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.

In a room in the iconic Monument-National on St Laurent Boulevard, press gathered in anticipation. Festival Season is coming in Montreal and Just for Laughs was ready to announce its long awaited lineup for the 2017 comedy festival.

This year is a special one for Just for Laughs as it marks the 35th anniversary of a comedy festival that helped launch the careers of everyone from Demetri Martin to Amy Schumer. Every year the people behind the festival, including its veterans, do their best to bring in top comedic talent from around the world and give new faces a shot at fame.

This year is no exception.

The biggest names on the ticket this year have to be American comic legend Jerry Seinfeld and French comedian Gad Elmaleh, who is the most beloved comedian in Europe right now. Elmaleh has recently begun doing comedy in English with great success. Seinfeld’s appearance at Just for Laughs will be his first since 1989. For one special night at the Bell Center on July 28th, the two will share the stage in honor of the festival’s anniversary.

Africa’s most successful comedian Trevor Noah will also be performing this year. Since he took over as host of The Daily Show in 2015, he has done some of the most scathingly successful critiques of current events and of the US President and his government of racist, misogynist, classists. If you’ve ever watched any of Trevor Noah’s comedy specials, his style of soft-spoken yet biting social commentary peppered with hilarious impressions promises that any show he’s in will be special.

Writer and Director of Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin Judd Apatow has chosen Montreal as the venue for his new stand-up show which will be recorded live for Netflix during the festival. Transgender actress, model and advocate (plus my second favourite Frank n’ Furter) Laverne Cox will be hosting her own gala, as will SNL veteran David Spade.

The lineup of Canadian talent this year seems to favor comedians from Newfoundland. Among them, we have ranter and political satirist Rick Mercer, who will be hosting a gala. Mark Critch of This Hour Has 22 Minutes will be hosting Homegrown Comics, a staple event at the festival featuring Canadian up and comers in standup comedy. The only Central Canadian names this year are Howie Mandel and Montreal’s own Sugar Sammy, who is the festival’s special guest.

A smiling Sammy took the podium this morning to express his gratitude to a festival that launched his career so quickly he found himself riding the bus to his own show with his fans back in the day. He jokingly told the press that he’d promised himself he’d take a fancy car to Just for Laughs once he got rich and famous, but ended up taking the metro today due to Montreal construction. His gala will feature international standup comedians.

Just for Laughs veteran Kevin Hart is doing what he can to promote young talent via Laugh Out Loud Network Presents: Just For Laughs Eat My Shorts. The initiative between Hart and Just For Laughs will feature shorts submitted by various filmmakers. Twenty films that speak to a diverse audience will eventually be chosen to stream on the LOL website and a panel consisting of Hart and other judges will select the top five for a screening at the Imperial Theatre. A winner will be selected that night and Hart will present them with a development deal followed by a Q&A session.

The Nasty Show is for me the best part of Just for Laughs. It’s the show where comedians, by their own admission, can let loose and tell jokes without having to worry about offending anyone. The lineup for this year’s Nasty Show features the master of British snark, Jimmy Carr, as well as Godfrey, Robert Kelly, and Big Jay Oakerson. What are suspiciously absent from this lineup are female comedians, though whether this is deliberate or accidental is unclear, though it’s not for lack of talent. Anyone who thinks women can’t do filthy comedy is welcome to google Lisa Lampanelli, Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman, or Paula Bel, to name a few.

The Ethnic Show is the festival’s way of fighting racism and breaking down cultural barriers through laughter. The host this year is Iranian-American Maz Jobrani who is joined by Jewish American Jessica Kirson, Korean Irish-American Steve Byrne, and the Dominican Vlad Caamaño among others. The Ethnic Show is the show for cultural criticism and self-deprecating ethnic humor that feels less offensive because it’s made by comedians of those backgrounds.

In addition to festival staples, Just for Laughs is introducing some new attractions. New Faces: Creators features people contributing to the “evolution of the comedy landscape” via digital content creation. Also new to the festival is Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch recognizing the talents of stand-up comedians, sketch artists, and web content creators impacting the comedy industry this year.

For those who shun the mainstream, there’s always OFF-JFL and Zoofest which feature over sixty shows in intimate venues all over the city. The more risqué nature of the shows and the fact that tickets are generally cheaper makes this a great option for those of us who are broke. OFF-JFL regular Andy Kindler will host the Alternative Show, while The Lucas Bros return for more laughs. Other comedians in this series include Vir Das, Cristela Alonzo, and Barry Rothbart, to name a few.

With the tense socio political climate in North America, Just For Laughs is the kind festival we need more than ever. It’s not just because we all need a good laugh; it’s because if anyone can call bullshit on the worst behaviors of our leaders to keep them in check, it’s comedians. The best comedians shine when things are bad so if current events are any indication, it’s going to be a GREAT festival this year!

Ticket info can be had at hahaha.com