new faces unrepped just for laughs

Any Just for Laughs show that has words like “faces” in the title is always a bit of a crapshoot. You know for sure that you’re going to enjoy the host who is usually a comic legend but the remaining roster generally consists of comics, good and bad, who are yet unheard of and hoping to make a name for themselves on the Just for Laughs stage. The Just for Laughs show New Faces: Unrepped was no exception.

New Faces: Unrepped consisted of a slew of American comedians trying to bag an agent or gig. The audience consisted primarily of industry reps and agents looking to find their next star.

The show was hosted by comic legend George Wallace, who was doing a one-man show later in the week. By his own admission, Wallace had no material ready to host New Faces and opted instead to work the crowd.

Host George Wallace (photo Felicia Michaels, courtesy Just for Laughs)
Host George Wallace (photo: Felicia Michaels, courtesy Just for Laughs)

He clearly knew none of the comics performing that night and was reminiscent of a kind, well-meaning uncle who invites a ton of people to a barbeque but has absolutely no idea who any of them are. Despite his lack of preparedness, he remained the show’s star.

The show was a mixed bag with every stereotype represented. You had the clean cut white sarcastic guys, JP McDade, Danny Palumbo, and Brendan Lynch, the snarky smiling feminist comedian, Molly Ruben Long, a sassy black woman, Janelle James, some African American males, Neko White and JB Ball, a few ethnic comedians, Ismail Loutfi and Raoul Sanchez, one Zach Galafianakis clone, Casey Crawford, and one creep, Geoffrey Asmus.

JP McDade was the kind of comedian one would want for a major American sitcom. He’s white, blond, cute and snarky, perfect for shows like How I Met Your Mother that appeal to white audiences who want to laugh at other white people. His comedy was good but not great and his delivery clearly needs a little refining because his jokes were spaced so far apart the audience lost him at least half the time.

Next up was Ismail Loutfi, a Muslim American comedian. Unlike the other comedians that night, his comedy was largely political, bravely tackling issues of Islamophobia and American ignorance of Muslim American culture. To keep the audience going, he peppered his routine with a lot of self-deprecation and unlike the other comedians that night, his material was by far the most interesting, if not the funniest.

African American comedian Neko White clearly has a lot of potential. His delivery and timing were spot on which made up for the occasional lame joke. He started his routine by announcing that he was from Harlem and bravely addressed the issue of gang violence in the US in his comedy.

Raul Sanchez could only be described as OK. His delivery was OK, his jokes about incarceration were OK, and as a comedian he came off as just OK.

JB Ball was the other African American male comedian on the roster and his delivery and the timing of jokes were also spot on. The problem is that his jokes were mostly sexist towards women, which is FINE provided the jokes are funny, which they weren’t.

Casey Crawford of North Dakota was by far the funniest of the bunch. Clad in an Expos T-shirt and Canadiens hat, Crawford seemed desperate to win over Canadian audiences. As it turns out he didn’t need the gimmicky outfit, undoubtedly the product of a gift shop raid. Crawford’s jokes were FUNNY and his style had the adorable awkwardness reminiscent of Zach Galafianakis.

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Casey Crawford (photo: Felicia Michaels, courtesy Just for Laughs)

Molly Ruben-Long was the feminist comedian of the night. I’m all for feminist comedy and I’m all for female comedians, but her jokes were lame, so while I found myself silently cheering her, I couldn’t bring myself to laugh.

Janelle James is an ex dominatrix who moved to white suburbia. Her jokes were funny but not bend over funny. As the oldest and most charismatic performer that night, she deserves a shot but ageism is probably going to play a role in whether she gets it.

Brendan Lynch was funny and self-deprecating in a way that was kinda charming. He’d be another good casting choice for a snarky white sitcom character.

Geoffrey Asmus was the most memorable of the comedian not because he was good, but because he was BAD.

Asmus’ stage persona is one of a sanctimonious entitled chronically ill white male with delusions of grandeur. He began his routine by physically attacking a member of the audience who was cheering him, before describing a medical condition with such specificity there was no doubt he actually had it.

He talked of being a virgin who’s never masturbated in a way that was more painful than funny. He claimed that not engaging in sexual activity allowed him to hone his intellect and bragged that he knew everything.

Asmus claimed that he even knew about Canadian Prime Ministers and asked the audience to name one. I turned to my partner and bet him that I could stump the guy after which I called out “Diefenbaker” (the Prime Minister in the 60s who had a rivalry with JFK). Asmus said Diefenbaker was a white male, hardly remarkable given that nearly ALL Canada’s Prime Ministers were white males, in other words: I won.

Asmus’ performance was barely wiped out by the final performer of the night, Danny Palumbo.

Palumbo clearly wears a mustache to hide the fact that without it he’d probably look like a twelve year old boy. He was snarky and funny, and as a foodie, his comedy about culinary ignorance appealed to me. Unfortunately a lot of his jokes were the boring passive-male-in-a-relationship stuff that’s been WAY overdone in comedy.

Shows like New Faces: Unrepped are something to experience at least once. In them you get to see a legend work the audience with grace and see potential up and comers work their magic while others crash and burn.

* Featured image: Felicia Michaels, courtesy Just for Laughs

Carrie Fisher (1)

I had completely forgotten that Carrie Fisher was in The Blues Brothers. The 1980 cinematic masterpiece, that is, not the sequel that should simply have been titled Why?

Both films, though, did warrant a mention by Fisher as she hosted her Just For Laughs Gala. So did politics in Hollywood when it comes to older women, something she has first-hand experience with.

She also spent quite a bit of her time on stage talking about, well, what do you think? Star Wars, of course. This was, after all, Princess (now General) Leia herself, doing comedy in Montreal.

I’ll admit I had to restrain myself from going all-in with the Star Wars puns when starting this review. She was, after all, an icon of my childhood. So…not so long ago, Sunday night to be precise, in a galaxy a few Metro stops away, Carrie Fisher was a Force to be reckoned with onstage…

There. Done. Now on with the show!

It was quite a good show, too. It started off with Brian Posehn nerd-gasming over the host and devoting his entire set to his love of Star Wars and hatred of the prequels (which Fisher wasn’t in…damn, with her absence in Blues Brothers 2000, she’s two for two).

Ronny Chieng (photo Eric Meyer, courtesy Just for Laughs)
Ronny Chieng (photo Eric Meyer, courtesy Just for Laughs)

The non-childhood memory enduing highlight for me has to be Ronny Chieng. The current Daily Show correspondent’s set was focused on Asian stereotypes and how he deals with them.

Australian comic Joel Creasey told a rather funny story about a brief Twitter feud he had with fellow Aussie Russel Crowe. Creasey had very good stage presence, though he spoke a bit too quickly for me to catch everything.

We also got Jim Norton’s sort of defense of Donald Trump (not really, but it was funny),  Cristela Alonzo’s take on sci-fi realism, Celia Pacquola’s interesting view of rings, Nathan MacIntosh with a quite funny bit on the current state of tech and Ivan Decker talking mangos, of all things.

The night, though, clearly belonged to Fisher. Thanks to her HBO special Wishful Drinking we all know that she can carry a stage show. Thanks to Force Awakens interviews and some of her performances over the years (like the one in the aforementioned Blues Brothers) we know she can be funny.

But can she carry an entire standup show as host? Turns out, yes.

While her bit on other Leia hairdoo options may have been a bit by-the-numbers, though still funny, her opening monologue was a solid bit of standup. While some comics tell personal stories and then try and related them to pop culture, Fisher is pop culture, or at least a huge part of it, so she was able to cut out the middle man, so to speak.

And her song about addiction, another subject which we all know that she knows quite well, was a great way to close the show. Self-aware, casual, honest. It was pure Carrie Fisher.

