Following my interview with Shaun Majumder, I had the chance to see HATE. The almost sold-out audience happily shared in Majumder’s frustration and confusion to the continued hate that surrounds the Trump presidency, and its effect even up in the Great White North.

Majumder opened with the acknowledgment that yes, it has been a year since he left This Hour has 22 Minutes, and no, he is not bitter about it. In fact, so much so, that he seamlessly features a one-on-one interview mano-a-mano with himself. Incredibly, he makes no mistake, and has the audience alive with his self-inflicted argument.

The Majumder v. Majumder Skype call set the tone for the rest of the show, exploring how hate can grow inside of us, and covers his departure from CBC quickly, not deviating from the jokes.

The multimedia aspects were flawless and really complemented his comedy, seeing as it revolved around bigoted tweets, racially charged videos and a sprinkling of memes. When he broke into his self-written song Rainbow Infection near the end of his set, it was perfectly lit in bright green.

The show centered around the reaction he received when he wrote a satirical song for This Hour has 22 Minutes in 2016. Beige Power approaches the idea of blending cultures through “genetic criss-crossin'”which was taken much too seriously by a few alt-right twitter users, who took to the platform to berate Majumder to such an extent that the best ones made their way into his comedy special.

The racist tweets are a treat to behold and are featured in their full glory on a giant screen behind him. Some are difficult to fathom, but Majumder takes the piss out of them, breaking them down, joking about nonsensical concepts like “racist brown mother fucker”, which Majumder says is just a bigot’s oxymoron.

Majumder included some of his well-known impersonations: the charming, rural newfie accent, his east Indian father, and a pretty good aloof Trudeau. These were crowd-favourites, and anytime a Canadian-ism made its way into a joke, it left many of us in stiches. In the end, we all just enjoy laughing at ourselves.

His attempt to not just attack the white supremacy and the inevitable connection to Trump but to bring it back home was better than expected. With a show titled HATE, there is an expectation that it will be dark, mean or angry, but Majumder kept it light, yet uncharacteristically unapologetic.

“This hour has 60 minutes,” he joked, harkening back to his 15 years with CBC, “but if you came here looking for Rick Mercer, you’re in the wrong fucking place.”

Majumder continues his HATE tour in November in Alberta and Saskatchewan

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.

Would You Bang Him? is a show with a funny premise. Hosted by the Nasty Show’s Bonnie McFarlane and her husband, Rich Vos, it is a mock game show in which a panel of female comedians assesses a group of male stand-up comedians and decide whether or not they’d have sex with them. It’s one of Off-JFL & Zoofest’s late-night offerings, and it is hilarious.

The panel of judges consisted of female comedians Marina Franklin, Beth Stelling, Emma Willman, and Carmen Lynch. In addition to the judges on the programming, they invite a young woman from the audience to participate, though the eloquence and humour of her questions to the contestants told me she might have been a plant.

Competing for the judges affections were Jak Knight, Jim Norton, Bobby Lee – who also hosted the Nasty Show, Big Jay Oakerson who also played the Nasty Show and Donnell Rawlings – who was also part of the Ethnic Show this year.

Donnell Rawlings

It should be said that none of these guys are classically bang-able and mostly average – some are older, some are heavier, and some could definitely use clean clothes and a shower.

They are not being judged on their appearance, but rather their personalities and ability to make the judges laugh, and every competitor is supremely talented in this regard.

Each comedian has five minutes to plead their case. Some, like Jim Norton, went the route of dark self-deprecation. Others, like Jak Knight and Big Jay Oakerson, opted to keep it raunchy with discussions of semen and cunnilingus.

Jak Knight

Bobby Lee’s material was uniquely Asian in flavor, tackling stereotypes in his five minutes. Donnell Rawlings was particularly notable not just because he turned around and went judge by judge, saying whether he thought they’d bang him before they gave their ruling, but also because he made the only Montreal joke and it was hilariously on point. Of the construction holiday he said:

“How you on vacation from a job you ain’t even finished?!

As hosts, McFarlane and Vos are adorable and funny. Though they were constantly ribbing on each other, you can tell there is real affection there not just for themselves, but also for many of the comedians both performing and on the panel. While the judges gave their votes and opinions on the men, McFarlane and Vos were always ready with a snarky comment. The first performer, Jim Norton, affectionately referred to them as “Dummy and Cher”.

