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.

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.

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

Jessica Kirson is a comedian all can admire. She’s funny, she’s fearless and she has a versatility few comedians have, shifting seamlessly from social commentary to hilarious impressions. She has the kind of energy most can only match after several cups of caffeine, and though she’s been through her share of struggles, Kirson has managed to find humour in all.

Jessica Kirson is performing at Just for Laughs’ Ethnic Show this year. I had a chance to speak to her. Here’s what we talked about.

SG: Welcome to Montreal, you excited about being here?

JK: I’m very excited about being here! I LOVE Montreal. This is my fourth time doing the festival and it’s great.

SG: How would you describe your style of comedy?

JK: I don’t have a style. I do all different kinds of comedy, I do characters, pretty high energy, very honest, real, talk about my family a lot… I’m not really a joke teller, I’m more of a high energy comic.

SG: I notice you do a lot of impressions. Who do you like to do most?

JK: I like doing my grandmother, my Jewish grandmother mostly because it’s so familiar to me.

SG: What was she like?

JK: She was amazing. She was the reason I got into standup, she was the one who called me over to her table one day and said you should be a comedian, every time people are around you they’re laughing. I never thought I could do it but I listened to her and took a class 19 years ago. Very strong woman, powerful, very honest, she was beautiful.

SG: In the history of standup comedy there have been a lot of Jewish comedians. Why do you think that is?

JK: I think humour comes from pain… I think the Jewish community and the culture have turned a lot of difficult situations into humour and tried to find a lighter way of dealing with it… In my family there was always a kind of laughter and being silly and everyone joking around and this was a way of dealing with pain.

SG: You make a lot of jokes about being heavy in your comedy. Showbiz seems unfairly dominated by thin women. How has being curvy affected your career?

JK: I don’t talk about that a lot anymore because I lost a hundred pounds. I do talk about it a little bit because it’s a demon of mine, food and food addiction and binge eating and everything… I’m very honest on stage so I do talk about it… I don’t care what the industry wants or doesn’t want, I am who I am. I feel like it hasn’t affected me when it comes to being a comedian, being heavy/not being heavy. I’m glad I haven’t made a career because of my looks.

SG: Do you think comedy is more forgiving in that way?

JK: I think standup comedy is. I don’t know so much about movies and getting a major part on a sitcom but I’ve done an enormous amount of television and movies even when I was at my heaviest. I think if you’re funny, you’re funny and you get work, but I know for much more female comics now it’s much more a part of their persona and their image on the internet –about body and body image… and it was never like that when I started.

SG: You’re doing the Ethnic Show this year. Do you consider yourself an ethnic comedian?

JK: I do talk about where I’m from and my family and my experience and my background, so yes… I do a lot of different ethnicities and characters.

SG: Comedians seem to be having a field day with American politics right now. Are you planning to take a shot at it?

JK: I don’t talk about politics a lot in my act. I don’t think it’s funny. I’m actually pretty horrified at everything going on but I do talk about it in a roundabout way… For example, I might talk about gay marriage or something. I won’t talk about it from a serious point of view, I’ll talk about it making fun of people who are against it and why.

SG: You’re doing Just for Laughs the Ethnic Show. You’ve also got a Youtube channel, The Jessy K Show, and the Jessica Kirson Podcast. Tell me about those.

JK: I have different stuff online. I have a lot of stuff on the Jessy K Show on Youtube and I have a lot of videos on my Facebook page, and I have a new podcast called Fat Pig and that is with another comic, a very close friend of mine, Frank Liotti, and we talk about food addiction and funny stories with food and our struggles and we have guests on and stuff.

SG: Do you feel that will empower other women who go through the same stuff?

JK: It does. It empowers a lot of people, we get a ton of feedback and emails and all kinds of things and people just love it because we’re very very honest. We talk about our own experiences and also make light of it.

SG: How do you feel about Montreal audiences?

JK: I think Montreal audiences are incredible. A lot of times it’s real comedy audiences so they want to see it, they want to laugh, they’re smart, they’re cultured. I love Canadian audiences.

