From tomorrow through August 20th, NDG residents, frequent visitors to the neighbourhood and even people from all over looking for something fun to do in the summer have a chance to discover more about this sprawling community in western Montreal and document what they learn on social media. It’s a scavenger hunt.

In particular, it’s the ScaveNDGers Hunt, officially part of Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations. ScaveNDGers is an event created and organized by Sarah Ring and Aurora Robinson, two NDG residents who are also behind another successful community-based event, PorchFest NDG, a porch-based local music festival that happens every spring.

I had a chance to speak with Ring about this very unique scavenger hunt:

FTB: Where did you get an idea for an NDG scavenger hunt? Did the success of PorchFest play a role?

Sarah Ring: The city put out a call for projects last year and the NDG Community Council (Sharon Sweeney who is the center of a lot of community-driven initiatives in NDG) reached out to a lot of people, groups, organizers to brainstorm possible projects that could get funding. So being the organizers of PorchFest got us invited to that session and I assume showed the city/board of decision-makers that we could handle the job.

It was during that session that we came up with the idea of a scavenger hunt but instead of people having to unearth certain objects (like a Rolling Stones concert ticket from 1978) we thought that people could have tasks to accomplish.

Many NDG events seem to center around Sherbrooke and Monkland, but according to your map, this event incorporates all of NDG, including below the tracks and the northern parts of the neighbourhood. Do you think this will help people discover other parts of NDG they may not visit frequently?

NDG is big and we thought it would be a great opportunity for people to discover other parts of their hood. If you live in the Monkland Village, how often do you go to St-Raymond or Westhaven? Both Aurora and I live in the western part of NDG (Loyola) and it often gets neglected.

A lot of the action is concentrated around NDG/Girouard Park though Arts Week is finally moving west with Sunset on Somerled – a great initiative! There is so much diversity in NDG that some might not know about- conversely, there are a lot of cultural communities that might not be familiar with the history of NDG- this seemed like a great way to bring people of all walks of life and demographics together to make new discoveries – be it people, places, architecture, knowledge.

In this sense the community has been an integral and invaluable part of the project- from its conception, to preparation (Jason Wasserman, an NDGer who did our graphics, was in En Masse) to where we buy our supplies, and translation services to the content of the tasks, and now the participants – though it’s open to everyone not just NDGers. Our focus has all been on the neighborhood and utilizing what great resources we have here locally – you know, by the people for the people!

3. As this is an event for all ages with a strong learning component, albeit a fun one, how much of what is there to be discovered will be fresh knowledge even for adults who have lived in NDG for years in addition to being discoveries for the kids?

For sure some of the clues and facts will be known to some – that’s inevitable. There is a FB group dedicated to NDG bygone eras who have a much richer acquaintance with the past than we do. But a lot of our tasks involve getting participants to do something related to a community service (which people might not know about) or create some public art or record a story. In this sense, participants are creating new knowledge about the neighborhood that will be novel to everyone – recently arrived residents and the old timers alike.

All the images, videos (data) will be archived and preserved. So yes, some facts will not be new to some but all the teams’ results (we have about 60 teams so far!) will generate deep and meaningful connections that will outlast the project. That’s really exciting for us!

If you’re excited, too, or just a bit curious, you can sign up before August 13th at tresorsndg.com to get started

The 13th Annual Buffalo Infringement Festival has come to an end, I survived. All of my dreams came true (especially the wet ones).

In 11 days I made quite a few costume changes, lost my mind and found it, and saw some of the most incredible art I have ever experienced in my life. I won this year’s poster contest, so it was extra special.

Thank you Montreal for giving us the Infringement Festival! I was a naked caterpillar riding my trike wearing nothing but glitter and a smile for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and World Naked Bike Ride, Marie Antoinette me was part of a nude cake fight and fetish party for Wet Dreamland where hotties suckled at my frosting spewing teets, my porn collages and newest paintings hung proudly.

I was Dazzlingly Inappropriate. I read a story based on my drawing that will eventually be a children’s book collaboration. I spun rainbow ribbons in a garden. I was a purple sparkley unicorn and Bob Ross in the same day. My rainbow butterfly wings were my day look. Oh, and no big deal but my best friend dressed up like a dog and shit in my mouth as I was Divine for our tribute to John Waters, then my dick was a monster and I was a mud shark girl for a Frank Zappa tribute to end the festival.

It was a wild wild wild ride. I am so honored to be part of this festival. My life is better because of it. I have a chance to truly be ME and express whatever weirdness lies within.

To be uncensored and completely free is priceless. I am already planning for next year! A whirlwind of every kind of art imaginable takes hold of my spirit.

Infringe everyday!

 

Howie Mandel’s gala hosting abilities are stronger than most. You can tell he’s a seasoned performer who has been on television for years. Perhaps it’s from having done Deal or No Deal and America’s Got Talent, but for whatever reason, he was able to host one of the best gala’s I’ve seen in years.

