A Canadian Gala that was All American: Rick Mercer @ Just for Laughs

Rick Mercer is a comedy legend. From Talking to Americans, to This Hour has 22 Minutes to Rick’s Rants, there isn’t a Canadian alive unfamiliar with his biting social and political commentary all said with his signature Newfie accent. He hosted a gala last night for Just for Laughs featuring a talented roster of comedians from around the globe.

As was expected of Mercer, his monologues were all Canadiana, praising Quebec if only because we successfully stopped Kevin O’Leary from taking the Conservative Party leadership, a line earning him uproarious applause. He spoke of the idiocy of attempting to drive across Canada and how our country is so big most of us can barely handle the trip. With the audience sufficiently warmed up, he announced the first act.

Jessica Kirson was first to go up. Though she’d done the Ethnic Show earlier in the festival, there was some fresh material in her set in which she spoke of her sex life with her wife. At the same time, she kept her outstanding impressions of elderly Jewish people from her previous sets, which Kirson does so well they’re impossible to get bored of.

Next up was Jon Reep, an American comedian reminiscent of blue collar comics like Larry the Cable Guy. In his Southern drawl he explored the contrast between his father being a proper Christian and the glorious day he and his brother discovered his father’s porn stash.

Reep was funny, but I got the impression he’d be funnier if he was allowed to swear in his act, something that was impossible that night as they were filming the gala for TV. The audience was polite, but he didn’t get as much applause as other comics.

Laura Kitelinger took the stage next. A tall pale statuesque brunette clad in a little black dress and heels, her stage persona is that of the pill popping rich bitch. Her jokes and stories all had a delicious snark to them and at the same time she cleverly addressed touchy subjects like women choosing not to have kids. Unfortunately, her closing joke was a painfully lame story about going to the hairdresser that ended her set on a down note.

Aussie Paul Barron was one of the best acts of the night. He sells out shows in his native Australia and it’s easy to see why. He is one of the few comedians who knows how to use the stage. He is physical in his comedy, but the quality of his jokes doesn’t suffer as a result. He danced and tiptoed and waved his arms and told jokes and stories. One of the most memorable was when he was talking about how penguins mate for life and don’t cheat on one another.

His remark was that there’d be no point in cheating on your mate because “penguins all look the same!”.

Next on stage was Arthur Simeon, a Ugandan Canadian and a regular on CBC’s The Debaters. Simeon began his act by addressing the matter of his accent and the racist assumptions Canadians tend to make of their fellow citizens when they fail to sound like a local.

He was only one to address immigration and refugee issues in his comedy, offering a brilliant way of testing potential Canadian immigrants. One of his best comedy jabs was at people who neglect to put winter tires on their cars.

“I think that if you forget to put your winter tires on, people should be allowed to shoot you in the face!”

The remark earned him unanimous applause.

Arthur Simeon was followed by W. Kamau Bell, an American comedian and author most well-known for hosting the CNN series The United Shades of America. He opened his act by saying straight away that he talks about race a lot, and then he launched into his critiques of American politics which were by far the most scathingly succinct of any I’ve heard during the festival.

Bell spoke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

“A man SO racist he was denied a judgeship in ALABAMA!”

Though his act made you acutely aware of racial and political tensions that have surrounded the Orange Tax Evader’s administration he was still funny in a way that made you think about how biases shape perception.

Last to perform Tom Papa.

The best way to describe Tom Papa’s act is as that of a de-motivational speaker. He gives advice but in a way that is almost insulting. For example, he spoke of his wife giving up sugar and how he thought it was a terrible idea. He explained that people get depressed and in order not slit your wrists “you have a cookie once in a while.” He ranted against dieting and exercise machines and people who insist on doing activities like kitesurfing and ziplining on vacation. The overall message of his act seemed to be that simplicity and low expectations are the key to happiness.

The only thing disappointing about the Gala is that for an event that seemed to stress Canada’s 150th anniversary, there were only two Canadian performers, Mercer and Simeon. The rest were American with one Australian, Barron, the exception. As a Canadian it’s disappointing that once again our neighbors are stealing the limelight.

At least our leader is hot.

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