Jim Norton

Would You Bang Him is not for everyone. If you’re the kind of guy who loves watching female beauty pageants but will have a trolling mantrum when women judge men, you should probably avoid this show.

If you were hoping any of the judges will actually bang the competitors at the end, you probably won’t like this show either. If you want to have laughs delivered in a unique format and are willing to stay awake for an eleven forty-five show, check this out. It’s fun!

Michael Che is the first Just for Laughs Gala host, or at least the first host I’ve seen, to fully embrace all aspects of the job.

It’s not just having a solid standup set for the beginning, which he did. It’s also not just having the ability to riff on and with the audience, which he clearly did as well.

Introducing the other comics performing is something other hosts I’ve seen have treated as almost a throwaway emcee duty. Che, on the other hand, made his intros a solid part of the show.

Of course he did. Reading dry, witty one-liners off a teleprompter comfortably into the camera is pretty much his day job, or rather his close to midnight on Saturday job as a co-host of SNL’s Weekend Update.

My favorite joke of the night came during one of his intros:

“Our next comic comes from England, which is known for its alcoholism and Islamophobia. He should do great in Quebec.”

– Michael Che

There were other edgy gems in his intros and throughout his set There were also some solidly funny sets from the other comics performing last night.

Jessica Kirson was the standout for me. I’ve seen her perform before, but her inner monologue bits, seemingly a new edition to her act, narrating both what she and the audience were thinking of her set in real time, was some fourth-wall breaking hilarity.

Jay Pharoah, who closed out the evening, had the large audience laughing the whole time he was on stage. His bit about escaping unwanted advances in Greece was particularly good.

Fellow SNL alumn Fred Armisen was, um, interesting. A couple of short songs, a singalong, and that was it.

Fin Taylor, the aforementioned Brit, made some good points, and one really solid one, but, for the most part, I wasn’t really sure where he was coming from and where he would land and I’m still not sure.

Pete Holmes and Sam Jay delivered solid sets, as did fellow Canuncks Matt O’Brien and Phil Hanley. It was a night jam-packed with talent, as Che remarked at the beginning.

Also kudos to the warm up act/hype man whose name I don’t know. He started dancing in our row and decided to let his energy get everyone ready instead of jokes, as those would be forthcoming.

To say Trevor Noah has abundant energy would be an understatement. After four days of hosting The Daily Show he flew to Montreal and delivered over an hour of standup at the Bell Centre.

I’ll admit our hockey palace seems like an odd venue for a comedy show, but it worked. This one night only stop in Montreal at JFL was part of Noah’s Loud and Clear Tour and he came across, well, loud and clear.

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Trevor Noah about to take the stage at #jflmtl

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It’s not easy to fill such a large venue with only your personality, but Noah pulled it off flawlessly. Noah was, after all, a standup comedian before he was a TV host and noted political satirist and he clearly still knows to work a room, even an arena-sized one.

The current American President did make his way into the set, along with the expected yet appreciated Noah impression and our own Prime Minister showed up in the routine, too. Noah’s focus, though, was on social commentary as well as personal anecdotes and observations.

He started with observations on Montreal’s very French nature that the local crowd ate up and ended with a story of a bit of Trudeau-ing (his new word for cultural appropriation) he did at a restaurant in Scotland. Those were both solid bookends to the show, but his main theme came in the middle.

Using a personal story of a medical problem he had, Noah started talking about how women have things more difficult in ways men, for the most part don’t realize. He then went into the stigma surrounding periods and period blood and why it is total BS.

At one point, he called some in the audience out for hypocrisy for saying “ewww” when he brought up a story of him, as a child, holding his mother’s used tampon. He asked if they would have the same reaction if his father had a bleeding nose and he helped him out by holding his kleenex for a moment.

While he did challenge some of the audience and delighted others, everyone got what he was trying to say (forgive the repeated pun) loud and clear. And no one stopped laughing the whole show.

