised for his self-assured stage presence and innate comedy skills, he is quick to deflect credit to writer Patrick Dussault as well as the rest of the Just for Laughs team.

“They did a great job of preparing me and making me feel comfortable on stage,” Subban says in a phone interview from his new Nashville base. “Obviously when you’re up there, you’ve got to do the job, but they did such a good job of briefing me on the day of, that I felt great on stage.”

Nonetheless, Subban must have had jitters, particularly in light of the recent trade.

“Actually, I wasn’t too nervous. I compare that experience almost like playing at the Bell Centre, having all those people giving standing ovations at the beginning of the show. It was really exciting for me to do something different and new. I didn’t want to go up there and flop. I really wanted to do a good job, because this was all about raising funds for the Montreal Children’s Hospital,” he notes. “Honestly, though, it took a lot to hold back the tears and it was pretty emotional, having all those people being there to support me.”

As for his fear that he might have to learn to be pulled over on the road by Nashville cops, such has yet to transpire. “Not yet,” he cracks.

“I’ve been pretty good, although I know a lot of people think I’m a terrible driver. I don’t look forward to being pulled over, but the cops here have been great. People in general have been great. Nashville is a very friendly city.”

But he hasn’t come up with any more C&W titles to dedicate to his former teammates. “That was all very light-hearted. I had the opportunity to work on a script with (Dussault), and it really was all for jokes and fun, and it was received that way, not only in Montreal but throughout the league.

“I think that the one thing that helped me a lot going into it is that I’m not really afraid to make a mistake. And maybe that’s how I play the game, too. When you have that kind of mentality, you can get more positives than negatives out of something.”

Subban is unequivocal in stating that he has huge respect for the Canadiens organization, including Marc Bergevin, Michel Therrien and Geoff Molson.

“My time in Montreal was just amazing. When the trade happened, the disappointment was not being able to win a Stanley Cup with guys I had played with for such a long time. And also leaving all the friends that I made in Montreal. I had such a strong connection with the city and I think the fans enjoyed that. They know about my personality, and how much I like to joke around.  And I think that most people would agree that a couple of jokes (about the team) is definitely worth it when you raise a couple of hundred grand for (the Montreal Children’s Hospital).

“But a trade is all part of the business, and you have to get over that and not be upset. And there are no hard feelings.”

Subban admits to being pretty pumped about playing against the Habs for the first time on Tuesday in Nashville.

“It’s definitely going to be exciting. There will obviously be a lot of coverage for the game. Both teams have done well. I think everyone knows that once Carey Price returned that the sky was the limit for that team. For us, we’re finding our way in our conference and the boys are playing well. But we haven’t played our best hockey yet. It will be an exciting and an emotional game. Not just for me, but also for Shea (Weber) who played in Nashville for such a long time and has his connections there. And I’m still in touch with a lot of the (Habs).”

Ever the prankster, P.K. has plans to touch base with some former teammates in Nashville, perhaps even take them to a local hotspot the night before the game.

“What I might do is take them out to a nice restaurant and then have some of the beautiful women of Nashville just magically appear during the meal. Maybe then I’ll just slip out the back door and let those guys deal with it all,” he quips. “And then hopefully maybe we can sneak two points away from them the next night.”

For master strategist Subban, it’s still all about the winning.


P.K. Subban: Shots Fired, airs Jan. 2 at 9 p.m. on CBC Television. The show, shot Aug. 1 at the Just for Laughs festival, is hosted by Subban and features comics Jeremy Hotz, Nate Bargatze, Dom Irrera, Tom Rhodes, Rebecca Kohler and the Sklar Brothers.

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