 

* Featured image by Eric Myre, courtesy of Just for Laughs

Cameron Esposito

Rushing from watching the fireworks at Montreal’s Old Port, I was almost late to Cameron Esposito’s show at Montreal Improv. I’m glad I wasn’t, because it was perhaps one of the most entertaining and different sets I’ve ever seen.

What do I mean? For one, you know how stand-up comedians usually try to seem candid because it makes their spiel more believable? After all, you are listening to a complete stranger telling you stories about themselves. You need to first care about these people, before you can even consider laughing at them. Even then, more often than not, the line between the stage and the audience remains very palpable.

Yet with Esposito, her attempts at connecting with the audience not only do feel real, I’m pretty sure they are real. Throughout the show, she talked with two members of the audience. Usually, when that happens, the comedian tries to fit as many jokes as they can about that person’s life. Esposito, however, seemed genuinely interested in what these people had to say, and actually listened. Now, maybe she was just that good at acting, but I remain convinced that it was all real.

For second, there aren’t nearly enough LGBTQ comedians represented at JFL. As far as I can tell, most comedians I’ve seen at JFL have been straight folks, and mostly guys. After a while, these stories get old, because straight love/sex stories are the only stories you hear in the mainstream. Most movies, most TV shows, most anime, most anything – straight stories are everywhere.

So I’m really glad I got to see Esposito at this JFL. She and her wife Rhea Butcher – who also happened to be the opener for Esposito – are really funny. Both of their sets have your run-of-the-mill “America is awful, Canada is so much better” jokes as well as really thoughtful rants/commentaries about gender, politics, and gender and politics.

For instance, one part of Esposito’s set was literally a speech about why Hilary Clinton is fit to be the next president of the U.S. – if not the best candidate the U.S. has seen in a while. I’ve seen many comedians during this year’s JFL, and Esposito was the first one to talk less about Trump, and more about Hilary. Admittedly, it was strange that she got so serious during a stand-up comedy show, but I think I’m into it. In fact, I really like it and I think more people should do it.

We always talk about how comedians are supposed to critique society, point out its flaws or whatever. This is what it should be like. Pointing out problems about society and making you laugh on the side – I might add that no hearing impaired people with terminal illnesses were insulted in the process (looking at you Mr. Ward).

Furthermore, the topics Esposito talks about actually challenge people’s perceptions and understandings. To take that a step further, Esposito and Butcher are launching a new show on Seeso called Take my Wife. Unfortunately, Seeso doesn’t stream outside of U.S., so we won’t be able to watch the show in Canada, but as Esposito puts it, “we don’t need [the show], because we accept people.” The accuracy of our positive verdict notwithstanding, it was really amazing to see a lesbian comedian feel free to make jokes about her identity, without having to fear any bigoted hecklers.

Then again, maybe that was because she was preaching to the choir and the people at the show were already the kind of people who know that gender is a social construct and sexuality is a spectrum.

After this show, I’m very confident that I need more Cameron Esposito-kinda comedy in my life. Funny but not trivial stuff. If we truly want comedy to be a type of subversive act that will mould society into something better, that’s what we need.

* Featured image courtesy of Just for Laughs

Jeff Goldblum (1)

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes secret about how media accreditation works. You usually ask to get as many tickets as possible to review as many shows as possible. And if you’re a relatively smaller blog like FTB, you don’t expect to get into the big shows. That’s just showbiz, as they say. So you can imagine my surprise at seeing that I was able to get tickets for BOTH Jeff Goldblum’s and David Cross’ galas on Wednesday night.

That’s a lot of comedy!

Jeff Goldblum Gala

Let’s start with Jeff Goldblum – he’s a delight on the stage. He is well dressed, well-spoken, and very self-aware. He knows what it means to be Jeff Goldblum, and he knows that impressionists love to do him. That’s probably why he had an entire segment dedicated to him teaching the audience how to do the “Jeff Goldblum.” You touch your face, go on …uhm… really long, run-on paragraphs, and …uhm… get REALLY EASILY EXCITED about …you know… things. Eh, it doesn’t work when I’m writing the impression I guess. But you get the gist.

I never thought of Goldblum as a stand-up comedian, and I will stand by that statement. He was magnificent as a host, but some of the jokes were – well, they could have been better delivered by an actual stand-up comedian. I also could tell that he was reading his jokes from a teleprompter, so that kinda broke the magic for me as well. Still, he’s a funny guy and no one can take that away from him. I highly doubt anyone is trying to do so, anyway.

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Godfrey at the Gala.

At Goldblum’s gala, the audience was able to see Darrin Rose, Godfrey, Patrick Haye, Russell Howard, Elon Gold, Charlie Pickering, Lynne Koplitz, and Adam Ferrara. Out of these 8 (omg) comedians, I can confidently say that my favourites were Russell Howard, Godfrey, and Charlie Pickering. But don’t get me wrong, all of them were amazing comedians, and the audience seemed to agree with me.

It’s just that I have a very particular style of humour and these three fellas all hit the spot. Howard is from the UK and – obviously – delivers his jokes in that classic British style. His delivery is not as dry as some other Brits, which is admittedly a nice change of pace. I don’t exactly remember how the conversation got there, but at some point he started talking about same-sex marriages. He said that some people in the UK are afraid that they could lead to a lesbian queen. He than started miming the queen getting a blowjob and screamed “Yeah, does it taste like stamps?!” Best queen joke I’ve heard in a while.

David Cross Gala

David Cross is a gem. He is the master of awkward comedy and I just love that. Once his name was announced, Cross appeared behind the gates on the scene, with his pants down. He pulled them up immediately, and then started doing his spiel. He started telling us about how Americans feel about Canadians and how much trouble they have trying to mock Canadians.

The harshest thing they can think of, apparently, was that Canadians are so polite. He says that it’s funny that Canadians are so polite. And that gets me thinking… Most comedians at JFL have a bit about how people in the US think about Canadians. I wonder if that was a collective decision on their part, or is it just an easy – almost cheaty? – way of breaking the ice with the audience. Once they’re done with talking about US-Canada relations, they start talking about American politics. They’re all collectively afraid of what might happen if a certain giant Oompa Loompa gets elected.

Cross is an infinitely better stand-up comedian than Goldblum. Some heckler guy made him mess up a joke, but even then he was able to keep his cool and make that into a joke that the audience just loved. He is less charismatic than Goldblum, but that’s not what he is going for anyway. He’ll be awkward on the stage and you will love it. I mean, at least if you’re into that kinda thing.

At Cross’ gala, we had Maria Bamford, Louie Anderson, Nick Thune, Todd Barry, Scott Thompson, Nish Kumar, and Mark Forward.

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David Cross, a.k.a. baseball cap Santa Claus.

Nish Kumar was by far my favourite among this lineup – and that despite the fact that I was really excited to see Maria Bamford and Louie Anderson. I was expecting Bamford’s set to be different than what it was. She kept in character throughout the whole thing, which is to be expected if you’re familiar with her style. And with Anderson, I suppose I was still remembering him as the guy who did the mid-90s cartoon series Life with Louie. He wasn’t really – but still was pretty funny.

It was my first time seeing Kumar, however, and I was very impressed. Again, he’s a comic from the UK, so obviously I liked his style. His humour is very smart and very political. He talked about how almost impossible it is to write right-wing comedy, but also it’s difficult to write a left-wing action film. “You’d have no interest in watching the Avengers go to the UN Security Council,” as he said. I love politics, and I love comedy – and Kumar was the perfect mixture of both.

Overall, these two galas were both very amazing and funny. If I could spend five hours sitting in the same hall, listening to these comedians again, I would do it without hesitating.

All photos by Eric Myre, courtesy of Just for Laughs festival.

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When it comes to commenting on the American political scene, no one does it better than Lewis Black. The former playwright has been on the comedy scene for almost twenty years, providing scathing political commentary while peppering his material with none too subtle rants about the stupidity of daily life. His bit about soy milk being in fact soy juice because “there’s no soy tit” is widely considered a classic.