Just for Laughs continues through Sunday. Tickets at hahaha.com

Those who have checked out this year’s raucous edition of The Nasty Show will have any number of haunting/hilarious visuals replaying in their heads in the days that follow: Jessimae Peluso’s reenactment of how women spend their lives fighting off an endless barrage of dicks constantly rushing them from all angles…or perhaps host Bobby Lee using the mic stand to demonstrate why black guys masturbating have it easy. Truly, the show is an embarrassment of riche, but to truly get to know this year’s headliners, FTB asked them to offer a glimpse into the nasty experiences they won’t be sharing with Just For Laughs audiences. Their answers surprised us.

“It’s been a fucking nasty-ass year,” comedian CP admits, before narrowing in on why: “A bat shit through my sunroof while I was going through a tunnel, and it landed right on my hand. I don’t know if he timed it, but he shit right on my fucking hand. I play it back in my head and it’s like ‘Ahhhh!’”

“And I was driving at around 60!” he laughs. “It was a 60 shit. This was in LA. I immediately threw the shit out. The bat must have been smoking cigarettes and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beers.”

New York’s Andrew Schulz, meanwhile, didn’t need any assistance from nature to find himself in an unenviable position. “I got a hemorrhoid a while ago and I still have it. It’s bad – really bad. Length-wise, it’s about as big as the nailbed of my finger. It’s like a little bunny tail that was just hanging out of my asshole and I got it a couple of months ago, and it’s been with me since.

Now it’s slowly going back, but that’s the thing – they stay around forever or you’ve got to cut them off. What happened was there was a vein in there that actually hardened. It was intense. It’s absolutely horrible, I don’t recommend it to anybody and there’s really nothing they can do to get rid of it.”

He also offers this warning: contrary to popular belief, over-the-counter creams are not the be-all, end-all solutions they promise to be. “Dude, I was putting Preparation H on my ass and up my ass and all over! I had suppositories that I had to stuff up my ass, and I was doing that for about a month! Nothing works! It just a question of time…and avoiding spicy foods. I had to give up spice. It’s like a West Jet flight, bro: you don’t know when it’s getting off.”

For Bonnie McFarlane, however, the nastiest thing that comes to mind is the reaction female comedians can get when they take the stage to tell jokes. “You know when I started,” the Alberta native explains, “I’d be introduced and a lot of times men would just put their heads right down on the table.”

Thankfully, she notes, things are improving. “I feel like people now get excited to see a woman on the stage. People come up to me after shows and say thank you and that’s so nice. Any time you have somebody who’s not your typical straight white male comedian, it brings new people into the comedy clubs and then you’re sort of curating a new audience and it’s always pushing things forward. So I do think we’re progressing in a good way.”

Featured image ©2019 Benoit Rousseau, courtesy Just for Laughs

Be sure to check out Bobby Lee, Jessimae Peluso, Andrew Schulz, CP, Bonnie McFarlane and Big Jay Oakerson at The Nasty Show, tonight as part of the 2019 Just For Laughs festival. For more information call 514-845-2322 or visit 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

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the Olympia theatre to see Steve-O: The Bucket List. Steve-O is mostly known for his work on the MTV stunt films and TV show, Jackass. The description said he’d be talking about stunts and showing us clips. It didn’t feel like the kind of thing you’d see at Just for Laughs, but it was that and a whole lot more.

It should be said that this show is not for the faint of heart. If you have issues with seeing feces, nudity, semen, pus, and excruciating pain, you might want to avoid it, but if you have a strong stomach and an open mind, you need to see this show.

Opening for Steve-O was Brad Williams, who’s been coming to Just for Laughs for years. Williams is a comedic powerhouse, a dwarf who is unafraid to make fun of himself and anything else.

True to the pattern in his comedy where he bitches about how he’s frequently mistaken for other famous dwarves, he came on stage announcing that he was NOT Wee Man, the dwarf from the Jackass series. The rest of his set was jokes about being married to a tall woman and the challenges it brings. It was a great intro.

When Steve-O took the stage my first thought was that he got old. He was clad in a plaid shirt and khakis – the clothing choice of middle aged men everywhere – and above his glasses he has a little gray about the temples. His hoarse voice proceeded to talk about getting older, proposing to his fiancé, and the challenge of what to do now that he’s in his forties.

Does he continue his ridiculous stunts or not? The show was about tackling his bucket list of crazy stunts he wants to do.

Before showing the video clip of every stunt, Steve-O tells the audience the tale of what inspired the stunt, the logistics involved, and any difficulties they ran into along the way.

