When it comes to Tom Green, “expect the unexpected” is pretty much a given. Still, nothing could prepare me for the star of Freddy Got Fingered reciting all the Prime Ministers of Canada since Confederation in order.

But that’s exactly what he did at the end of our phone interview plugging his one-night only show at Just for Laughs. He got it right, too (yes, Wikipedia and I fact-checked Tom Green) and would have done the US Presidents, too, if it wasn’t time for him to move on to his next interview.

Green said that this history lesson will be part of his one night only show at Just for Laughs. Last time I caught him perform, modern US politics were center stage, too, as it happened in the lead-up to the last US Presidential Election. This time around, though, don’t expect him to focus on the current state of US politics.

“I don’t like my audience to think they are coming out to hear somebody preaching against Donald Trump for two hours,” he said, “because that’s not really what my show is about.”

Green feels that politics are all anyone is talking about in the States these days, including him, so while he does do a few minutes on the topic, he focuses more on “social issues and talking about the absurdity of life in today’s world, all of the things that aren’t directly associated with politics but are still kind of interconnected with them.”

Green has been performing stand-up since he was 15, with a break to get famous on MTV and in movies. For the past decade, though, he has been making live audiences laugh pretty much full time.

While he always has old and new material in his head and a tentative plan for the show, it’s never set in stone. He edits his show in his head depending on where the crowd wants him to go.

“When I do a joke that may be a little, let’s say, outrageous and if I feel that the audience loves that sort of outrageous commentary, maybe I’ll do a few more jokes like that,” he noted, “but if they’re getting tired of a certain type of subject matter, I’ll know maybe before they do and switch.”

While Green admits that many comics employ improv and audience work like him, what sets him apart are the different energy levels he brings to a show.

“It’s not just about the material,” he said, “it’s about how I’m saying the joke, the speed that I’m going. I’ll literally have nights where I’m doing standup and I’ll realize that this crowd wants me to be more weird, so I’ll change my personality on stage. Then there are some nights I’ll be performing in Las Vegas where I’ll notice the crowd wants me to be a bit more normal.”

But did all those TV stunts Green pulled off with people on the street influence his approach to stand-up?

“It’s almost in reverse,” he said, “people forget that I did stand-up for several years before I started The Tom Green Show. They don’t really necessarily realize that all that stuff on the street, that was rooted in stand-up. The rhythm of me walking down the street with a hand-held microphone talking to people on the street kinda came from me doing stand-up in a comedy club and talking to people in the crowd.”

Green does admit that they definitely both have influence on each other as he has brought his years of trying to pull comedy out of people on the street to the stand-up stage. He even tells people interested in his live show that only know him from TV and movies:

“It’s kind of like those bits I do on the street, except it’s happening live with people in the front row.”

Having seen him perform live once, I can attest to that. This time, though, the people in the front rows should probably brush up on their Canadian and American history.

* Tom Green: One Night Only, part of the 2018 Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, is Wednesday, July 25, 9:30pm at Maison Théâtre, 245 Ontario Est. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Francisco Ramos is a newcomer to Just for Laughs. A Venezuelan who moved to the United States in his teens, he has a unique perspective on what it’s like south of the border for immigrants, something that is prominent in his comedy and which has surprisingly remained constant even in the current political climate.

“I thought it was going to be more especially when Trump became President,” Ramos said in a phone interview, “but it hasn’t. It’s kind of been the same in terms of stereotypes that people have not for Venezuelans but for Latinos in general. I still use it to get my comedy out there and get the stereotypes out.”

Ramos, who will be performing in this year’s JFL Ethnic Show, doesn’t feel that American comedians, in particular those from visible minority backgrounds, have an obligation to address the current state of US politics. He has noted, however, that he never experienced racism or discrimination in Venezuela, but has since he arrived in the US.

“I think that when you’re an ethnic comic, especially in the States, and I know a lot of them, we don’t talk about it because we need to or we have to,” he observed, “ it’s stuff that has happened to us and we have some kind of experience and then we talk about it.”

While Ramos’ comedy does touch on politics, it’s not the main point.