On July 27, Lewis Black gave a show at Place des Arts called The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth Tour.

This show was Black at his best, for unlike past Just for Laughs Galas where he has had to censor himself to make the show appropriate for TV, Black didn’t have to hold himself back for this one-man show. He could use all the words people consider bad, words that Black calls the ones adults use to express anger, frustration, and rage so we don’t grab a tire iron and kill each other.

The expectations of the crowd that night were clear. They all wanted to hear Black’s take on Donald Trump and the upcoming election. He gave the people what they wanted, but not in the way they’d expect.

On a dark stage with a single spotlight, Lewis Black, clad in pale shirt, jacket, and jeans approached the microphone and said one word:

“Help.”

His clear nasal voice was higher pitched than ever before as he told the audience:

“Please help us”.

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He said his career in comedy was over, citing the comments and speeches made by Republicans as far better than any joke he could come up with. As proof, he spoke of Tina Fey’s most recent appearance as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live at which instead of writing her a speech, the SNL writers put Sarah Palin’s actual Trump endorsement speech into the teleprompter for Fey to read. Black nipped any hopes for a Trump joke in the bud saying that everyone there knew at least three he hadn’t heard before.

Most of Black’s humour that night was political and self-deprecating. He went through every Republican candidate, ruthlessly mocking the way they speak, the absurdities they say, and how they dress and groom themselves. He started with Ben Carson whom he compared to a lizard with eyes so heavy lidded he probably doesn’t even know he’s black.

Lewis Black’s take on Hillary Clinton was unique. He said the only reason she is disliked is because she’s been around the political scene for so long people are sick of seeing her. Though Black is a socialist and a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter, he was kinder to Clinton than he was to all the Republicans he spoke of.

Black surprised me that night. He showed that he too is blessed with a skill all great comics have: the ability to evolve and change with the times. Though his comedy has in the past been about the experience of men, he spent a great deal of time joking about women’s issues in a way that acknowledged the struggles and contributions of women while still keeping it funny. He remarked that he couldn’t understand why a man would ask a woman to get a boob job because he himself has never been in bed with a woman and upon seeing her breasts let out a disappointed sigh. Black said that any man who is lucky enough to get a woman to show them to him should be down on his knees every night thanking God, earning him uproarious applause.

Black’s bit about makeup was a treat and a half. He spoke of how much pressure women have to look good and marvelled at our dexterity at putting on makeup. He called eyeliner an instrument of death and talked about how cool he’d look in an eyepatch should he ever attempt to apply it.
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On the transgender bathroom issue Lewis Black said that with all the other problems in America, the last thing people should be worried about is who is peeing next to them.

Though he said he wouldn’t make a Trump joke, it seems Black couldn’t resist sneaking in a jab or two, speaking of how Trump’s lack of business acumen can be seen in the fact that he bankrupted a casino and his alleged success in business has nothing to do with skill and everything to do with nepotism.

People went to the Lewis Black show expecting him to tear apart the American political system with his raging commentary. Black did that and more, showing deference to groups he’d never mentioned in his comedy before while at the same time maintaining his signature angry style. When Black is allowed to swear and scream he shines, and the worse the political system in the States the better his comedy. With the US sliding into an abyss of bigotry and despair, Black’s comedy is better than ever. Though he says he’s done, I say his best is yet to come.

All photos courtesy of Just for Laughs festival.

Nasty Show Sign2

The Nasty Show is an institution at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival. For over twenty five years talented comedians, some known, some not known yet, unleash the beast, the material they can’t use with faint of heart audiences. At the beginning of every show, the announcer boldly says:

“If you’re easily offended, get out!”

The Nasty Show isn’t for the easily offended.

If you’re the type to whine about a good natured gay joke (they exist), or call the Human Rights Commission because a comedian rightfully points out that sign language is the least politically correct language there is, don’t go to the Nasty Show.

Jokes like that are EXACTLY what you’re going to get. Though the roster of comedians in the show changes every year, there is one face you are sure to see: The Pitbull of Comedy, Bobby Slayton.

Bobby Slayton was fourth on the roster the night I attended the Nasty Show. Though he used to host, he was happy to give up the reins. He brashly told the crowd that JFL asked him if they could give someone else a shot at hosting. Slayton said that if they were looking for someone fatter and a lot less funny, he had just the guy.

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Bobby Slayton.

This year’s host is our own Mike Ward, the comedian recently forced to pay $42,000 in damages to a disabled kid and his mother, the former of whom was the subject of one of his jokes four years ago. As Forget the Box’s legal columnist, many have asked for my take on the Mike Ward verdict is, so here it is.

The Quebec Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal were created to enforce the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which protects individuals from harassment and discrimination. That means going after employers who have made it clear that higher paying positions within their companies should only go to men. It means punishing establishments for having dress codes that are clearly designed to discriminate against people who are required by their religions or cultures to wear certain clothing items or accessories. It means ignoring people who want to legally punish panhandlers for trying to earn a living or slapping the complainers with a fine for harassing these individuals.

It is not to go after comedians.

Comedians are society’s best critics. They are the first to pick up on the inconsistencies in our laws, our policies, our customs, and the first to point out the obvious hypocrisies of people in the public eye. A classic example is George Carlin who pointed in the eighties that politicians were going to ban toy guns, “but keep the f-cking real ones!”

Did Jeremy Gabriel deserve to be mocked for his illness?

No.

Is Mike Ward the one who should be punished for making the joke? Or should the tribunal punish all the people who used the joke as an excuse to bully a disabled and disfigured kid?

The answer seems obvious to me.

There is nothing mean-spirited in the joke Ward told or the manner in which it was delivered. There is a BIG difference between questioning in a joke whether a deaf kid can tell if he’s off-key and Daniel Tosh telling the audience that a female heckler at his show should be raped.

The Human Rights Commission and Tribunal overstepped their bounds.

These institutions were created as vehicles of social justice. They were not created for censorship. When an organization goes after the very people who criticize our society, be they journalists or comedians, they cease to be a means of social justice and turn into ones of repression.

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Mike Ward peforming at the Midnight Surprise. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

The other comedians at the Nasty Show: Paula Bel, Brad Williams, Thomas Dale, and Ralphie May called Mike Ward a freedom fighter and he IS one.

He told the audience he’s planning to appeal the decision and keep on appealing. Every comedian at that show has his back.

Ward is fighting for the freedom to give criticism and make jokes and laugh, even if those laughs make us feel uncomfortable and even a little guilty.

Having said all that, the Nasty Show did not disappoint.

Thomas Dale is the first openly gay comedian to do the Nasty Show and though his act was clean compared that of Paula Bel, Brad Williams, and Ralphie May, he held his own. Dale warmed up the crowd by saying that he almost wishes Trump will win just so he can move to Canada because the men are so hot. The rest of his routine consisted mostly of d-ck jokes.

Paula Bel, the only female comedian in the show, made the best Donald Trump joke. She rightfully pointed out that if Trump wants to stop all illegal immigration, he ought to start with those Eastern European women he keeps bringing into the US to marry. By pulling her long blonde hair across her forehead she faithfully replicated Trump’s comb over and did an imitation of his voice that filled me with awe at its accuracy.

Bobby Slayton was true to form. He did his customary picking on the audience, his target being a large breasted man. Slayton then addressed the elephant in the room: his wife’s death. Though it had happened only three months earlier, Slayton managed to make the tragedy both funny and deferential to his late wife while maintaining his comedy’s textbook raspy edge.

Brad Williams was next and he is a force to be reckoned with in comedy. Though small in stature, he’s not afraid to move around on stage to strengthen a joke. He used the Ward verdict to point out that when society has it too good we make stuff up to get upset about. Williams’ set also included his customary rants about his experiences as a dwarf and his understanding of people with kinks. He rightfully points that a guy claiming to have no sexual interests probably has a roll of duct tape and a van.