I’ve been to a few galas, many of which have been pretty lackluster, whereas Howie’s seemed to rise to the occasion. He made a highly entertaining evening  better because he knew how to deliver jokes and properly introduce the next comic. You’d think this would be an easy task for most hosts, yet I’ve seen so many failed attempts before.

It also didn’t help him that it was a good night for the comedians that he was hosting,  as most of them were spot-on with their routines. The evenings all-star cast included Cedrick the Entertainer, Ron Funches, Orny Adams, Christela Olonzo, Gina Yashere and John Heffron.

Highlight of the show were Cedrick the Entertainer jokes about getting old, Ron Funches whose dry lisp delivery was just generally funny and Gina Yashere talking about the dirtyness of New York (she’s a great comic and I recommend checking out her solo show if she comes back to the festival in the near future).

Orny Adams received of a standing ovation for his routine which was based on the how much he hates millennial and millennial culture. I have to say; I’ve seen Orny several times and when he’s on he’s on and that night he was great!

By the end of the evening most people who were in the audience were feeling pretty energetic from all that laughter, and segue after segue the host master Howie Mandel gently made us laugh as he brought us to the end of this all star occasion.

35 years ago Just For Laughs brought the world’s great comics to Montreal, and here, 35 years later, who better than Canadian funnyman Howie Mandel to host them.

* Featured image from 2016 by Mike Miller, courtesy Just for Laughs

Not all heroes wear capes. Some, as I found out during Saturday’s second taping of All Access Live Hosted by Wyatt Cenac, jump on stage to entertain the crowd during technical problems.

Having already been to an All Access Live taping, the one hosted by Moshe Kasher, I expected a funny, intimate show and a well-oiled and well-timed production. It was both, right up to the end of American comic Theo Von’s set when the generator that was powering all the TV equipment blew.

After a bit of confusion, warm up comic Aaron Burr returned to the stage to explain what was happening.

Now since we’re talking about messups, I’ll admit one of my own. In my initial review of the Kasher All Access I called the warm-up guy Bill Burr. I thought it must be Bill. Bill Burr was a comic and Aaron Burr was the guy who shot Alexander Hamilton (note to self: listen to Mirna, she’s usually right).

Turns out not only is Aaron Burr a comic, he’s a damn good one capable of some seriously good improv to keep the audience going when the planned show was temporarily delayed.

Jessica Kirson, whom I imagine was the planned surprise guest for the end, also performed her set during this mid-show interruption. We’ve already reviewed her as part of The Ethnic Show, so I won’t go into her set here only to say that her comedic talent combined with the awkward energy in the room led to a truly stellar set that the audience needed at the time.

Huge props are also due to Von. He had been rocking the crowd with a solid set and then was pulled off the stage before he was able to finish it. When the TV tech was back up and running, he had to start from the beginning, something that I can’t imagine being easy to do when so much of a comedian’s success relies on flow and timing.

While the audience was fully expecting him to repeat most jokes and was even told that he would by Burr, Von opted for entirely different material at the start. He only ended up repeating the setup to the joke he was interrupted on, which involved audience interaction on top of it.

Now while I’m sure professional comedians like Von have a ton of material in reserve, the decision to throw out what he had planned for his TV appearance in order to offer the in-house crowd something new impressed me. It helped that he also happened to be one of the funniest and most animated comics up there that night.

Amidst all the chaos, host Cenac kept his cool and delivered his comedy in the chill, matter-of-fact way he is famous for. His material ranged from personal observations to the current state of US politics.

Audience interactions also played a big part in his performance, something Cenac felt completely at home doing. For one intro he sat casually at a table, just hanging out with some of the crowd.

I interacted with one of the comics, Darrin Rose, when he asked who was an older brother. Turns out he wasn’t that fond of older brothers, or at least his – for comedic effect of course.

Robby Hoffman, with her mousey though confident delivery was great. Kurt Braunholer was another standout.

The other comics, Rhea Butcher, Charlie Demers, Esther Povitsky and Damien Power, all delivered solid sets and I remember laughing quite a bit. I’d have to watch the TV version of this show to properly do them justice in a review, though.

All the excitemen during the unexpected break made Von’s triumphant return to the stage the comedic high point of the night. That and probably the extra bar run we got because of it split my focus between what was currently on stage and thoughts of “how cool was that” about what had transpired.

That dichotomy lasted until the end, with a brief interruption when I fully focused on Cenac’s second mini-set.

It wasn’t the show I was expecting but it ended up being one of the most entertaining shows I saw.

Models. Dance Numbers. Glitz, glam, multiple outfit changes. The Laverne Cox gala dazzled in production quality and sheer aesthetics, from the hilarious (and extremely effective) hype man to the flawlessly toned legs of our fabulous host in a wide array of black high-cut leotards.

The only thing that didn’t live up the excellently executed night was, unfortunately, also the main point of the evening. For a production that hit so many high notes, the actual comedy fell a little bit flat.