SG: Are there any other projects we can look forward to seeing from you in the coming year?

JK: Working on a television show right now about my mother being a therapist and I have a lot of stuff going on online. The podcast has been growing and growing.

SG: If you could say one thing to your audience right now, what would it be?

JK: Be silly, always be silly and not take things too seriously and try and find humour in every situation when you can, when you’re ready, and fight fear and do things that feel uncomfortable because you live once.

Jessica Kirson performs as part of The Ethnic Show running until July 27th. Tickets available through hahaha.com

This won’t me Moshe Kasher’s first visit to Montreal, or to Just for Laughs. The comedian, writer and actor has been performing regularly here since his first appearance at the fest in 2009.

“I love Montreal,” he stated in a telephone interview, “this will be my fifth or sixth time coming to Montreal, so I feel like I know the city and I like it. The only thing is I’d like to get out to the wilderness surrounding the city. Other than that, I’ve seen it all…You guys already know this, but you’re a special city.”

2017 will, however, be the first time Kasher hosts JFL All Access. This is also the year where he became a TV talk show host with the new Comedy Central show Problematic (airs on MUCH in Canada).

“With my podcast, we were doing a topical show every month taking on a different topic and then the political climate changed and there needed to be more big conversations,” Kasher said, explaining the origins of the show.

“Conversations are important,” he continued, “and conversations, I think now more than ever need to happen. What is happening in our world is that when we disagree with people we stop talking and my philosophy on life is that when we disagree with each other we should begin having conversations.”

Problematic sees Kasher talking to a variety of internet trolls and provocateurs who are unable to hide behind their handles as well as celebrity guests and pundits. Shows are centered on a particularly, um, problematic corner of the web.

The show, which has already completed its seven episode first season has a stated mission to “bring peace and harmony to the internet”, a mission he is trying to accomplish on cable TV. I asked him why not do it on the web directly.

“Maybe we will. I’m still waiting to figure out if we’re doing more, so maybe for the next one, if we’re not, it will be on YouTube or Hulu or something like that,” he said, later adding that the distinction between the web real life is fading and the distinction between the internet and TV is something which will soon disappear.

Something that remains different, for Kasher, is performing live in front of an audience:

“That is one of the great divides between the internet and real life is that you cannot fake a live performance.”

While performing for TV and the web as well as in films offer a similar experience, for Kasher, there’s nothing quite like performing for a live audience.

Montrealers will have a chance to see Kasher in his live element when he hosts All Access, something he promises will be “wild and exciting” while featuring a wide array of comics. He is happy he is getting the chance to host one of the All Access TV tapings at a festival that welcomed him since he was one of the “new faces” of comedy.

Just don’t expect him to weigh in on one of Montreal’s most longstanding controversies. I asked this frequent visitor what he thought about our bagels and he admitted he likes them, but when asked his preference between Fairmount and St-Viateur, he responded:

“I don’t know that I’d want to involve myself in a political controversy.”

All Access Live Hosted by Moshe Kasher is on July 27th. Tickets available through hahaha.com

The Ethnic Show is described by Just for Laughs as “a cultural melting pot for comedy”. This year is its ninth edition and comedians from a variety of backgrounds are here to show their comedic mettle. Some are well-known, some less so, but one thing is for certain, you’re guaranteed a good time even if every style of comedy is not your thing.

This year’s host is Alonzo Bodden, a last minute replacement for Maz Jobrani who had to drop out due to a family emergency. An African American comedian, Bodden’s set began with an apology for Donald Trump, adding:

“Don’t look at me, I’m black…This is on white people!”

This was not his only potshot at the Orange president, but the worst of his wrath was directed at US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, whom he none-too-subtly suggested was a modern Uncle Tom. Direct and brutal, Bodden proved himself a worthy host and I overheard many audience members praising him as the best act of the show.