Last to go on was Ralphie May, a larger than life comedian from the Southern US. Though his routine was mostly about pleasuring women (those of you who have no idea how or what that is should send Cat McCarthy an email) , he included a joke about Canadian winters and took a jab at Brad Williams for identifying as a dwarf.

“You don’t have a battle axe. You’re not a dwarf!” May said.

The Nasty Show, sponsored by Pornhub is a must see, but if you’re a prude, or an overactive, oversensitive Social Justice Warrior, stay away. Grow a thicker skin or go to another show.

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Warning: The second half of this review ended up being more of a rant about Mike Ward.

The Midnight Surprise shows are a staple of Just For Laughs. Part of OFF-JFL, the only thing audiences are told is the host. Apart from that, people buy their tickets without knowing ANYTHING about the line-up. And I mean anything. Any of the comedians that are performing as part of the main festival could appear. For instance, last year, Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle both made very surprise appearances at these shows.

So while I was waiting at the line with my friend, checking my phone to see if there were any rare Pokemon around, I had no idea what to expect. But I was in for one heck of a ride, it turns out.

The first week of the Midnight Surprise is hosted by Piff the Magic Dragon, or John van der Put. You may know Pif from American’s Got Talent, which he did not win. He seems to be kinda bummed out about that, but hey at least he’s got a regular show in Las Vegas, so that’s cool.

Basically, Piff’s whole gimmick is that he wears a dragon costume and does magic acts with a lot of whooshes. All of this is mixed with his brilliant British style humour that involves dark and fast one-liners.

For instance, a good bunch of his jokes involve him implying that he is very mean towards his pet chihuahua Mr. Piffles, who helps him out with most of his magic tricks. It is a bizarre combination of really neat magic tricks, British-style dry stand-up comedy, and the absurd.

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Piff the Magic Dragon with Michelle the Audience Member.

But the relatively more important question is, which stand-up comedians showed up at Friday’s Midnight Show? Long story short, I got to see Tom Green, Jessica Kirson, Yannis Pappas, Brad Williams, Mark Little, and everybody’s favourite controversial Quebecois Mike Ward.

That’s quite a lineup! To put it in perspective, that’s a relatively famous movie star, ~1/3 of the Ethnic Show, ~1/3 of the Nasty Show, and Mark Little, who is also pretty famous, I think.

My favourite was Jessica Kirson, and that’s not just because I got to interview her last week before the Ethnic Show. It’s actually because her style of humour speaks to me. It’s fast-paced, it’s somewhat dark, and it’s sincere. I think I’d call her style psychological humour – she talks about her insecurities and troubles, but does it in a way that makes you laugh. She also tells the audience that she needs our laughter and us to enable her.

If nothing I’ve just described appeals to you, the awkward moments she constantly creates will get you to laugh. One way or another you will laugh at Kirson’s show – and she doesn’t really care whether you laugh at her or with her.

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Jessica Kirson talking about how she does Jew jokes at the Ethnic Show.

Tom Green’s routine is similar to Kirson’s. His delivery is dryer than hers, though. Green talks about how he doesn’t want to die in his sleep, because he wouldn’t know that he had died; and how he doesn’t like/want to understand all those celebrities who die of drug overdose, because their biggest problem in life is having to memorize a few lines.

Again, Green proves that most of comedy has to do with delivery. He stands in the middle of the stage, looking dazed and confused (and is probably drunk), and just talks and talks and talks.

I really want to talk about the other comics as well, but I have limited space, so I have to choose what I talk about. That’s why I want to dedicate the next few paragraphs to a rant about Mike Ward.

In case you haven’t heard, the Quebec Human Rights Commission has decided that Ward has to pay $42 000 for making a joke at the expense of a child with disabilities. Obviously, his entire routine was him complaining about how he has the right to joke about anything and everything he wants.

Now, I admit that $42,000 is a bit too much, and yes, maybe policing jokes is scarily similar to censorship. But the question is, what exactly do we lose if people suddenly stopped mocking people for disabilities? Does the world stop spinning? Probably not.

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Mike Ward complaining about the Quebec Human Rights Commission decision.

Ward is pushing the idea that he is fighting for his right to be mean to people; but I don’t think that’s what we should be focusing on. Ward has a right to be mean, sure; but he’s also a public figure, you know?

At the show, he told us about an interview he once had, in which the media portrayed him as someone who condones pedophilia. Now, in that case, the media seems to have messed up horribly, just to make him look awful. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that he has made pedophile jokes. I mean, sure he can just wash his hands off of all responsibility, arguing that he is simply making jokes, and that people shouldn’t take him seriously.

The problem, however, is that words are more powerful than people seem to think they are. A joke is not merely a joke, I would argue. The kinds of jokes Ward makes normalise meanness and, to be frank, I don’t think that’s okay.

You can be funny without being mean. I understand that this poses somewhat of a problem for Ward and other comedians that have crafted their comedy careers out of being mean; but I’d rather side with the people on the receiving end of mean jokes than with those who make money out of a sick and twisted schadenfreude type of humour.

Anyways, this is what happened to me at Friday’s Midnight Surprise. It probably won’t happen to anyone if they were to go to another Midnight Surprise. But that only means that you have to go and see for yourself!

The Midnight Surprises will take place with Piff the Magic Dragon on July 24, and with Blake Griffin hosting on July 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30. Check out the Just for Laughs website for more information.

All photography by Cem Ertekin.

Midnight Surprise
tom green off jfl montreal

It’s pretty much common knowledge that with certain comics, you only sit in the first few rows if you don’t mind becoming part of the show. I had a feeling that Tom Green would be one of those comics. I was right.

Of course he was. Sure, I had never seen him perform standup before, but Green’s career started with his self-titled talk show that used people’s reactions to absurd situations (feces on a microphone comes to mind) to generate a good chunk of its humour.

Theatre Ste-Catherine was packed, so taking a seat at the back, out of the line of fire, so to speak, was quite easy. After we were treated to his latest video, a Funny or Die sendup of Donald Trump, Green took the stage.

Then the ball of energy that is present day Tom Green hit the stage. At age 45, Green offered a very interesting mix of mature political and socio-cultural observation and poop jokes.

If you’re Tom Green, you get to grow up only as much as you want. Also, Protip: If you plan on sitting in the first few rows, go to the washroom BEFORE the show.

Tom Green beer
The label of Tom Green Beer

His topics that evening (I get the impression he changes it up every night) ranged from life before cellphones to growing up in Ottawa to being married and on Facebook at the same time to the aforementioned Trump. While everyone has an opinion on the GOP Presidential Nominee, not everyone has a personal anecdote about getting fired by him because of Dennis Rodman as Green does.

The audience was part of the show throughout. And they loved being part of it. These were Tom Green fans, after all, knowing all the main lines in Freddy Got Fingered.

The state of his own career was another topic that Green included in his performance:

“I was hosting a hit show on MTV, on the cover of Rolling Stone, starring in my own movie. Now I have a podcast…things are going well!”

But, if you think about it, he’s right. He’s very active as a standup, crowds love him (as they should, the show was great) and he even has a beer named after him, a real stout, which I enjoyed at his show.

Plus, he’s still the Tom Green we know and love, and that, apparently, won’t change.

* Featured image by Joseph Fuda courtesy of OFF-JFL

* Tom Green Live runs tonight, Sunday, July 24th at Theatre Ste-Catherine, 264 Ste-Catherine Est, and July 25 – 30 at Mainline Theatre, 3997 St-Laurent, as part of OFF-JFL. All shows 10:30pm. Tickets available through hahaha.com

sean patton off jfl montreal

Sean Patton is quite the storyteller, or moreover, this New Orleans-born and raised and now Brooklyn-based comic performing at OFF-JFL is quite a funny storyteller. In his Friday night show at Theatre Ste-Catherine he vividly recounted a few key events from his own youth and adult years (presumably real ones), some hilarious and others surprisingly emotional and serious. A few were even a bit dark.

