Have you ever had one of those 3am conversations with a fellow music aficionado, sitting on the floor with vinyl records strewn about, debating the merits of certain genres of music in a kind of stream-of-consciousness free-flow of observations and criticisms? If not, Fred Armisen can give you the full experience.

Saturday night at the Olympia, the former Saturday Night Live star, co-creator of Portlandia and band leader for Late Night with Seth Meyers took to the stage for his one-man show and immediately began asking questions he’s clearly been pondering for years now: how can you tell when a jazz solo for upright bass has ended? Why don’t violinists cue up the orchestra? Why do horn players always talk about money?

The evening is a journey into the mind of a man who has spent the past several decades observing the oddities of both music and comedy. He calls the show “Comedy For Musicians… but everyone is welcome“. There really couldn’t be a more apt title. The audience ate it up, but those with a musical background clearly got more out of the show.

It helped that the crowd was well­­ warmed-up by local comedian Francois Bellefeuille, who gave a Nasty Show-worthy anecdote about his internship as a veterinarian, where he found himself having to masturbate a horse to completion and get graded for it.

Armisen, perhaps not having heard his set, awkwardly brought the subject back to horses at one point in his own act, noting that they always seem to look through you with little interest. To the audience‘s relief, the subject promptly swung back to music.

Like the best kind of high school teacher, Armisen exudes a casual warmth that immediately puts you at ease, while also piquing your interest. True, there were moments where his delivery almost recalled that of Nicholas Fehn, his SNL character who was famously unable to complete a single sentence without starting another.

Nevertheless, much of the pleasure in the show came from his ability to hop, skip and jump around. He even copped to the unorthodox nature of his comedy, saying “When I first came up with that – I guess I’ll call it a joke”. In a festival overflowing with punchlines, his approach to humour was a breath of fresh air.

Armisen took us through the percussive evolution of Punk Rock and vented on the following: needlessly long pieces of classical music, guitar players who sing along to their own solos, singers who pretend they can‘t reach their notes when they clearly can, and guitarists who make feedback a large part of their act.

In his best bit, he reenacted what he believed must have been the inner narrative of the studio drummer performing the opening to Diana Ross’ hit “I’m Coming Out”.

At one point, Armisen even lead the audience in an improvised sing-along reminiscent of his hilarious Garth and Kat SNL sketches, where he and costar Kristen Wiig would have to keep up with each other’s spur-of-the-moment lyrics.

The audience was able to follow along, and for their efforts were rewarded with a few short songs by some of Armisen’s fictional bands, Test Pattern and Blue Jean. They left with only one complaint: that the musician left without returning for an encore, which the crowd eagerly demanded. Here’s hoping the next time Armisen returns to Montreal, he is ready and willing to give them more of what they came for.

Tickets for other Just For Laughs shows are available at hahaha.com.

Adam Cayton-Holland is a comedian who endured something terrible. Shortly after his previous appearance at the Just for Laughs festival, he found that his sister Lydia, his best friend, had committed suicide.

A couple of weeks later while he was destroyed by grief, he and his friends sold their first pilot. He went to therapy and wrote a book called Tragedy Plus Time to help him process his grief. His Off-JFL Zoofest show, Happy Place, is a one-man show based loosely on his memoir.

Happy Place is a show that will make you uncomfortable. In it, Cayton-Holland has a frank discussion about suicide, mental illness, and grief. He talks about his upbringing in Denver, Colorado, his parents, and the unusual ticks he and his siblings have, or in Lydia’s case, had.

He talks openly about crying, about the depression he’s been through, and the therapy he went through to help him cope. It is as much a tribute to his sister as it is a step towards destigmatizing mental illness.

Every once in a while the show will veer off-topic from his family and his grief and tell a story or a fake statistic or make a snarky remark that hints at the comedian he used to be before tragedy struck. Though I was often laughing during the show, I found myself sniffling more than once.

You don’t feel like an audience member when you see this show, you feel like a friend letting another friend pour their heart out on stage. If I had one criticism, it’s that he describes depression as making the sufferer not realize how foolish and selfish they’re being, something that could exacerbate the shame often felt by people that are struggling with it.

