Here’s a little behind-the-scenes secret about how media accreditation works. You usually ask to get as many tickets as possible to review as many shows as possible. And if you’re a relatively smaller blog like FTB, you don’t expect to get into the big shows. That’s just showbiz, as they say. So you can imagine my surprise at seeing that I was able to get tickets for BOTH Jeff Goldblum’s and David Cross’ galas on Wednesday night.

That’s a lot of comedy!

Jeff Goldblum Gala

Let’s start with Jeff Goldblum – he’s a delight on the stage. He is well dressed, well-spoken, and very self-aware. He knows what it means to be Jeff Goldblum, and he knows that impressionists love to do him. That’s probably why he had an entire segment dedicated to him teaching the audience how to do the “Jeff Goldblum.” You touch your face, go on …uhm… really long, run-on paragraphs, and …uhm… get REALLY EASILY EXCITED about …you know… things. Eh, it doesn’t work when I’m writing the impression I guess. But you get the gist.

I never thought of Goldblum as a stand-up comedian, and I will stand by that statement. He was magnificent as a host, but some of the jokes were – well, they could have been better delivered by an actual stand-up comedian. I also could tell that he was reading his jokes from a teleprompter, so that kinda broke the magic for me as well. Still, he’s a funny guy and no one can take that away from him. I highly doubt anyone is trying to do so, anyway.

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Godfrey at the Gala.

At Goldblum’s gala, the audience was able to see Darrin Rose, Godfrey, Patrick Haye, Russell Howard, Elon Gold, Charlie Pickering, Lynne Koplitz, and Adam Ferrara. Out of these 8 (omg) comedians, I can confidently say that my favourites were Russell Howard, Godfrey, and Charlie Pickering. But don’t get me wrong, all of them were amazing comedians, and the audience seemed to agree with me.

It’s just that I have a very particular style of humour and these three fellas all hit the spot. Howard is from the UK and – obviously – delivers his jokes in that classic British style. His delivery is not as dry as some other Brits, which is admittedly a nice change of pace. I don’t exactly remember how the conversation got there, but at some point he started talking about same-sex marriages. He said that some people in the UK are afraid that they could lead to a lesbian queen. He than started miming the queen getting a blowjob and screamed “Yeah, does it taste like stamps?!” Best queen joke I’ve heard in a while.

David Cross Gala

David Cross is a gem. He is the master of awkward comedy and I just love that. Once his name was announced, Cross appeared behind the gates on the scene, with his pants down. He pulled them up immediately, and then started doing his spiel. He started telling us about how Americans feel about Canadians and how much trouble they have trying to mock Canadians.

The harshest thing they can think of, apparently, was that Canadians are so polite. He says that it’s funny that Canadians are so polite. And that gets me thinking… Most comedians at JFL have a bit about how people in the US think about Canadians. I wonder if that was a collective decision on their part, or is it just an easy – almost cheaty? – way of breaking the ice with the audience. Once they’re done with talking about US-Canada relations, they start talking about American politics. They’re all collectively afraid of what might happen if a certain giant Oompa Loompa gets elected.

Cross is an infinitely better stand-up comedian than Goldblum. Some heckler guy made him mess up a joke, but even then he was able to keep his cool and make that into a joke that the audience just loved. He is less charismatic than Goldblum, but that’s not what he is going for anyway. He’ll be awkward on the stage and you will love it. I mean, at least if you’re into that kinda thing.

At Cross’ gala, we had Maria Bamford, Louie Anderson, Nick Thune, Todd Barry, Scott Thompson, Nish Kumar, and Mark Forward.

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David Cross, a.k.a. baseball cap Santa Claus.

Nish Kumar was by far my favourite among this lineup – and that despite the fact that I was really excited to see Maria Bamford and Louie Anderson. I was expecting Bamford’s set to be different than what it was. She kept in character throughout the whole thing, which is to be expected if you’re familiar with her style. And with Anderson, I suppose I was still remembering him as the guy who did the mid-90s cartoon series Life with Louie. He wasn’t really – but still was pretty funny.