He jumped back and fourth between them, throwing in punchlines sometimes where you might expect them, though more than once they seemed to come out of nowhere. He eventually tied all the stories together and it made sense.

Patton’s humour stemmed from how he observed the events he was talking about, many of which were not intrinsically funny on their own. A few times he went into material that would most likely be played as self-deprecating by a more predictable comic, but with Patton it just came across as honest.

This felt less like a typical standup show and more like everyone gathered around that one really funny guy at the party because they are invested in the story and absolutely need to hear how it ends before going to the fridge for another beer.

Patton’s set featured quite a few recurring characters, people from his life in New Orleans. His hometown played a leading role in his tales as well. The city’s more colourful characters, local stereotypes and the similarities between New Orleans and Montreal were all part of the show. So was Hurricane Katrina, in fact it was a particularly poignant part.

A bit longer than a typical OFF-JFL standup set, Patton was able to hold the audience’s attention, including mine, throughout, and keep us laughing.

* Featured image by Joseph Fuda courtesy of OFF-JFL

* Sean Patton performs tonight, July 23rd, at Theatre Ste-Catherine, 264 Ste-Catherine Est and Monday, July 25th, at Katacombes, 1635 St-Laurent, as part of OFF-JFL. Tickets available through hahaha.com

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Featured image by Leslie Schacter. 

Life can veer towards the awful, and almost everyone has a sad, awkward, or otherwise distressing story to prove it. For Keith Waterfield and Leighland Beckman, co-hosts of the live comedy talk show Life Lessons, the obvious way to get through it is with laughter. I got to sit down with Keith this week to talk about the show’s Just for Laughs (JFL) debut; in true Life Lessons style, we also covered vomiting with excitement, responding to the question “Are you happy?”, and the existence of lightsaber dildos.

Janna Bryson: How did you and Leighland start doing Life Lessons?

Keith Waterfield: It started a few years ago when I was having a conversation with a friend of mine. He was asking for advice about a lady friend and I gave the worst advice. Well, it wasn’t the worst advice it was just … comical advice. I think it boiled down to, “Well, there’s no way anyone would be into you. So you should just not pursue anyone because you’re a terrible person.” And then he wrote back “Life Lessons with Keith Waterfield” and I was like, “Oh, that’s a good idea for a show.”

Within 3 weeks we built a show around that. Leighland and I have been working together for a long time, we have a lot of fun together, so he was the natural person to go to. Also, I’m like 5 foot 7, 5 foot 6 ½, and he’s like 6 foot 2 and a good few hundred pounds heavier than me and a deep, Orson Welles-type voice. So when we come on stage we look physically funny together.

JB: So walk me through the format of your show. Who’s there and what do you guys do?

KW: In the last year and a half we’ve really found what the show should be. We pick a theme – something vague and broad, like “living situations” or “money” – and we find people that we think are interesting, and funny, and not necessarily performers. Just people that we know we can talk to and that have good stories.

The stories are always meant to be sad or depressing or embarrassing – these really true stories from our lives that are so outrageous or heartbreaking or whatever that the only way to get through it is through laughter. When you tell those stories, it’s usually only when you’ve had a drink or two, so we always have a drink with our guest. Because you’re telling it to an audience, you get people thinking, “I’ve been through a sad experience like that.” The audience and the guests both get to have this great moment of catharsis to get over these strange moments in our lives.

JB: Do you guys get a lot of audience feedback after a show? What do you think people get out of it?

KW: After every show. Every story has an audience member that relates; after the show people will come up and say, “I’ve had that experience.”

We also take audience questions, they don’t have to be on any topic and we’ll answer them without reading them beforehand. We’ve been asked some very strange, very personal questions on stage.

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Keith Waterfield and Leighland Beckman on stage. Photo by Joseph Ste Marie.

JB: What are some of the more memorable audience questions?

KW: One of the questions was “How does it make you feel that your mother or your grandmother have had sex before?” If you hadn’t thought about that, then you have to think about it…

Another question, one that took me the longest to answer, was “Are you happy?” You’re performing in front of 100 people who have paid to be there and you have to ponder this. I think the answer to that was “I’m happy right now, with all of you here… but…” It’s a simple question but hard to answer on the spot.

JB: It seems like there’s a lot of aspects of the show that you guys don’t have a lot of control over.

KW: We have a little bit of control. A bare minimum of control. We do pre-interviews that are very basic to keep it as fresh as possible for the show. No details. Leighland will pre-interview some people and I’ll pre-interview some people so neither of us know all the stories.

Then, of course, there’s the alcohol element. As much control as we try to have, when you throw alcohol into the mix it makes it interesting. We don’t get drunk, but we get more… relaxed.

JB: Do you have a favourite guest or story from the show over the years?

KW: We’ve had some interesting shows. One of them the theme was “porn,” and we had four very different stories. One of the guests was a videocam girl, and it was a very serious, interesting, funny, and enlightening talk. You hear “cam girl” and people have all these assumptions, and I think that we changed the minds of anyone who had a negative assumption or was a bit judgmental of that profession during that conversation. And at the end she showed everyone how to make lightsaber dildos.

JB: This is your guys’ first time at Just for Laughs, right?

KW: Yes it’s our first time, and we are very excited. I’m very nervous and anxious. When I was a kid I used to get really excited about Santa Claus and Christmas, and I was hospitalized on Christmas Eve two years in a row because I would get so excited about Santa coming that I would just vomit non-stop from the nerves and the excitement. I eventually stopped getting really excited about things to the point where I started to have the perspective in life of lower expectations for everything. It came out of a lot of disappointment, but also out of not wanting to throw up.

I eventually stopped getting really excited about things to the point where I started to have the perspective in life of lower expectations for everything. It came out of a lot of disappointment, but also out of not wanting to throw up.

Then, when we found out we were going to be in the festival, my first reaction was, “Oh no, I’m gonna be in hospital the night before the show because I’ll get too excited, and I’m going to have to wear the Ghostbusters pyjamas and someone is going to have to feed me rice crispies and water again.” Which was a thing they did in hospitals in the 80s and 90s.

JB: Is there anything that you’ve had to adjust about the show for the festival?

KW: I think the main adjustment is to what the audience will expect of us. [Leighland and I] think our show is great, and now we have a bit more pressure. So I started reaching out to some really interesting fantastic people and I’ve had some wonderful email exchanges with some of my heroes. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to that without the festival name behind us.

JB: Can you tell me who you have lined up for the show?

KW: I can say that we have Mary Lynn Rajskub, whom I have been a huge fan of for so many years. I was in email contact with George Saunders who’s a New York Times bestselling author for short stories, I sent him an email asking if he’d be interested in doing the show. He couldn’t make the date, but we’re going to schedule a time where he is available for a future show. And now I have an email from one of my favourite authors in my inbox, and that’s amazing.

I’ve also recently been writing with another George, Canada’s Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke, who may or may not be on the show on Saturday. When you write an email reply to Canada’s Poet Laureate you choose your words very carefully, and I’m still not sure that I chose well enough. We will have Ali Hassan, he’s an amazing comic, we’re so happy he’s on the show, and he also has a show of his own in the festival called Muslim Interrupted and it’s going to be incredible. And then, we might have a surprise or two.

JB: Any last words?

KW: Everyone that comes to the show gets a free shot of Jameson so we can all cheers each other. Our catch phrase is “drown your sorrows with us,” and this time we’re able to provide the liquid to do the drowning.

Life Lessons will be playing on July 23 at the Mainline Theatre. For tickets, visit the Just for Laughs website. For future shows, check out Theatre Sainte Catherine.