Happy Place is not a typical Just for Laughs show. If you want to see a comedian on stage telling you jokes, look elsewhere. If you want something with a little more substance, something that will make you laugh and cry, something that uses comedy to destigmatize something horrific, check out Happy Place. It’s worth it.

Just for Laughs continues until July 28, tickets available through hahaha.com

While this was not technically a comedy show in the traditional sense, rather a promotional panel of writers and TV personalities, it still garnered laughs from the audience, mostly resulting from Jann Arden’s brash humour and witty jabs.

Going into their sophomore season on CTV, the group was at Just For Laughs to promote the show, share their process and discuss feminism in the industry. As season one ends, Jann was revealed as #1 New Canadian Series of the Year with 1.4 million viewers in the first week.

As an avid watcher of The Social on CTV, I was excited to see Cynthia Loyst’s, a host of the morning talk show, name on the roster for the event. Loyst was the host for the panel which included namesake Jann Arden, co-creator of Jann Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier, writer for Jann.

I can also say that I am a fan of Arden’s, being a Canadian who grew up with female artists playing on repeat at home (thanks, mom). Along with many other Canadians, I have followed the success of many Canadian artists like Arden, and with a lot on her plate, she seems incredibly proud of her most recent endeavour: Jann.

The group discussed how the concept of the show began, and evolved, to include more and more real-life moments from Arden’s life, including her mother’s battle with dementia, and her career. “We call it the ‘tickle, tickle, punch’,” says Gauthier, agreeing that the sardonic nature of the show is increasingly popular to audiences.

In the writing room, which is happily outnumbered with women, is a collaborative space, according to the group. “We work really hard to include men,” jokes Arden, who says the sole male writer, Mike McPhaden, comes up with many of the best “girly” jokes for the show.

Harper confessed to working in other writers rooms that had been previously male-dominated, and sparked Arden to share the importance of mentoring other women, not letting your age limit you, and asking for what you want in your career.

When Loyst directed the audience to chime in with their own questions, they ranged from Arden’s take on the differences between the music and television industries, filming in Calgary and Canadianisms, to a sweet surprise when an audience member finished with “could you sing a little bit of Insensitive.”

This lead to Arden standing up, walking to their seat, creating a stir in the rest of the audience to begin taping as she serenaded in her signature and familiar voice amidst awe and giggles. Arden’s ability to connect with her audience and quick wit made the promotional panel feel like a fun conversation with a friend.

Check out Jann on CTV, season one is streaming on CTV.ca or CRAVE.

Just for Laughs continues until July 28, tickets available through hahaha.com

Man thrusts fist at viewer

For eight seasons on the shameless sketch comedy series MadTV, comedian Bobby Lee cracked audiences up with his impersonations of celebs like Connie Chung and Kim Jong-il…but just as often by simply running around naked, even to the point where one sketch featured an Intervention-style sit-down with his concerned co-stars. It was a career-launching experience for the California native, who makes his Montreal debut this week as the host of Just For Laughs The Nasty Show. With his successful podcast introducing him to new fans, the 47-year old is happy to reflect on the good ol’ Mad days and share just how nasty he plans to get.

James Gartler: How did your popular TigerBelly podcast get started back in 2015?

Bobby Lee: My girlfriend asked “how come you don’t have a podcast?”And I said, “No one will listen if I have one.” So, she went to the store and bought all the equipment and told me “Well fine, I’m going to do it on my own then,” and for a couple of weeks she did. One day I just walked by the room and she was sitting by herself looking so sad, so I said “Fuck it, okay, I’ll do one with you”.

It turned out really well and we started accumulating a couple of episodes and building some good traction and eventually I was able to get really good guests, like Jordan Peele, Eric Stonestreet, Craig Ferguson and others. It kind of reinvented me in a sense. People wanted to see me again. So it’s been great.

JG: Do you feel podcasts are great medium for comedians? It seems like an open-mic night that can go on for as long as you want it to and no one can censor you really…

BL: Also you find your real audience that way, I’ve done a lot of different things – a couple of lines here and there in movies, TV shows and whatnot – but podcasts were the way to reach the people that share my real sensibilities and people that enjoy what I have to say. It’s reinvented my shit, man, and I’m pretty happy.

JG: Have you never performed in Montreal before?