The overall vibe you get from Steve-O is one of gratitude.  His storytelling is at once dramatic, engaging, and funny. He is self-deprecating and endearing and the video clips that follow his stories are every bit as hilariously absurd as he describes.

The stunts you will see include things like “Vasectomy Olympics”, which he attempts painful crotch torturing activities following his vasectomy, and “Skyjacking” in which he masturbates before skydiving nude.

One particularly hilarious stunt was when defecates into an electric fan. In the story preceding the video he describes how the stunt made him realize his fiancée was “the one”, as she was the only one who didn’t run when the stunt went awry. Though the show was graphically disgusting in many ways and I had to cover my eyes at least once, of all the Just for Laughs shows I’ve been to so far, it was at this one that I laughed the hardest.

That said, if you’re feeling brave see this show. You will laugh and cheer for Steve-O.

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

When I interviewed Ronny Chieng a few weeks ago, he told me his favourite comedy to perform was on things that annoy him, and that we would see examples of this in his Just for Laughs show.

He is on the tail-end of his Tone Issues tour, the name drawn from his wife’s criticism that he always sounds either sarcastic or angry when he speaks. That said, I was stoked to see his show, as I’ve been a fan of his since I saw him appear on the Australian web series, The Katering Show

Opening for Chieng was Anthony DeVito, who is also playing the Ethnic Show this year. His set was hilarious and endearing, and though some of his material was repeated from the Ethnic Show, some of the jokes I hadn’t heard before. Like his crack about his obsession with shows about odd animal friendships and how he’d like to see a human version. It was a great warm up, and a promise of things to come.

Ronny Chieng came on stage immaculately dressed in monochromatic pants and shoes, each and every hair in place, and launched right into his first rant about anti-vaxxers. In this show, no one was safe. He took the piss out of everyone from Baby Boomers to Millenials, White supremacists to even the lowly comedy show reviewer. On Baby Boomers, he pointed out that they’re a group who’s on their way out and is trying to take everything with them.

Though Chieng’s show was mostly angry in tone, it wasn’t all negative. His comedy shows an infinite respect for women, New Yorkers, and Asians. Many of his jokes about Asians in America and how they’re generally better at running things were repeated from his other shows, but there was enough fresh material to keep it interesting.

When I interviewed him, he explained that he tries to add nuance to Asian stereotypes or destroy them when possible. He did that and more, at once praising the desire of Asian people to keep things working no matter the circumstance, and pointing out the absurdity of Asian weddings. When speaking about women, he praised the meticulousness of those who take the birth control pill and pointed out that they don’t owe men anything.

The only joke that fell flat was a joke he made about the wage gap, but to Chieng’s credit, he admitted during the show that he probably shouldn’t have included it.

That said, Tone Issues isn’t for everyone. If you’re the kind of person who likes “happy” comedy and can’t handle a little negativity, Ronny Chieng isn’t the comedian for you. If you want to laugh your butt off at some of the most brutal social criticism you’ll ever hear, check it out!

I had no idea what to expect when I walked in to She The People. Featuring an all female cast from Second City Toronto, it’s described by Just for Laughs as “a sketch show entirely created, designed, and performed by fearlessly funny women!”.

Sketch shows can often be hit or miss, with a couple of good skits and a ton of bad ones. When you add that to the mistaken belief that women aren’t funny, She the People has a lot to prove, and it does so spectacularly.

I knew this was feminist comedy going in, and I though I myself am a feminist, I was worried that it was going to consist of a slew of period jokes and rants about the patriarchy. She the People had that and more, tackling sexism, racism, rape culture, LGBTQI phobia, reproductive rights, and the pay gap and though I tried to find a serious flaw in this show, I found none. Every skit was funny, every actor made a mark, and every social criticism was hilarious, brutal, and on-point.

Whether it was the sketch about microwaving Lean Cuisine as a metaphor for the reproductive rights debate, or the skit in which the cast portrayed the women in ads, every joke was funny. One notable gag was when a cast member came on stage in a T-rex costume and pearls to talk about men who shame women for their clothing choices, though I have to admit that she could have gone on stage and praised Trump and I still would have giggled and said “T-rex costume!”