Not to say the comedy was bad, which it wasn’t. It was full of the kind of jokes you might reply ‘LOL’ to in a text message, while your passive facial expression remains unchanged. But of all of the shows I saw at this year’s Just For Laughs festival, this one certainly got the fewest laugh-out-loud moments from me.

It actually featured one of my personal festival favorites, Ryan Hamilton, who I thought might improve my impression of the comedy that night, and perhaps even warm me up for the next comic. But all of the jokes he ended up telling were ones that he had already told at his own show (which I already reviewed) earlier in the festival, and didn’t quite have the same effect on me as the first time around. Perhaps this is better for him, as his show would be one that I would recommend.

For the first time at the festival, I found myself wondering how many comics were left until I could go home.

Laverne, I love you. You’re an inspiration to millions, and your legs are amazing. However, with all of the options available at a major comedy festival like Just For Laughs, the Laverne Cox Gala would not be one that I would recommend.

It can’t be that the timing was off, as the show itself was so well timed, with all the right beats hit during the dance number and every strut in perfect sync during the catwalk. This particular comedy line up, unfortunately, didn’t really do it for me, and as the comedy was supposed to be the main point of the show, I can’t say that it really lived up to my expectations.

As such, I can’t recommend in good conscience that you, dear reader, go and spend your hard-earned cash to see this show at what’s supposed to be a comedy festival. You’re better off spending the money on a Netflix subscription to watch Orange Is The New Black if you want to see Laverne Cox.

The Jane Krakowski Gala at Salle Willfrid Peletier  had an excellent lineup of comedians: Tituss Burgess, Chris D’Elia, Jen Kirkman, Randy (the puppet), Eman El-Husseini, Sean Emeny, Donnell Rawlings and Steve Simeone.  The variety of talent was so great that this was a really enjoyable gala, as galas go.

Coming from New York with her hit show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Jane Krakowski has a few Emmys under her belt. And while she has had a ton of success in the United States, with the election of Donald Trump, she would like the world to know that she wants to move to Canada.

During her show Jane reminded us she is usually typecast to play characters like Jenna Moroney (30 Rock) and Jacqueline Voorhees (Unbreakable: Kimmy Schmidt), narcissistic, overwhelming women with multiple personal problems and psychological issues bordering on insanity. But in truth, she tells us, she couldn’t be anymore different then the characters that she portrays on television. She cares about people around her and likes to give them jobs; that’s why at all times she has a “dozen unpaid interns massaging the leather interior of [her] car  so it doesn’t crack in the sun.”

Although her performance was strong, the theme of her show “how great Canada is” is getting pretty tiresome at these galas.

It seems that whenever an  American comedian is hosting a Galas, that person has to mention “how amazing Canada is compared to the United States.” Just a thought for future hosts: please quit talking about how much better Canada is in your jokes, it’s been way overdone.

We know,  it’s great up here.

The Highlight of Jane’s performance was most definitely when her costar Titus Burgess, who said he just flew down just to “sing this one with her” and he was planning on flying back to New York immediately after, serenaded the audience with his sweet angelic voice.

While Jane gave us a decent performance, the standouts from the lineup were really excellent. There was Randy the Austrailan puppet with some serious Schadenfreude  for people aggressively waiting in line at the self-checkout of the supermarket. Then there was Chris D’Elia’s delightful observations of the nature of Canines. Elam El-Hussaini, meanwhile, spoke about the “Israeli-Palestinian Issues”  with her Jewish wife at home. Finally, Sean Emeny was like a deadpan joke machine who rapidly spit out hilariously innocent jokes; think Jimmy Carr, but without insults.

By the end of the night I had such a great time I didn’t mind if Jenna Krakowski seriously decided to moved Canada. For one reason, we would get to see a lot more of her funny self. And secondly, she’d probably talk a little bit less of about how great Canada is if she were a resident.

I’m Dying Up Here is a Showtime show that explores the trials and tribulations of standup comedians trying to make it in Los Angeles in the 1970s. For one night only, the cast and creator were in town to share their inside experience of working on the show.

Though the event was clearly meant to plug the show, people who attended did so for only one reason: Jim Carrey. Among the crowd of young eager faces there to see the famed Rubberface in the flesh was an Ace Ventura imitator, complete with coiffed hair, Hawaiian shirt, and loose army boots, who charmed people as they filed into the theatre.

People expected funny from this show, but this event was not meant to be funny, not really. It was meant to be the cast and one of the show’s creators, Carrey himself, talking about their baby, I’m Dying Up Here.

The moderator for the evening was a culture writer for the New York Times, dressed in a suit the cut of which seemed modeled after the styles of the 70s. When people applauded him for his profession, he smiled awkwardly and said it was nice to see people still applauding journalists.

As a moderator he was awkward at best, a man clearly unaccustomed to being on stage and too timid to handle the panel of stars around him.