Bobby_Slayton

Comedians are our best social and political critics, our first line of defense against taking ourselves too seriously. It is for this reason that I jumped at the chance to interview Bobby Slayton a.k.a. Yid Vicious, The Pitbull of Comedy. Slayton is a legend in his own right, an old-school insult comic with a raspy take-no-prisoners approach to comedy. Here’s what we talked about:

SG: You’ve hosted the Nasty Show many times in the past. Do you approach it differently every time?

Bobby Slayton: Besides changing my underwear… you know, I’ve been doing it for so long and though I’m not hosting it this year, which is a thrill and a half for me. I can’t tell you how GREAT it is just to be able to go on and do a ten or fifteen-minute set. To answer your original question, I don’t approach it differently. The only difference is – and it’s a big difference – every year I try to have as much new material as I can. You know there’s different comics on the bill, it’s the same people very often but it’s always a different lineup so I’ve got to adjust my material depending on what another comic’s doing. That’s part of being a good host. If I know a comic has a big routine about midgets or whatever, I don’t want to do my midget routine before his, because I think the MC, the host of the show, has to really service the show. It’s your job – like the host of a party – to make everybody comfortable and keep things moving along so that’s the only way I would change things every year. But like I said: this year I don’t have to host it.

They got this new guy Mike Ward and everybody says to me: Aren’t you upset you’re not hosting? No! It’s too much work! For comedy it’s a lot of work. You gotta get up there, you got to warm up the crowd, you gotta get ‘em laughing. By the time you get ’em laughing, you gotta bring out the first guy, you gotta do a minute or two between each comic, you gotta get the audience focused again, you gotta take a break and go back. On a weekend doing two or three shows, by the third show and a couple of glasses of wine you go: Did I just say that joke? Did I say that at the first show? It gets a little confusing.

SG: You’ve done The Nasty Show for many years now and you sometimes participate in the galas. Are there any other Just For Laughs Shows you’d like to do in the future?

BS: Nope! I love the whole festival but they used to have me do the Relationship Show – a lot of the shows they don’t have anymore; Bubble with Laughter, I used to do the Bar Mitzvah Show, you gotta work much cleaner and it’s 90% Jews out there – it’s more Borsht Belt Catskills sensibility. I remember Amy Schumer did it one year and she didn’t do very well. I remember Amy saying to me afterward:

“You know, this isn’t really my kind of crowd. This isn’t really what I do”

And Amy’s great. But those shows I wasn’t crazy about. That’s why I love the Nasty Show so much. People always say to me:

“You’re doing the dirty show this year?”

No, it’s the Nasty Show. The difference is… The Nasty Show is more honest. It lets the comics do what they want. It gives you this ability to not worry about anything. There’s no constraints of television or radio or offending some Bible-belt Christian idiot in Kentucky… and if anybody groans, anybody gets pissed, you get to say: F-you! It’s the Nasty Show! You don’t like it? Go Bubble with laughter! And that was always a joy for me, to do stuff like that. And I think when people come to the show they kinda know what it’s going to be. You go to a James Bond movie and go:

“What are you? Sleeping with that Russian Spy?!”

You kinda know when you watch the Three Stooges that Moe is going to hit Curly in the head with the shovel. You should expect that or you shouldn’t be going to see it.

SG: There’s been a lot of ranting both in politics and in comedy about so-called “political correctness”? How do you feel about all that?

BS: It’s just moronic. It’s always been going on – they just didn’t call it political correctness when I started out. But I was one of those guys, and I certainly wasn’t the first. When I started out in San Francisco in the 70s early 80s there was a big comedy boom and there was a lot of comics. I was in San Francisco and I remember doing a couple of gay jokes and a couple of gay people getting pissed – they weren’t faggot jokes, they weren’t mean, they weren’t AIDS jokes. I would do black jokes and I saw I got a rise out of people and what always pissed me off is they would have a gay comedy night or a black comedy night and you see black comics going:

“White people! White people!”

And I understand they’re minorities and they got a right to do it, but don’t tell me I can’t make a joke about you if you can make a joke about me.

SG: You’re 61 now, do you think you’ll ever retire?

BS: I’ve been doing this for so long, worked in so many crappy clubs, have so many frequent flyer miles on my ass, that I’d love to retire. I still love doing standup, I don’t like the pressure of I HAVE to go somewhere. I gotta take this gig ‘cause I need the money. I don’t know if I’ll ever retire.

See Bobby Slayton at The Nasty Show playing at the Metropolis in Montreal July 20th to 30th. For ticket info, check out the JFL website.

DSC_0629

July is here with all its humidity. It was disgusting outside yesterday, but that was the only thing I could complain about, really. In fact, the whole of Montreal should be squealing with glee right now because the world’s funniest festival is back in town!

Of course, I’m referring to the one and only Just For Laughs. In fact, JFL may be one of the only reasons why I’ve decided to stay in this city after school. (I may be slightly exaggerating because of all the free shows I get to see and review; but hey, bloody constructions everywhere, sheesh…)

JFL is celebrating its 34th birthday this year and as always, the schedule is jam-packed with hilarious comedians from all over the place. I’m excited to see such great comedians like Jimmy Carr, Cameron Esposito, Michelle Wolf, Aparna Nancherla… The list goes on.

But I’m particularly stoked about the Midnight Surprise, because no one knows who is gonna show up. Big-timers often go to these events before their big show to test out their material – and I wouldn’t mind accidentally bumping into David Cross, you know?

But today’s focus is The Ethnic Show; a spectacle that has a very interesting concept. The comedians who do their sets at this show are all “ethnic” – notwithstanding the fact that the word does not really mean what we expect it to mean.

The line-up is basically the set up for a joke: A Greek guy, an Italian guy, a Moroccan dude, a Jewish woman, a Lebanese guy, a Puerto Rican woman, and a Nigerian guy walk into a bar… I mean, the result is hilarious. And the comics seem to think so as well.

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Jessica Kirson doing the Jewish Grandmother face. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

Before the show I talked with Jessica Kirson, who told me that she was looking forward to performing. Thursday’s show wasn’t the first show of the festival, so Jessica was already pumped to be doing the show.

“It feels good to be on the show,” Jessica said. “I’m the Jew on the show, so I’m very proud of my heritage and everything. I love talking about it, it’s great!” Indeed, Jessica’s set had a lot of stories about old Jewish women, who apparently all have the same facial expressions and all sound like Fran Drescher. But you probably already knew about that stereotype, right?

My favourite part about her set, though, was her talking to herself. Apparently it’s a gimmick that she does. At random points during the show, she turns her back to the audience and “comforts” herself by saying weird things about oatmeal. It’s bizarre and great.

Oh by the way, before I forget, she wanted me to write that “Yannis Pappas is an asshole.” Yannis, the “token Greek” of the show echoed her sentiment (in case it’s not obvious, this was a joke).

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Yannis Pappas. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

Speaking of Yannis, he started off his set by saying that he has been to Laval and is pretty sure that it’s a Greek island. Everyone else laughed at that; but, to be honest, I’ve never been to Laval (because I never really needed to) so I didn’t get the joke. I laughed anyway, because everyone else was also laughing, and I really did not want to stand out.

To my chagrin, Yannis did not have any jokes about Turkish people. I suppose the entire Greeks vs. Turks trope doesn’t really exist in North America, so that’s understandable. Regardless, I managed to get him to admit that “Yoghurt was probably not a Greek invention.”

However, he also told me before the show, “I’ll give you guys yoghurt, if you guys give us baklava.” I’ll let him get away with that because he was a good sport and a funny guy on stage.

You know who’s really cool though? Rachid Badouri. That guy had its first major anglophone show at JFL last year. He was also one of the comedians on the Ethnic Show last year.

This year, they got him to host the Ethnic Show and he was psyched. “They finally trusted me,” he told the audience – amazed. He repeated the same material from last year; but he’s still funny. It’s all in the delivery, I guess.