One of the best political jokes of the night was the ballet featuring cast members in masks of Canadian male politicians from Trudeau to Scheer to Ford, done appropriately to the song “Send in the Clowns”.

That said, whether you have doubts about whether women are funny, or simply want to laugh yourself silly, you need to see She The People. It doesn’t just smash the patriarchy, it’s a hilarious blow to the glass ceiling of comedy.

She the People is playing at the Centaur Theatre until July 27. Tickets available at hahaha.com.

While it might be cliché to say you didn’t know what to expect walking into a show, for me that was absolutely the case with Adam Conover’s Mind Parasites Live, currently playing in the Just for Laughs festival as part of OFF-JFL.

Was this going to be a live version of Adam Ruins Everything, the truTV show/series of videos Conover hosts, or were we in for a standup set? Turns out it was a little from Column A, a little from Column B, with some Column P, for parasites, thrown into the mix.

I’m talking parasites of the insect world on the screen behind Conover in all their nature documentary glory (good thing this wasn’t dinner theatre). He used a different one to jump into each of his three main themes: advertising, alcohol and the Internet.

His analogies worked, and made quite a bit of sense, in particular the one about the ant on the blade of grass. The tech, which amounted to Conover controlling the various slides and videos we saw on the screen with his phone, worked too, flawlessly.

As someone who has personally experienced casting to a TV from a phone and is left waiting, the seamless transition was impressive. I also liked how, unlike other comedians with multimedia elements to their shows, Conover didn’t have to rely on someone else to change the visuals.

This was a show with good tech and quite a bit of thought behind it that really succeeded in driving it’s points home, but was it also funny? Absolutely.

No, it wasn’t joke-a-minute standup, but Conover’s mix of information, analysis and personal anecdotes was the kind of comedy you could both laugh at and really think about. If the standing ovation at the end of Monday night’s show was any indication, Montreal audiences really get where Adam Conover is coming from and what he has to say.

Adam Ruins Everything presents Mind Parasites Live with Adam Conover runs through July 27th as part of OFF-JFL. Tickets available through hahaha.com.

To say that Jessimae Peluso is happy with her Just for Laughs booking this year would be quite the understatement.

“It’s the one show,” Paluso says of her upcoming gig, JFL staple The Nasty Show, “that for years I’ve said this is my show, this is my jam!”

Peluso has played JFL before. as part of Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud Live! series. While she considers her previous experience both enlightening and even a bit overwhelming. This time, though, she’s excited to bring the nasty.

“It’s purely based in what I love to do most and how I like to perform, which is uncensored and straight from my brain to my mouth,” Peluso commented in a phone interview, adding: “which, for the better part of my life, I’ve been in trouble for.”

Exile from the classroom and mouth washed out with soap (both of which Peluso mentioned) aside, the comic also hosts not one, but two podcasts. I asked her why so many comedians turn to podcasting and for her, creative control is the most alluring aspect.

“There’s no red tape, there’s no waiting for the network to okay the content, there’s no network notes or anything from people who have never set foot on a stage or written anything creative in their life,” Peluso observed, “it’s a liberating medium for any sort of performer or public speaker. It’s a great way to talk about something that interests you.”

And what interests Peluso? Well, talking comedy on her Sharp Tongue Podcast clearly does. Her Highlarious Podcast, though, has a dual focus of raising awareness about Alzheimers, which her father passed away from in October (and Seth Rogan’s Hilarity for Charity), and talking about the benefits of cannabis, in particular legalization.

When I mentioned that weed is legal now north of the border, Peluso was quite aware and prepared:

“I’m going to be out in a bikini at 8am smoking weed in public saying ‘sorry, sorry, just living my truth’, I’m excited.”

I could tell she was excited throughout the interview. I’d like to bring up more of what we touched on, like how a video of her LOL performance is inexplicably bleeped on YouTube, her discovery that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mom is also playing JFL, her three dogs or the fact she started the interview by calling me Jason Voorhees (some real dad joke-level humour there), but I can’t include it all.

Instead, I’ll leave the last word to Peluso. When I asked her what audiences can expect from her this year, she said:

“They can expect to see somebody who feels real honoured and at home on a stage that celebrates comedy without restrictions.”