When the cast members came on stage in response to another actor’s name being called, he did nothing to properly establish who was who, so with the exception of Jim Carrey, I had no idea who everyone was and had to look it up later.

The cast consisted of Michael Angarano, RJ Cyler, Ari Graynor – who plays a struggling female comedian on the show, and real-life standup comedians turned dramatic actors Erik Griffin and Andrew Santino.

It was Griffin and Santino that kept the event from turning into a full on snoozefest by telling stories of pranks they played on each other, and exuding their natural charm as comedians on stage.

Unfortunately most of the event was a pretentious display of self aggrandizement, technical discussions about dramatic acting, and the trials and tribulations of entertainers trying to be successful.

The show contained lessons about the history and evolution of standup comedy, but the panel made no attempt to tell it cohesively. Ari Graynor’s explanation of the struggles of female entertainers was excellent, but she was unfortunately interrupted by Carrey, the moderator, and the comedians, as if so used to dominating the conversation about comedy they couldn’t let a woman who was not a comedian have a say.

Jim Carrey seems like a broken man; someone who’s struggled to find fame and fortune, found it, and still came up feeling empty. His war stories about smoking a joint with Richard Pryor and hanging out with the dead-too-young comic legend Sam Kinison early on in his career were amazing. Sadly, his stories were peppered with remarks like:

“There is no such thing as the real Jim Carrey.”

And

“I love you all but I won’t fucking pander to you.”

The event was too long and happened too late at night for anyone to take a sincere and active interest in what was being said. People expecting an energetic and funny Jim Carrey faced a damaged celebrity who was almost obnoxiously cerebral and worn out. Audience members around me actually fell asleep during the show while others walked out.

The show was successful in one regard: it made me want to watch I’m Dyring Up Here and read the book it’s based on. If it triggered the same interest in the rest of the audience as it did in me, it was worth the ninety minutes of boredom.

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.

I’ve been to a few comedy TV tapings in my time including one episode of The Daily Show and a few Just for Laughs galas. JFL All Access was different.

It had a real comedy club feel, meaning we, as an audience, were part of the show. In particular a kid who was there with his parents and some dude with a beer towel on his head.

The young man was a go-to for most of the comics, but the guy with the towel was just a favourite of host Moshe Kasher. The host explained that he looked like a fellow American, so a bond was formed.

Experienced being on TV and now hosting his own talk show, Kasher took to his JFL hosting duties like the pro that he is. He also delivered some real killer standup.

His material touched on catcalling, Jewish stereotypes and the difference between the kind of social media comments he and his wife (Natasha Leggero, also a comedian, hosting All Access tonight) get. The most interesting part for me, though, was when he told a joke as a test to see just how far a progressive Montreal audience would follow him.

But, of course, the show wasn’t just about the host. There were seven really talented comedians also performing.

Joe Lycett

The standout for me was British comedian Joe Lycett. His retelling of an email exchange he had with his rental company was that stuff that fits of laughter are made of.

Fellow Brit Seann Walsh also delivered the funny with a really relateable bit on memories of Limewire and dial up. I felt I should have predicted his final punchline but was glad that I didn’t as it really worked comedically and made sense.

Proving that even the comics in Vancouver are chill and talk about weed was Sophie Buddle. Her set was low key but just as funny as her more bombastic compatriots. A nice change of tone.

Fellow Canadian (from Toronto) Eddie Della Siepe won the award for most awkward personal story told for laughs. It involves vibrators and his deaf mother.

Fellow Torontonian now living in LA Julia Hladkowicz got real about an encounter with a kid in a park. It’s all about perspective.

Props to American comic Guy Branum for bringing our national dish into the conversation. He also had some interesting views on Canada’s history.

Eugene Mirman of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival and Bob’s Burgers spent most of his time telling of a rather unique way he got revenge for a parking ticket. However, it was his story of the signs he posted in various places that really got me laughing.

While that completed the TV lineup, the audience was also treated to a surprise off-camera performance by Jimmy Carr, whom we already reviewed in our report on The Nasty Show. There was also Aaron Burr, a stellar comic in his own right, serving tonight as the warm-up guy before the cameras started rolling. Burr’s set was great, but there’s something extra cool about getting instructions on how to get drinks from the bar during the show from a world-class comedian.

I recommend checking out an All Access taping and watching this show when it shows up on The Comedy Network.

All Access Live runs with different hosts until July 29th, tickets available through hahaha.com

As someone who loves bitingly brutal comedy, I was not sure what to expect when I attended Off JFL’s Boast Rattle. Unlike its more well-known counterpart – the roast battle – in which comedians take turns insulting each other, a boast rattle is in essence a compliment contest. It’s a new concept, and it’s one that’s sure to take off if last night’s performance is any indication.

I thought only insults could be funny…

…That is until I saw what last night’s team of talented comedians could do with compliments.