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Nemr. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

In addition to Rachid, Yannis, and Jessica, the Ethnic Show also features Godfrey, Gina Brillon, Nemr, and Dom Irrera. Now, all of these people are absolutely amazing. Godfrey killed it with a joke about how he wished humans would have mating calls and acting out a very riveting mating ritual that takes place at a dance club. Nemr explained to us that, in Lebanon (and in Turkey, I might add), people light a matchstick to check for gas leakages.

Gina talked about her up-bringing in Bronx and how the guys there would try to hook up with anything, including a literal broom with boob. Dom was great as well, portraying the stereotypical Italian guy perfectly. I also didn’t know this, but apparently, he was Ernie Potts in the Hey Arnold! TV series.

Bottom line is, go see the Ethnic Show. It’s fun, it’s different. Most of the time comedians put some background jokes into their sets, but the Ethnic Show allows them to craft an entire set out of their identities. I could talk about it for hours upon hours, but the best way to understand it is to see it.

You can see the Ethnic Show between July 13-28 at Club Soda and Metropolis. For more information, check out hahaha.com. In addition, Yannis Pappas, Jessica Kirson, and Gina Brillon have their own shows as well. So be sure to check them out.

Gina Brillon appears on the featured image, taken by Cem Ertekin. 

shazamfest

This week we will take a special look at Shazamfest which kicks off tonight with a “pre party” and runs through the weekend. This fest, located in Barnstone-Ouest in the Eastern Townships, is the perfect activity for those looking to get out of the city for a camping weekend.

Trust me it will be a lot more interesting than just sitting around a campfire with that annoying guy and his acoustic guitar that he only kinda knows how to play. You should note that camping is free to anyone with a ticket to the festival and parking is ten bucks, prices vary depending on what ticket package you buy.

No car? No worries. This year they’ve added a shuttle bus from Montreal which leaves Friday at 6:00pm and gets you back Sunday night. Or for those in really good shape you can bike on over and they’ll give you a 20% discount.

Les Deuxluxes + BlackVoid

One of the great things about this fest is that it’s really geared for people to spend the weekend there without having to take time off work. On Friday the shows only start at 5:30 pm and on Sunday they end by 7:00pm with a “D.J afterparty” for those who can stick around.

In order to accommodate weekend travelers but still pack in a full fest lineup they’re putting performances on late into the night. For example, those who arrive later on Friday will still be treated to music into the wee hours in the form of rock bands  Les Deuxluxes and BlackVoid who will be on at 12:00am and 1:3o am respectively.

Inword

Some forms of music just sound better on a warm summer day in the mid day sun out in the country. One such example is reggae, which is probably why the festival has scheduled Inword to play Saturday in the late afternoon (5:30pm to be exact).

This Montreal based act is the perfect choice to get people into a nice groove and a must see for anyone heading there this weekend.

Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra

With a fusion of afro-columbian and eastern european sounds Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra is musically hard to classify but physically very easy to dance to. You really want to check out their bandcamp page and give their very unique sound a listen.

They’re taking to the stage on Saturday night at 9 and should really set a the tone for the second evening of the fest.

‘Let It Burn’ Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra from Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra on Vimeo.

Non-Music Activities

It’s also important to mention this fest isn’t all music, there’s tons of different activities and performances with highlights including a burlesque show by Capital Tease Burlesquea skate competition, professional wrestling and a Redneck Beard & Mustache Competition.

In terms of the facial hair competition there’s seven different categories to compete in (one of them being fake beards, ladies) over $1000 dollars in prizes and a 15% discount off the festival for anyone who enters. Can anyone say hipster heaven? Who knew that this whole time you’ve been growing your ironic mustache it might actually net you some cash.

ShazamFest runs 15th to the 17th of July and is located at 2722 Chemin de Ways Mills, Barnston-Ouest, QC.

nasty show

In a small room at Le Bordel, a comedy club that normally hosts French-speaking comedians, a crowd of sweaty members of the press gather. Some are famous, some hope to be, but they’re all here on Just For Laughs’ invitation. Some chat, some sip the beer or wine provided courtesy of a drink ticket included with the invite, others play with their phones, but all are waiting for the night’s event.

For the first time, Just for Laughs offered an invite-only preview of the Nasty Show to members of the press. All braved the 30+ heat and humidity to crowd into that tiny room, everyone trying to speak over everyone else who was in turn trying to speak over the club’s background music. With that many people in one room, the club’s air conditioning proved useless but no one seemed to care as announcements were made and Mike Ward took the stage.

Mike Ward is hosting the Nasty Show for the second year in a row, replacing the Pitbull of Comedy Bobby Slayton who will be performing at the show instead. The preview featured Ward and “Prozac with a head” comedian Brad Williams.

True to the tradition of Nasty Show hosts, Ward started his opening set with some self-deprecation, talking about how he fucks like an old man and wants a woman who’s “legal but not [legal] everywhere.” Turning his attention to the audience, Ward did a bit on dick pics, managing to coax one man near the front to disclose how many he’s sent. When the man in question said “20,” he, not Ward became the subject of applause.

Ward then tackled what the late George Carlin would have called “the turd in the punchbowl” – the issue that everyone had at the back of their minds but were too polite to bring up.

On February 24, 2016 Mike Ward appeared before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal following a complaint regarding a joke he made about a kid with a disfiguring facial condition. Over a dozen comedians showed up on the day of his testimony to show support. Though the verdict isn’t expected until August, Ward took the cavalier attitude one would hope for, boldly telling all present that if he was going to get in trouble for this joke, he was going to tell it as much as possible in as many languages as he can.

Ward told the joke, which turned out to be nowhere near as offensive as the reports on the Human Rights’ complaint suggest. The joke had nothing to do with the fact that the child was disfigured and more to do with the fact that the kid is also deaf. The child’s dream was to sing for the Pope and he got his wish but being deaf he was not able to tell – as per the joke – if he was off key. It was this and not the fact that the kid is disfigured and was dying at the time that Mike Ward was making fun of, and the crowd at the preview responded with laughter not outrage.

Next to take the stage was Brad Williams, a man the late great Robin Williams dubbed “Prozac with a Head.”

Brad is a sight to behold, most conspicuously because he’s a dwarf with more energy than most big people. He quickly won the audience’s affection by starting his set with a joke about Canadian politeness. Apparently a heckler in Edmonton apologized to him after a show for comparing him to a Leprechaun. As Canadians, we love to make fun of ourselves and take pleasure in jokes that are at once critical and complementary. This was no exception. Though the bulk of his comedy is about his trials and tribulations being a dwarf, he peppered his routine with dick jokes.

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Brad Williams (image: hahaha.com)

Though he only had limited time for his set, Williams surprised everyone by saying that he was having such a good time and wanted to continue. The audience was overwhelmingly enthusiastic and egged him on with shouts and applause.

Williams then talked about how tough Canadians are, citing the behaviour of our hockey players who keep playing despite bloody faces and missing teeth. He went on about how great a contrast it is to his fellow Americans whom he claims have the motto “strive to be a victim.” As an example, he cited a guy who brought a therapy chihuahua onto a flight he was on for “stress reasons.” Williams rightfully pointed out that a stress dog shouldn’t look more nervous than the human who needs it.

One of Williams’ last jokes was a beautiful jab at presidential candidate Donald Trump, a man he called “so orange he comes Cheeto dust.”

Williams and Ward killed for by the end of the hour-long preview most had forgotten the heat of the room as all were laughing so hard. It bodes well for the Nasty Show, which is going on from July 20th to 24th in the much-better-ventilated-venue Club Metropolis with show times to suit early birds (7 p.m.) and night owls (9:30 pm).

If this is just a preview, the main event will be glorious.

* Tickets for The Nasty Show are available through hahaha.com

mercurial george

The roots of Montréal dancer Dana Michel’s Mercurial George are made explicit in her interview for the FTA, where the work premiered last night: “Monkeys are an avenue to explore, one of the initial sparks, but I don’t lead the audience by the hand straight down that path,” she says, explaining part of her inspiration for this astounding new work.