Catch Jessimae Peluso as part of The Nasty Show July 17-27. Tickets available through hahaha.com

The Ethnic Show is a Just for Laughs staple. Promoted as a “hilarious celebration of global perspectives” it features an ethnically diverse cast of comics cracking jokes about their own cultures and how whites treat them. It’s one of the few events where white people can feel comfortable laughing at ethnic jokes, guilt-free.

In the past, The Ethnic Show has been kind of hit or miss for me. Some of the comics are great, pulling no punches with their critiques of their own cultures and how white people react to them, while others are lame, opting for the most clichéd ethnic jokes or lame-duck tactics like busting out a guitar.

I was pleasantly surprised this year.

The host is Cristela Alonzo, a Mexican-American from Texas. Though tiny and sweet looking, she made a perfect host, not just because her material was funny, but because as a comedian, she’s relatable and likeable.

Host Cristela Alonzo

Her material ranged from encountering racism for the first time, to her homogenous upbringing, to the adventures of getting older. She also made one of the best Trump jokes of the night, saying she’s ok with the wall…

“Because we build tunnels now!”

Next up was Italian comedian Anthony DeVito, who began his set bemoaning the fact that he looks ethnically ambiguous. His comedy is primarily self-deprecating, his set taking jabs at himself, his girlfriend, and his grandmother (or Nonna), and the racism of older generations.

Anthony DeVito

His set was very stereotypically Italian, but the shy, angry, self-deprecation of his delivery made it hilariously endearing and a joy to watch.

DeVito was followed by Brazilian comedian Rafinha ‘Rafi’ Bastos, who was one of the funniest acts of the night. I had seen Bastos perform as part of Laugh Out Loud Live! last year and in my review I said he’d be a great addition to The Ethnic Show, so I was overjoyed to see him on last night’s roster.

While a lot of his material – like his bemoaning the fact that Brazil is known for bald pussies – was repeated from last year, he had enough new material to keep the set fresh, and his loud angry delivery was hilarious enough to make me not care about the old stuff. In addition to making fun of himself, he took potshots at plastic straw bans, turtles, and English insults – pointing out that ‘pussy’ doesn’t work as an insult because every pussy he’s encountered has been strong and durable.

Dave Merheje, a Lebanese Canadian comedian, was on next and I had high hopes for him. I had had a chance to interview Merheje before the festival and had seen past performances on YouTube. He is incredibly funny.

Unfortunately he spent too much of his time last night trying to engage the audience, who weren’t having it. When he finally did launch into his material, he was great. Here’s hoping he focuses on that for future performances.

After intermission Robby Hoffman took the stage. A former Lubavitch Chasidic Jew-turned-Lesbian, a lot of her set was about growing up in a religious household with a Jewish mom and nine siblings.

As a Jew, I found this material kind of tired, but that’s probably because her jokes were things I hear about all the time from my friends. She also had a bit on dried fruit that could only be described as lame. Her set vastly improved when she started joking about gender, sexuality, and the pay gap, saying that men should pay for women because:

“Pussy is expensive. You want free? DICK is free!” A joke that had the audience hysterical.

Last to go on was Donnell Rawlings. Other media I met at the event described him as a disciple of Dave Chappelle. In addition to being a comedian, he also has an upcoming role in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot film.

He came on stage loud and proud, singing along to the country song Old Town Road by Lil Nas X with the vocal prowess that showed that if he ever decided to quit comedy, he might have a shot as a singer.

Rawlings is a comedic powerhouse. Every joke hit the mark, from his bit about how black people don’t pick up shit, to being into white women who work for non-profits, to his rant about rock music.

He was a great way to end the show and people left the theatre still laughing at his performance.

The Ethnic Show runs from July 11-25 at the Just for Laughs Festival. Check it out

Mental illness is a topic a lot of people are uncomfortable with. Though society is getting better at discussing illnesses like depression, anxiety, grief and others, we owe that in part to the entertainers who have bravely come forward to tell of their struggles. Among these you find comedians like Hannah Gadby and Adam Cayton-Holland.

Adam Cayton-Holland’s story is one of moving beyond grief and turning pain into power. He is returning to the Just for Laughs festival after six years away.

The reason for his hiatus is a sad one. Shortly after he played the festival in 2013, his sister died by suicide. Cayton-Holland was the one who discovered her body.