I’ve covered three shows so far, and this one had me laughing the hardest.

Run by American comedian Kyle Ayers, it consists of himself as host, a sound effects guy – comedian Dave Thomason, comedian Chris Laker as judge, and three pairs of talented comedians trying to outdo each other by complimenting their opponent.

At the end of each round, Ayers and Laker give their input, after which the audience votes as who moves on to the finals.

The show was broken into two rounds, one initial boast rattle, followed by a final in which an audience volunteer was chosen, asked a few questions, and the comedians used their answers to come up with the best compliment for them.

Kyle Ayers made an excellent host.

His standup style is a charming mix of awkward self-deprecation and biting commentary.

In his opening bit, he went over the rules of the competition, explaining that the audience volunteer for the final had to be someone having a rough time. He explained that in the case where two people offered to go up on stage, the more deserving would be complimented by the finalists, using as an example a show where it was between a guy who claimed he was tired and a woman who works in a pediatric burn ward. He rightfully pointed out that if it’s general fatigue versus burned babies, it was kind of a no brainer.

Ayers apparently begged our Prime Minister to attend the boast rattle, and after having fellow comedian read Justin Trudeau’s official not-so-polite reply in French, he demonstrated a boast rattle by complimenting a printed photo of the man.

His best compliment?

“He’s so wonderful I can’t wait to see what unqualified sociopath Canada elects as backlash.”

This was clearly a jab at his fellow Americans who elected an Orange Racist after the enlightened President Obama. He compared the current president to Game of Thrones’ Lannisters because: “What’s up with his hair and I think he f*cks his family.” It was one of the best jokes of the night.

After a couple of technical difficulties handled with grace, the battle began.

First up was Sasheer Zamata, who has her own OFF JFL show, versus Martin Urbano, a comedian featured in this year’s New Faces of Comedy.

The pair were interesting to watch as their styles are so different.

Sasheer Zamata’s compliment style was in the form of remarks one thought would end up being filthy, but turned out sweet and clean:

“Martin’s from Texas. Everything’s bigger in Texas and when they say it, I think they mean… (long pause for everyone to anticipate a penis joke)… Martin’s heart,”

Martin Urbano’s technique is a little edgier, darker, and more self-deprecating. He managed to make a comparison to an arsonist complimentary – “because her smile lights up a room” and turned a stalking joke into praise. His style reminds me of a cross between Demetri Martin and Emo Phillips, that unassuming guy who makes you laugh before you know it but whose jokes are so dark they’re almost offensive, but not quite.

The contrast between them was so stark and their jokes so good they were both moved to the final.

Next up was Danny Jolles vs Ramy Youssef.

These two were especially funny to watch in part because they were so evenly matched. They said from the get-go that they’ve been friends for years, and the chemistry between them was clear, as was the almost sibling-like rivalry. What was supposed to be a compliments contest ended up being a backhanded compliments contest.

Youssef compared Jolles to a Pixar character, which would have been a nice way of saying he’s cute if he hadn’t said the one he had in mind was the protagonist in the film Up. For anyone unfamiliar with the film, said hero is a wrinkled, curmudgeonly old man.

Jolles in turn ribbed on Youssef’s Muslim heritage, calling him a “suicide charmer”. Though their closing compliments were both cringe-worthy, Danny Jolles took the round for somehow making a comparison to Bin Laden complimentary.

Last was Emily Heller versus Ron Funches.

Funches was good, with an excellent remark about how Heller bought him his first dashiki and it didn’t feel racist at all…

…But Emily Heller was breathtaking.

She did not make a single bad joke the whole night, and though diminutive in stature and tone, her edgy jokes spoke volumes.

In the final round, which she got to by unanimous audience and judge decision she successfully rattled off a made up list of pornographic titles based on Billy Crystal movies after the audience volunteer – comedian Dulce Sloan – admitted she liked him.

Heller won Boast Rattle and it was well-deserved.

A new concept, Boast Rattle is a treat if you can stay up late enough to catch it.

Check it out.

A few minutes into Orny Adams’ set at OFF-JFL he jokingly announced that the show would start soon. While it would be a running gag throughout the evening, for me it would end up feeling true.

This was my first time seeing Orny perform and I hadn’t checked out any of his videos online prior to the show, so it took me the first half of the set to warm to his abrasive style of comedy. It’s important to note that I was in the minority as the rest of the crowd were clearly laughing from the start.

I was also in the minority age-wise as a good chunk of his early material focused on the cultural divide between millenials and the combined group of older Gen-Xers mixed with younger Baby Boomers. As someone in the middle of those groups without a horse in the proverbial race, those jokes may have not offended me (though I’m sure they would offend some, let’s just say this show is not gluten-free) but they also didn’t land like they did with most of the crowd.

What did land for me was his story about getting booted off TV and his absolutely hilarious bits of observational comedy on waiting for food in a sandwich shop and bottled water. His sarcastic, ornery Orny delivery was perfect.