Furthering many of the themes and strategies in her Impultanz-winning Yellow Towel (2014), Michel’s prop-heavy, idea-loaded new work strayed further away from dance into the messy realm of performance art – and as an audience member, I was more than happy to be led down her path. For over an hour, Michel twitches, manipulates a panoply of objects (microphones, dough, plastic toys); she dances, poses, and writhes with a mesmerizing inevitability, punctuated by mumbling, singing, and quasi-cinematic tableaux.

Known for challenging and multi-layered work that seems to stem from a bottomless well of angst and wit, Dana Michel’s Mercurial George is likely to garner similar altitudes of praise (and sold-out shows) as her breakthrough work. If we include her work-in-progress Lift That Up (Dancemakers, 2016, yet to be performed on home turf), I might venture to say she has a trilogy on her hands.

As a black dancer and artist working in Montréal and internationally, Dana Michel has an uncanny sense of the artistic and political zeitgeist in her twitching, semi-verbal, prop-wielding performances. In the place of Yellow Towel’s iconic hoodie – initially performed the same year Trayvon Martin was shot dead, while wearing one, by Florida gunslinger George Zimmerman – Mercurial George presents a more oblique exploration of racialization and our society’s violent discomfort with biological categories.

This time, she pinpoints 20th-century children’s book character Curious George as one node to the multiple references she makes in her new piece. While George the Curious was a fictional monkey who befriends the ambiguous “Man with the Yellow Hat,” Michel’s memory of her stuffed animal is the elephant (or rather, monkey) in the room, a cipher for our perennial anxiety about our distinction from primates, and the biopolitical implications of that anxiety. As the adjective “mercurial” may suggest, Michel’s curiosity with the primate theme has been supplanted by an ever-changing range of motions, a vanload of found object-symbols that constantly disrupt our frame of reference and our spectatorial complacency.

mercurial george 2Some of our complacency as spectators – within the largely white, Eurocentric realm of contemporary dance – comes from how we expect a black woman’s body to perform; indeed, much of Michel’s work smartly combines her own virtuosic skills with the mimesis of cultural stereotypes that has become her calling card. In her FTA interview with Elsa Pépin, the choreographer describes being on vacation in France when one of her husband’s cousins, a “primate anthropologist” – an interdisciplinary application of anthropology to primatology? – showed her video footage of African great apes that made her uncomfortable.

“I’ve been afraid of monkeys ever since I was a little girl, unnerved by their strangeness, by how closely related they are to humans,” Michel relates. “I suddenly became aware that I was the only black person in the room, and I oddly wondered whether the others were watching me to study my reaction, making strange associations.”

That sense of discomfort she had in witnessing the great apes in her in-law’s video – and the self-consciousness she describes as a black woman of Saint Lucian heritage in a room of white people – contains an eerie syntax with this week’s tabloid-story-du-jour, that of a three year-old boy falling into the Cincinnati zoo’s gorilla compound. The child’s rescue led to the shooting of the animal, who is named in the press almost as if it were a human victim; the outpouring of sympathy for the death of the gorilla has become a media zoo unto itself, underscoring white America’s more acute concern for caged animals than for the black bodies American police kill with impunity. The fact that the boy’s family happened to be black made the situation even more charged, given that Ohio is a state that disproportionally prosecutes and incarcerates black people, especially women (luckily, Cincinnati police have said they will not lay the ludicrous charges of child negligence against the mother).

If you find my tangents are helictical, then I should tell you they are only beginning, and that the myriad of associations and references Dana Michel offers in Mercurial George surpass any easy first-watch understanding. In his influential 2003 tome The Open, Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben addresses how the floating, factious, and fictional distinctions between what we call “human” and “animal” illustrate a set of malfunctions we perpetuate in the West with our “anthropological machine.”

Where other philosophers might see the self-world (Heidegger) or I-and-thou (Buber) distinctions as examples of where we have gone wrong in our civilizational thinking, Agamben asserts that the human-animal is a specious difference that sets us up for denigrating the body, the collective, and ultimately, groups of people we see as different from “ourselves,” or from the selves who hold power. Dana Michel has taken up this thesis, but with a creepy and sui generis twist.

“I’ve always been attracted to marginality, by those on the fringes, in part probably because I was one of the very few black people all throughout my schooling… I’m a sponge, and all my life I’ve felt drawn by the beauty of the other, by difference, by those who don’t speak or walk according to accepted standards,” she tells us.

Just past the halfway point of Mercurial George, Michel dons a 1950s-style taupe fascinator and we hear the hissing strains of a vinyl recording of Nina Simone’s lyrical 1965 hit Feeling Good. It’s a song that has been so thoroughly coopted by advertising campaigns that its origins as a civil rights ballad (as covered by Simone the year after its release) are often overlooked.

A quote here, a wink there, a murmur of gospel and nursery music at other moments, Michel’s sonic palette is as surgical as her manipulation of costume and props is disarming. Race, labour, food, childhood, self-protection, refuge, and a throbbing connection with the creative subconscious are all themes lavishly at play in Mercurial George.

With sold-out shows at the FTA, Montréalers may have to wait until this in-her-prime artist gets to present her untitled (and unannounced) trilogy. If that happens, may I suggest it be called The Open Trilogy, because that is the state of mind we leave Dana Michel’s performance with: an openness to deconstruction and to our own self-examination as spectators complicit in biological distinctions that we cannot always justify, and shouldn’t.

Mercurial George  by Dana Michel @ Festival Transamériques (Théâtre LaChapelle/Daniel Léveillé Danse)
June 2-5, 2016 (tickets)

carrie fisher

The Force is strong with this year’s Just for Laughs lineup.

Sorry, had to use at least one predictable Star Wars pun to deflect from the abundant excitement I’m feeling (and probably many of my fellow Montrealers are feeling as well) after hearing the announcement that Carrie Fisher, yes Princess/General Leia herself, will be performing in Montreal this summer.

While Fisher is best known for her starring role in four Star Wars films and counting, she is no stranger to the stage or comedy. She has a one-woman autobiographical Broadway show called Wishful Drinking under her belt, won an Emmy for her appearance on 30 Rock and is quite the raucous, sarcastic and sometimes hilarious interviewee.

Fisher will host one of the fest’s multi-comic galas, July 31st at 7pm at Place des Arts, while Sarah Silverman will perform her own show in the fest one night only, July 30th, 9:30 pm, at Maison Symphonique in Place Des Arts. Silverman may not be best known for her appearance as Rain Robinson in the Star Trek Voyager two-parter Future’s End, but it does make an interesting sci-fi themed segue.

Silverman is a veteran of the standup circuit as well as the star of Masters of Sex and the animated hit Bob’s Burgers. The avid Bernie Sanders backer is also a force to be reckoned with online, speaking out, sometimes hilariously but always on point for various political causes.

Not known for comedy, but really well known in Montreal nonetheless, Habs Star P.K. Subban will also be part of this year’s JFL lineup. The defenseman, entrepreneur and, from what we can tell, all-around good guy will be hosting a gala August 1st, 7pm at Place des Arts.

What’s different here, aside from that fact that a hockey star is hosting a comedy show, is that this is a charity gala. The P.K. Subban Foundation will be donating proceeds from it to the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation.

That’s not all, though. This year’s Just for Laughs festival promises performances by David Cross (Tobias from Arrested Development and one half of Mr. Show), Louie Anderson, the cast of Veep and more. Meanwhile, OFF-JFL will feature Scott Thompson from The Kids in the Hall and a host of up-and-coming comics that you will surely be hearing about for years to come.

Just for Laughs runs July 13th through August 1st. The full schedule and new additions is/will be available, along with ticket info, at hahaha.com