Following her death, he battled grief and depression and underwent therapy which helped him to cope. He eventually came out with a memoir of his struggles, titled Tragedy Plus Time: A Tragi-Comic Memoir. His show, Happy Place, is loosely adapted from that memoir.

I had the opportunity to speak with Cayton-Holland about his experience overcoming grief and his return to Just for Laughs. He was surprisingly cheerful on the phone given the tragedy he’s endured, saying he’s excited to come back and that he loves Montreal.

When I asked him for specifics, he talked about loving the food at Au Pied de Cochon and that he’s looking forward to eating at Joe Beef this time around. When I asked him whether he preferred New York bagels to Montreal bagels, he pointed out that being from Denver, Colorado, he doesn’t have a dog in this fight.

“I’ll take Montreal,” he laughed.

Pleasantries aside, I asked about the tragedy he endured.

“I came to Montreal in 2012, and I came back in 2013. I came home, and two days after that my little sister took her own life.”

I asked if she was ill and he said she was clearly so but that things only became clearer in hindsight, describing how looking at the timeline, the last two years of her life were characterised by mental illness that turned his sister’s brain in on itself.

I asked him if the grief and depression he endured as a result interfered with his ability to do comedy:

“Oh my god yeah. And I sort of stopped doing standup for a while. It was this odd thing where you know, for a comic from Denver, Colorado to be a New Face, it was a big deal, it was a big career moment, and then two days later your sister takes herself out. So it’s like all things you’ve been caring about in your career and comedy and Hollywood and then you’re just quickly reminded: oh none of that matters at ALL and I’m broken and my family’s broken. My friends and I sold our TV show, Those Who Can’t, which had three seasons to TruTV right around that time so we had to make a pilot and I was sort of doing the best I could but I had a couple of breakdowns and I had to have aggressive therapy and it is as awful as you can imagine. It was THAT awful.”

I know some people, when dealing with grief, tend to work harder to try and forget, so I asked Cayton-Holland if this was the case with him. He said that he tried, but everything happened seven years ago and he hasn’t been talking about it in standup on stage.

Writing the book, then, became his way of mourning. Now that he put the book out, he wants to talk about it in a one-man show format, describing said show as:

“Not standup per se, a little more serious.”


For Cayton-Holland, writing was therapeutic and cathartic, helping him process what he was going through, though he went into the writing process with no hyperbole in mind.

“I’d sit at my laptop and sob, but it helped me. There was a normalization of it. I don’t want this to be a dirty secret. I don’t want this to be something I’m ashamed of. I’m not ashamed of her, not ashamed of what she did. I just feel like mental illness took my little sister out and so writing about it helped me kinda come around and get through the normal feelings of grief and anger and shame and guilt. Writing really helped me with that.”

When he mentioned sobbing, I asked if he wanted to fight the stigma about men crying. In response Cayton-Holland pointed out that the stigma is a little dated and feels like there’s something wrong with a man who can’t cry.

“I lost my little sister. You expect me not to cry?”

When I asked about the response to his memoir, he said it’s been amazing:

“If anything it’s shown me how prevalent this stuff is: mental illness, depression, suicide. I cannot tell you the amount of messages I get all the time, sometimes it’s really big overshare. I put myself out there so people relate. I wrote honestly and tried to normalize it and a lot of people are like ‘Thank you because my family went through something similar’ and just share- It’s the power of story, and people seem to really respond to that.”

He said that in some ways the experience made him less lonely, in some ways it made him more so. He says that telling his story has helped nip any shame and awkwardness in the bud.

“It’s 2019 and we still whisper the word ‘suicide’. I’m comfortable with it but I understand the stigma around it.”

His show is called Happy Place because the therapy he underwent to overcome his grief involved retreating to a happy place in his mind when a traumatic memory – in this case finding his sister’s body – became too intense. The show is based on excerpts from his memoir, but Cayton-Holland says you can expect tons of new material as well.

Happy Place is on at Just for Laughs from July 23-25. Check it out.

Ronny Chieng is one of the few comics to bring an Asian perspective to the Just for Laughs stage. He is playing the Just for Laughs festival as part of his Tone Issues Tour but you can also see him on The Daily Show and in Crazy Rich Asians, his first role in a major motion picture. 