He was also not afraid to engage with the crowd, regardless of where they were sitting. I got the impression that most weren’t random festival goers checking out a comic but fans of Orny. He’s the type of comic that I can see having a devoted fan base.

If you’re a member of that fan base or someone who would like to be, then you have a couple more times to catch Orny this year in Montreal.

Orny Adams: More Than Loud runs July 27 and 29 as part of OFF-JFL, tickets available through hahaha.com

Sasheer Zamata is a former SNL star who’s gone solo. If her performance last night is any indication, this is a rising star worth watching.

Opening for Zamata was Australian comedian Matt Okine. His act had a lot of potential… Unfortunately he spent the first third of it making jokes about potatoes.

Yes, potatoes.

He talked about fries, and wedges, and steamed potatoes, and baked potatoes and potato salad. It was reminiscent of George Carlin’s early bits about everyday life but nowhere near as funny, partly because it was far too long. Overall the whole routine about potatoes fell as flat as the chips he was ranting about.

When Okine started addressing more edgy material like race and poverty, the audience seemed to wake up.

He spoke of how having a steady income now gave him choices and that he was no longer a slave to whatever’s on sale. He described Australia’s racism problem and addressed the fact that in many ways the media are like heroin dealers in that while not necessarily racist themselves are willing to push it to people addicted to its precepts. It had a bit of a ‘fake news’ rant vibe, but when you think of outlets like Fox and Breitbart that DO push racist agendas, his argument does have some merit, and he did make it funny.

Next up was Zamata herself, resplendent in a bright jumpsuit she said she got in Edmonton.

Sasheer Zamata’s act does not feel like standup comedy. If you’re looking for a showman who tells jokes and is loud, bombastic, and whose material is obsessed with the trivial, look elsewhere.

She’s not overly loud or aggressive and her comedy is conveyed in her words and her very expressive face. She comes off as warm, calm, and genuine, the kind of compelling person you’d want to spend time with and listen to.

When you’re in Zamata’s audience you don’t feel like someone who got tickets to attend. She has a way of communicating with people so you feel like a good friend she wants to confide in and tell you about what’s going on her life. This doesn’t mean that she shies away from edgy material, far from it. Nothing from date rape, to racism, to STDs, to gender stereotypes, to sexuality is safe in Zamata’s act.

Towards the beginning she talked about going camping with a largely white group and unashamedly mocked their need for excessive sun protection. She proudly proclaimed that their vulnerability was a form of karma, interspersing her commentary with amusing anecdotes about doing drugs on the trip.

Sex and relationship stories seem to be a staple in most standup comics’ routines, but Zamata’s are unique because they display the intersection of funny stories that define everyone’s sexual experiences and her perspective as a black woman who has dated white men.

She spoke hilariously at one point of a guy she’d been hooking up with asking to touch her hair and misconstruing what turned out to be a sexual question as a racist one. In her talk about sexuality she spoke highly of Planned Parenthood, a health organization now under attack in her native US, and their unorthodox reaction to her approaching them about a very delicate health issue she once had.

On the issue of race, Zamata stressed the importance of talking about it openly and asking questions. What resonated most with me was her rebuttal to people who claim they don’t see race:

“When someone says ‘I don’t see race’ what they’re saying is ‘I CHOOSE not to see injustice.”

I all but had to resist the urge to bow to her for that line as it was as beautiful as it was succinct.

Zamata then told a story of a protest in South Africa in which white students surrounded black students to keep them from being assaulted by police. She used it to demonstrate how one’s privilege can be used to help others.

She spoke of cultural appropriation and feminist advertising or “Femertising” in a way that had audiences at once laughing and thinking about these issues. Her observations were at once funny, biting, and accurate, but they were never conveyed in a way that would make any but the most snowflakey entitled white-privileged idiot defensive, something I attribute in part to the calmly compelling way in which Zamata speaks on stage. What’s also remarkable is that while clearly an intersectional feminist, unlike many on the left she is unafraid to criticize her own side.

Though her act tackled important issues, it always found room for the silly with short bits about Disney characters, and boyfriends, and bullfrogs. If last night’s show is any indication, Sasheer Zamata is on the rise, and her best is yet to come.

Sasheer Zamata performs at OFF-JFL through July 27. Tickets available at hahaha.com

There aren’t a lot of things you can reasonably expect to be shocked by at the Just For Laughs festival.

Featuring long-running shows with names like The Ethnic Show and The Nasty Show, if there was some way that you wandered into a comedy fest and did not know what you were getting yourself into, you would really have nobody to blame but yourself.

So I came into this festival fully braced for whatever could be thrown at me. Bring on the jokes about sex, women, weight, addiction, depression, and ethnicity. I was expecting all of it.

What I did not expect was Ryan Hamilton.