“For me the main thing is to always be funny, he commented, “I’m not going to talk about anything that’s not funny. I do hit it but I don’t go so direct to it. I will be talking about it but it’s give them the funny first. I also don’t try to divide people. Everybody’s got their own beliefs and I try and respect that. I will tell my point of view, but in a funny way.”

One thing that does come out quite a bit in his comedy, and surely will at The Ethnic Show, is the all too common misconception in the states that Latino means Mexican.

“I mean I get it,” Ramos observed, “because the majority of Latinos in the US are Mexican. If that’s what you grow up with, that’s what you think everybody is. For me I’m trying to go ‘yeah, there’s Mexicans, those are Venezuelans, those are Colombians and we’re similar but we also have our differences’. I try to take it as a whole as hit on those universal things that I can do with my comedy. If I hit that, more people will be interested in seeing me and hearing more about the other stories they haven’t heard of.”

Ramos majored in the admittedly un-funny fields of Finance and International Business and started working at an investment firm after college. Then, after what he describes as a “quarter-life crisis” he moved to LA to do standup.

This journey has led him to the JFL stage for the first time. He is thrilled to be here, and when asked about the current state of US-Canada relations:

“I’d say, well now you feel how we feel. I’d say to Canada ‘keep doing what you do’ because you’re doing a great job with your prime minister and everything.”

* Francisco Ramos performs as part of The Ethnic Show in the Just for Laughs Festival starting Wednesday, July 11. Tickets available through hahaha.com

It’s festival season in Montreal and FTB is ready for it. Once again, we will be covering Just for Laughs, the world’s largest comedy festival, now under the stewardship of Howie Mandel among others after founder Gilbert Rozon was forced to step down after several women accused him of sexual assault and harassment.

The festival released a new anti-harassment policy today. While  they promise a better environment behind the scenes, they certainly seem to be staying the (successful) course on stage.

There are the big names like Trevor Noah, Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart, David Cross, Tiffany Haddish, William H. Macy (I had no idea he did standup) and the aforementioned Mandel. There are also the up-and-coming comics and eternally solid comedians populating the OFF-JFL stages. Festival staples like The Nasty Show and The Ethnic Show are back, too.

Our four-person coverage team is off and running even before the festival kicks off. In the next few days, expect to read Samantha Gold’s interview with Francisco Ramos performing at The Ethnic Show, Ellana Blacher’s conversation with The Nasty Show’s Ms. Pat and my Canadian History lesson from none other than Tom Green. Hannah Besseau will round out our pre-festival coverage with some audio interviews.

Then the real fun begins!

Just for Laughs runs July 11-29. Check hahaha.com for the complete schedule and to purchase tickets and check FTB for our coverage!

Panelists Ron Roxtar and Tanu Oberoi discuss this year’s Just for Laughs Festival and several news items in the News Roundup segment with host Jason C. McLean, plus an interview with NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton, Community Calendar and Predictions!

News Roundup Topics: Charlottesville, North Korea, Canadian media companies focusing on old models to their detriment, refugees in Montreal

Panelists:

Ron Roxtar: Entertainment journalist

Tanu Oberoi: Web designer, musician

Laurence Tenenbaum: FTB co-founder

Host: Jason C. McLean

Produced by Hannah Besseau

Niki Ashton interview by Jason C. McLean, recorded and edited by Hannah Besseau

Ron’s source which Jason asked for is the CBSA Union quoted in a CBC report. The report says that CBSA has not confirmed their union’s number

Recorded Sunday, August 13, 2017

LISTEN:

* Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know,  it’s great up here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The remark earned him unanimous applause.

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

Bell spoke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

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

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

Last to perform Tom Papa.

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

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

At least our leader is hot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Lycett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought only insults could be funny…

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Ayers made an excellent host.

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

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

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

His best compliment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up was Danny Jolles vs Ramy Youssef.

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

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

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

Last was Emily Heller versus Ron Funches.

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

…But Emily Heller was breathtaking.

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

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

Heller won Boast Rattle and it was well-deserved.

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

Check it out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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