I had the chance to speak to Chieng over the phone. Being half-Asian myself, I know about the expectations Asian parents often have for their children so I asked if his family had different hopes for him career-wise. Chieng appreciated the question because one of his very first jokes at Just for Laughs addressed that.

He spoke of being sent to Australia to study law but he was a poor student. He became a comedian because he couldn’t get a job in law, and comedy ended up paying better. He even said that he didn’t tell his parents about his new career directly – they found out about it when he appeared in the local press in their home country, but they’re okay with his career choice now.

Since Chieng now works in America and a lot of his comedy is political, I asked him if he thinks Trump is good for comedy. He feels it’s fair to say that Trump is good for comedy.

“He’s bad for life, bad for the planet, and bad for the country, and bad for mental health everywhere. At The Daily Show we talk about him every day, so I’d be hard-pressed to say he’s not good for comedy. Would I want that? No, I would rather have someone else – he has more cons than pros for the comedy world.”

Though Chieng doesn’t like the Trump Administration, he doesn’t feel that comedians working in America should feel obligated to criticize it in their comedy.

Great stand-up, in his eyes, comes from really authentic points of view and pandering to trendy topics if you’re not personally passionate about them is not going to make for good comedy. 

While comedians shouldn’t feel obligated to talk about it, he feels that everyone – comedian or not – has an obligation to say something if they feel that something isn’t right.

Chieng’s comedy centers a lot on being Asian in predominantly white countries so I asked if his work was more about dispelling stereotypes or just about laughter. At first he joked that it was about making money, but then said that he is about fighting stereotypes or at least give them a little more nuance. 

“If there’s a stereotype, I would like to explain why that’s a stereotype and maybe take the stereotype to another level – explain the full story behind the stereotype or break the stereotype altogether if I feel a stereotype is unfair. I try to address it because I feel like no one is talking about it in society. I wanted someone to talk about it when I was growing up so that’s the kind of comedy I do. I hope I do the kind of comedy I wanted to see.”

While a lot of Chieng’s comedy is about lived experience, he does research on occasion to make sure he knows what he’s talking about. When it comes to his favourite topics in comedy, he said it’s mostly things that make him angry, saying he has an hour of such examples in his Just for Laughs show.

Crazy Rich Asians was Ronny Chieng’s first film role, so I couldn’t help asking him about it. Chieng loved doing the film because it was shot in Malaysia and Singapore, where he’s from, which allowed him to see family and friends during filming. 

The film was considered ground-breaking because it supposedly opened the door for more Asian characters in film when Hollywood still didn’t think it was possible. While Chieng doesn’t consider the film to be the be-all and end-all of films featuring Asian characters, he thinks the fact it was so well-received is amazing. 

“What the movie was really good at was not over-explaining Asian things and showing Asian characters as complete three-dimensional characters with complicated needs and wants. Some of them are good guys and some of them are bad guys, some of them are in between, they fall in love, they fall out of love, they have complicated lives. I thought that was very useful. I think it also established a baseline for Asian storytelling moving forward. I think there’s no context for Asian stories usually in the West, so a lot of movies can’t be made because there’s no baseline understanding so I feel like Crazy Rich Asians is a very good baseline story for Asian people in the West.”

There have been criticisms of Crazy Rich Asians as only showcasing paler-skinned Asians. For example, Filipinos like myself tend to be darker. Chieng sees the problem in the fact that in North America, Asian is considered a single voting block despite the diversity in Asian nationalities and cultures among the Asian diaspora. 

“You got Koreans, you got Japanese, you got Burmese, you got Thai, you have Filipinos, you have Malaysians, you have Chinese people, not to mention Chinese Indonesians, Chinese Malaysians, Chinese people who live in Japan, Chinese people from different parts of China with all the different dialect groups. Then you have the same number of people Americanized… and each of those groups are very distinct cultures. To expect one movie to cover the entire diaspora of Asia is an unfair burden placed upon it by Western views of what Asia is,”

In terms of criticisms that the film only showcased wealthier Asians, Chieng considers the movie satirical and that it showcases the extreme wealth that’s in Asia right now because that’s how the West experiences Asia in 2019.

Ronny Chieng is playing Just for Laughs from July 23 to 25. Check him out.