Disarmingly funny, Ryan Hamilton: Edgy, Boundary-Pushing Comedian, had me in stitches more consistently than any other show I’ve seen so far at Just For Laughs. And most amazingly, it was done without a single dirty joke, slapstick dick joke, or even one swear word.

I had almost forgotten that very good comedy could exist that was—shockingly, amazingly—not R-rated, and full of feel-good humour that you could reasonably take your niece to go and see without her parents getting angry. It was fresh, poignant, and light-hearted without sacrificing depth.

The only complaint I have about this show is that I wish it had been longer. The opener, Ivan Decker, could have done an entire show by himself. Though he shared the clean style that was clearly thematic, he had his own refreshing brand and a unique stage presence that I haven’t seen before. I’ll be looking out for him in the future.

My friend Sabs, a cynic at the best of times, said it best on our way out of the theatre: “That was a really nice way to end a day. Laughing at stuff like that, it felt good.” And indeed, Ryan Hamilton has achieved something that I had forgotten even was a thing: high quality humour that doesn’t leave you feeling even a little bit dirty.

At a place like JFL, an idea like that is really edgy, and truly boundary-pushing.

 

Ryan Hamilton: Edgy, Boundary-Pushing Comedian runs through July 29th. Get your tickets through hahaha.com

Also check out Ryan Hamilton’s Netflix special, Happy Face, premiering this August 29th

I think there’s a chance Jen Kirkman may read this review. She did, after all, make reviews a topic of discussion in the informal preamble she had with the audience before launching into her performance of Irrational Thoughts at OFF-JFL.

I say performance rather than set because, as Kirkman warned us, it wasn’t a standup set but rather a one-woman show that told us one story, her own story, with different chapters, each separated by a few years. There was music, there was dancing (a very honest, self-deprecating dance routine that really worked with the overall show) and, of course, there were plenty of laughs to be had by the audience.

Kirkman didn’t tell jokes in the classic setup-punchline sense. The humour came throughout from her well thought out storytelling arrangement and matter of fact delivery.

Think of her as that one person at a party who starts telling stories to a small group of people which grows as she continues. Everyone is cracking up, they’re not laughing at her but rather laughing with her laughing at herself. No one wants to get up to use the washroom because they might miss something funny and if they need another beer from the fridge, they will race right back to hear the rest.

Kirkman is a captivating performer and the audience laughed along with her (even though she wasn’t laughing on the outside) as she told her tales. Through all this, she touched on cold war hysteria, problematic parents, sexism in the 1980s education system, fear of flying, 9/11, Gary David Goldberg and recent politics in her home country, the US.

She did a great job of viscerally explaining her horror at the Trump victory and profound disappointment at a missed historic opportunity for women and the young girls who may be inspired. As for her Sanders quip, well, if I was wearing my political pundit hat, which I wear the other 11 months when JFL isn’t running, I may have had something to say, but I’m wearing my comedy reviewer hat, so all is good.

And speaking of comedy reviewers, she brought up one in her preamble, Steve Bennett (from Australia, it seems). Unlike him, I will mention that the audience was laughing the whole time and I will add that I was laughing along with them.

Jen Kirkman: Irrational Thoughts runs until July 29 at Mainline Theatre, tickets available through hahaha.com

As one of the most-loved, longest-running shows at Just For Laughs, every edition of The Nasty Show comes with bigger shoes to fill. Not one to shy away from expectations, host Ari Shaffir opened the show—featuring Robert Kelly, Jimmy Carr, Yamaneika Saunders, Godfrey and Big Jay Oakerson — with a bible story, an intriguing, attention grabbing choice to start to off a show that was sure to take the audience even further from God than we were when we started.

The show was full of laugh-out-loud shocking moments – Yamaneika Saunders’ anecdotes about being 39 and single, getting jealous at the romantic dedication of a pedophile who drove 12 hours to see a child on To Catch A Predator, were matched only by Big Jay Oakerson’s disappointment at his daughters’ inevitable failure to turn out as a lesbian and his ruminations on his biggest fear (Hint: It’s not death or public speaking).

Yamaneika Saunders (photo by Nicolas Abu, courtesy Just for Laughs)

Robert Kelly had a lot to say on the subject of aging, from learning to hate your friends to rationing your remaining summers when you realize that you aren’t going to live forever. He says that he has a solid 30 left, and they are rapidly counting down. Considering that in Montreal, summer this year started very late, and has been mostly rain, I’d say that whatever I estimate my own years of remaining summer to be are probably overly optimistic.

Gofrey certainly stole the show in terms of physical comedy. His demonstration-laden observations on the admirable confidence of Creepy Dudes, and ruminations on ‘the one time it must have worked’ was even better than his rendition of Melania Trump. Surprisingly, this was the only set where the current state of American politics came up at all.