BL: I’ve never performed in Montreal before. I’ve done Vancouver a bunch of times, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, all those rooms, but Montreal is the one festival I’ve never done, which is weird because I’ve been in the game for so long.

JG: You’re hosting JFL’s The Nasty Show, which is a popular ticket. How do you decide what material works best for that kind of evening?

BL: Well, not every joke I’m going to tell is going to be a dirty one. I feel like I’ll do an act that I would do in L.A. and that’ll suffice. People say that I’m really dirty – I don’t see that. I could have done The Ethnic Show a couple of years ago, but I decided that maybe the dirty one was more up my alley.

People think that when I perform that a lot of Korean people come out. I have no Asians come out. My audience is a mix of everyone. Obviously, I have Asian people that like me, but I wouldn’t say that’s my audience. If you see someone like Jo Koy, he has a huge Asian audience. I don’t think Asians like me that much.

JG: Why’s that?

BL: I won’t tell you who it was but many years ago there was a Korean actor at The Comedy Store who saw me perform and he came up to me and said: “you’re a disgrace to your people”. So that’s when I knew, “ohhhh, I don’t really connect with them really” (Laughs). Like, if you look at my audience, the people have tattoos on their eyeballs, or they have some weird thing they’re doing with their hair, they look a little dirtier, much like me. I’m just a dirty ethnic guy.

JG: On MadTV you showed a real propensity for running around naked. Did they request it or did it evolve over time?

BL: I just had this thing growing up where I just kinda liked being naked. It’s a control thing, to be honest with you. The other reason why I do it is because I never thought that I was that sexy, but once I started getting naked and being more comfortable with my body is when I feel like women started going “Oh – he thinks it’s good. Maybe it is good?”

It was a way to build my self-esteem, really to be honest with you. And also, getting naked on MadTV was nothing – I used to do some crazy shit. I used to poo in people’s dressing rooms. I pooed in the executive producer’s office once. So being naked is not the worst thing I did.

JG: So by comparison they overlooked it…

BL: Oh yeah. But MadTV taught me so many things about life. It really influenced me because it was so difficult being on that show, especially in the late 90s/early 2000s.

I was a little Korean guy on an American sketch show and that rarely happens.

For me to be able to get that show and learn how to act and memorize lines and perform on TV was so valuable. And also it taught me that “oh shit – maybe you can make it”. Getting there was so important to me on so many different levels.

JG: And a lot of the cast has moved on to great things. Alex Borstein, of course, has her great voiceover career and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are doing well for themselves. Who are most jealous of, from your costars, if anyone?

BL: Honestly, I’m not jealous of any of those guys because those guys are all family. I’m more jealous of people who are more my type. When people my type do better than me, then I get a little crazy.

JG: What’s your type?

BL: I think my fear is that when other when other Asians make it people think that I’m that person. Like when Ken (Jeong) got Hangover and it became a big hit, I would walk down the street and people would roll down the window and yell “Hangover!” so people thought I was Ken for years. That’s what I dread the most – when other Asians make it and people think that I’m them.

JG: Was there a backlash for MadTV alums after you left the show? The material didn’t pull any punches. You made fun of everything and everyone and it was hilarious. Was it hard to go into an audition and say “hello and yes – I’m the guy from MadTV”?

BL: At the time when we were doing it, it felt like… We had no control over what the show was.

When Keegan and Jordan and Ike (Barinholtz) were there, I knew, even though we weren’t really a hit, we were under the radar, but I still knew that the level of talent on MadTV that could rival SNL. I’m not saying we were better, but I was able to see so many good guys.

When I joined the show, Alex was still there, Will Sasso, Michael McDonald…all those guys are my friends and it was just a great introduction to comedy. Keegan and Jordan and Alex and all these people being successful only helps my cause. I feel like Key & Peele reinvented the way the industry views MadTV. I know that Key & Peele was their own thing, but they are MadTV people and they met on MadTV. The kind of talent I was exposed to completely and utterly blew me away.

And also, I got sober on that show. I discovered recovery on that show. I relapsed, I got sober and that’s how I was able to do movies after that. So even though there was some darkness, I have fond memories when it comes to Mad.

The Nasty Show runs July 17 to 27. Tickets are available at hahaha.com or by calling 514-845-2322. Follow Bobby Lee on Twitter @thetigerbelly.