Vlad Camano (photo courtesy Just for Laughs)

Next up was Vladimir Camaño, a Dominican American from the Bronx. Of all the acts that night, Camaño’s was the most physical and interesting to watch, as he uses a lot of animal references in his act and manages to contort his body to represent everything from a deer to pigeons. His material is a combination of mocking his Dominican father and potshots at rich people but his best jokes were about sex which managed to be both self-deprecating and original.

Third in line was Mike Rita, a Portuguese Canadian who performed at last year’s Homegrown Comics Show. His material is reminiscent of Russell Peters in that it’s all about growing up with immigrant parents and how widely their beliefs and attitudes differ from North Americans. Like Peters, he imitates his parents right down to their accents and though most of his jokes were the same ones he told last year, Rita’s energy manages to keep it funny despite the lack of originality.

Before mentioning the next act, it should be said that I am not a fan of musical comedy acts and I fully acknowledge my prejudice. Musical comedy acts often consist of either great musicians and lousy comedians or vice versa, and sooner or later said acts fade into obscurity, realizing that not everyone can be Weird Al.

Somehow the next act proved to be neither.

Said act is The Do Wops, a musical comedy duo of John Catucci – known to Food Network fans as the former star of You Gotta Eat Here!– and David Mesiano, a couple of Italian guys who asked that they be described as:

“One plays the guitar, the other is an asshole.”

The Do Wops (image courtesy Just for Laughs)

Catucci, the “asshole” of the group, danced, sang and girated while Mesiano played guitar and sang along. Their jokes were funny and there’s no doubt that they can both sing, but somehow the comedy and music didn’t quite mesh and they were actually funnier when there was no musical accompaniment.

The whole thing reminded me of an exchange between Groucho and Chico Marx in the 1930 film Animal Crackers when Groucho asks Chico, a musician, what he charges not to play. “You couldn’t afford it” is the reply.

The Do Wops were followed by Steve Byrne, a Korean and Irish American who has been doing comedy for twenty years.

Of all the performers that night, he was the only one to do an imitation of the American president. Though Byrne’s take on the Orange man’s voice was on the Satanic side, it was appropriate given the latter’s behavior. If there’s one word to describe Steve Byrne, it’s fearless. He doesn’t just take jabs at his fellow Asians, mercilessly tackling stereotypes, but also takes jabs at Jews and Caucasians.

In this respect his act started out strong. Unfortunately, about halfway through it went downhill as he started ranting about Millenials.

I understand why comedians and people in general take potshots at young people. We don’t tolerate racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or transphobia, and we make demands that people be respectful and pay fair wages. Rather than take responsibility for bad behavior, it’s easier to shift blame back onto victims by calling them whiny and entitled. I also understand that older people have the money to buy tickets to big comedy shows – much if not most of the audience were baby boomers – and many younger attendees are there on someone else’s charity, so it’s perfectly natural to want to pander.

That said, taking shots at Millenials seems incredibly lazy, as most of the material talking about the evils of safe spaces and accusing young people of being soft has already been written a hundred times over by every entitled baby boomer with an internet connection.

Sadly, Byrne’s bit about Millenials had nothing original in it, and prefacing it by saying he loved them couldn’t save the rest of his act. At least older audience members were laughing.

Last to take the stage was Jessica Kirson, who boldly announced herself as “The Jew”.

Jessica Kirson describes herself as a high energy comic and when you see her performance, you know it’s absolutely true. She is the type of comedian who tells stories, but she tells them with the kind of energy that has you laughing hysterically while on the edge of your seat trying to hear more.

Like many comedians, she does impressions, but unlike other acts, she doesn’t limit herself to family members and celebrities. No one from her elderly Jewish audiences in Florida to her Asian pedicurist were spared her impressions, which were so outlandish and exaggerated they managed not to be offensive.

Some would describe her as loud and shrill, but others, myself included, say she’s brave and talented and knows it. Her most outstanding feat was combining a joke about kids and a joke about dildos in a way that wouldn’t offend anyone except the worst of prudes.

But I’m not going to spoil that one.

Go see The Ethnic Show.

The Ethnic Show runs July 14-27, tickets available through hahaha.com

* Featured image of Alonzo Bodden courtesy Just for Laughs