Jimmy Carr read most of his jokes, which made him feel a bit less engaged with the audience than the other performers. However, his jokes were much more Montreal-centric than those of the other comedians, so it did feel like more of a personalized performance. Of all the dicks, butts, talk of underage girls, and general Nastiness of The Nasty Show, the only thing that seemed to cross the line for this audience was when Carr made a few jokes at the expense of Montreal patron saint Céline Dion. Stay classy, Montreal!

Jimmy Carr (photo Nicolas Abou, courtesy Just for Laughs)

The spirit of the times nowadays is to police ourselves over sensitive topics.

We’re used to making sure that anything that we say, or that could possibly be construed from our actions, is as inoffensive as possible. Though this is important, it’s also important to remember that we can make fun of ourselves.

In this way, The Nasty Show is surprisingly refreshing. I had almost forgotten that we could flip the script and joke about the negative aspects that connect us, bridging the gap over otherwise untouchable waters. There’s a reason this one’s a classic.

The Nasty Show runs until July 29th at Metropolis as part of Just For Laughs. Tickets available through hahaha.com

* Featured image of Ari Shaffir by Nicolas Abou, courtesy Just for Laughs

Comedian and writer Wyatt Cenac has performed standup in a variety of venues over the years, some big, some small, some rather unique. But does the type of venue affect his performance?

“It’s not the type of venue as much as the type of crowd,” he said in a telephone interview, “that’s the wild card. If it’s a rowdy crowd, you have to adjust for that. In theory you want them to pay attention to you but if they’re drunk and yelling and all that, it’s hard to keep yelling a bunch of jokes if you’re not able to compete with everyone else. If it’s a small, intimate crowd, you can get a little more personal.”

When he performed at Just for Laughs for the first time two years ago, it was in the Cafe Cleopatre performance space upstairs from the strip club.

“The crowds were great,” he remembers, “they were really fun crowds. All the shows I did at Cafe Cleopatre were super fun. I don’t recall having a negative experience. Even at the small showcase shows I did, the crowds were always fun and they seemed like they wanted to be supportive.”

Around the time he was last performing in Montreal, an interview he did on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast started getting attention. Cenac told Maron that when he was a Daily Show correspondent and writer, at-the-time host Jon Stewart once yelled at him in the writer’s room after he was critical of an impression Stewart had done of Herman Cain.

The two “made up” on air during Stewart’s final episode as host and since then the Comedy Central flagship show has been under new management, so to speak. I asked Cenac what he thought of the current Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

“They’re doing a great job,” he said, “with shows like that, it’s such a fun opportunity to get to make the show every night that you can comment on things and can also go and do field pieces. You can be very imaginative in what you do but at the same time be grounded in a reality that hopefully everyone has a context for.”

Cenac has previously worked with Noah and current correspondents Roy Wood, Jr., Ronnie Chieng and Michelle Wolf. He has high hopes for them and the people still working on the show who were there when he was.

“It’s a very interesting time for them,” he observed, adding: “They’ve definitely found their groove and what the show is and I’m very happy for all of them.”

Given all this, I asked Cenac if a return to The Daily Show was potentially in the cards for him.

“No, it’s it’s own thing,” he responded, “with shows like that, regardless of who’s behind the desk, when you do it you’re there for your time and when you leave it’s somebody else’s opportunity, somebody else’s ship to sail and I’m on the shore happily watching it sail…when you go, you go.”

Cenac’s comedy has always had a strong political undercurrent. With some of the current US administration’s actions just as ridiculous as satire, it could make doing political comedy tough. Cenac doesn’t think so.

“I think it’s still just as challenging as it’s always been,” he observed, “it’s funny because I remember after Barack Obama got elected in 2008 the conversation was ‘How can people do comedy when Barack Obama is President?’ He seemed to be such a well intentioned, nice guy that isn’t right for comedy, especially coming out of the Bush Administration where you had a bunch of ridiculous characters. I feel that comedy did well for itself for the last eight years. And in the previous eight before that, I think people were able to do well with characters that were equally as bizarre as the Trump administration has been.”

Cenac actually once did an impression of then-Senator Barack Obama. He didn’t think it was that good of an impression.

“The other problem,” he noted, “was I had to shave to do the impression. I kind of like looking like a werewolf, so I was not built for sketch comedy in that way.”

What he was built for is storytelling interspersed with astute political commentary that will have the audience laughing the whole way through. That’s what I experienced at his JFL set two years ago.

This year, Cenac will be across the street from Cafe Cleopatre hosting an All Access TV taping in Club Soda. If you want to know what to expect, well…

“I’m not 100% sure, I still haven’t figured it out,” he said (two weeks ago),  noting that he has been in Toronto for the past nine months working on a TV show, “it could just me me on stage trying to figure out the shooting schedule for when I get back.”

I’m sure it won’t be that, but if it was, I’m sure Wyatt Cenac could make it hilarious.

All Access Live hosted by Wyatt Cenac is July 29th at 7 and 10pm, tickets available through hahaha.com

* Featured image of Wyatt Cenac performing at Just for Laughs in 2015 by Jason C. McLean