It was my first time seeing Kumar, however, and I was very impressed. Again, he’s a comic from the UK, so obviously I liked his style. His humour is very smart and very political. He talked about how almost impossible it is to write right-wing comedy, but also it’s difficult to write a left-wing action film. “You’d have no interest in watching the Avengers go to the UN Security Council,” as he said. I love politics, and I love comedy – and Kumar was the perfect mixture of both.

Overall, these two galas were both very amazing and funny. If I could spend five hours sitting in the same hall, listening to these comedians again, I would do it without hesitating.

All photos by Eric Myre, courtesy of Just for Laughs festival.

Sean Patton is quite the storyteller, or moreover, this New Orleans-born and raised and now Brooklyn-based comic performing at OFF-JFL is quite a funny storyteller. In his Friday night show at Theatre Ste-Catherine he vividly recounted a few key events from his own youth and adult years (presumably real ones), some hilarious and others surprisingly emotional and serious. A few were even a bit dark.

He jumped back and fourth between them, throwing in punchlines sometimes where you might expect them, though more than once they seemed to come out of nowhere. He eventually tied all the stories together and it made sense.

Patton’s humour stemmed from how he observed the events he was talking about, many of which were not intrinsically funny on their own. A few times he went into material that would most likely be played as self-deprecating by a more predictable comic, but with Patton it just came across as honest.

This felt less like a typical standup show and more like everyone gathered around that one really funny guy at the party because they are invested in the story and absolutely need to hear how it ends before going to the fridge for another beer.

Patton’s set featured quite a few recurring characters, people from his life in New Orleans. His hometown played a leading role in his tales as well. The city’s more colourful characters, local stereotypes and the similarities between New Orleans and Montreal were all part of the show. So was Hurricane Katrina, in fact it was a particularly poignant part.

A bit longer than a typical OFF-JFL standup set, Patton was able to hold the audience’s attention, including mine, throughout, and keep us laughing.

* Featured image by Joseph Fuda courtesy of OFF-JFL

* Sean Patton performs tonight, July 23rd, at Theatre Ste-Catherine, 264 Ste-Catherine Est and Monday, July 25th, at Katacombes, 1635 St-Laurent, as part of OFF-JFL. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Featured image by Leslie Schacter. 

Life can veer towards the awful, and almost everyone has a sad, awkward, or otherwise distressing story to prove it. For Keith Waterfield and Leighland Beckman, co-hosts of the live comedy talk show Life Lessons, the obvious way to get through it is with laughter. I got to sit down with Keith this week to talk about the show’s Just for Laughs (JFL) debut; in true Life Lessons style, we also covered vomiting with excitement, responding to the question “Are you happy?”, and the existence of lightsaber dildos.

Janna Bryson: How did you and Leighland start doing Life Lessons?

Keith Waterfield: It started a few years ago when I was having a conversation with a friend of mine. He was asking for advice about a lady friend and I gave the worst advice. Well, it wasn’t the worst advice it was just … comical advice. I think it boiled down to, “Well, there’s no way anyone would be into you. So you should just not pursue anyone because you’re a terrible person.” And then he wrote back “Life Lessons with Keith Waterfield” and I was like, “Oh, that’s a good idea for a show.”

Within 3 weeks we built a show around that. Leighland and I have been working together for a long time, we have a lot of fun together, so he was the natural person to go to. Also, I’m like 5 foot 7, 5 foot 6 ½, and he’s like 6 foot 2 and a good few hundred pounds heavier than me and a deep, Orson Welles-type voice. So when we come on stage we look physically funny together.

JB: So walk me through the format of your show. Who’s there and what do you guys do?

KW: In the last year and a half we’ve really found what the show should be. We pick a theme – something vague and broad, like “living situations” or “money” – and we find people that we think are interesting, and funny, and not necessarily performers. Just people that we know we can talk to and that have good stories.

The stories are always meant to be sad or depressing or embarrassing – these really true stories from our lives that are so outrageous or heartbreaking or whatever that the only way to get through it is through laughter. When you tell those stories, it’s usually only when you’ve had a drink or two, so we always have a drink with our guest. Because you’re telling it to an audience, you get people thinking, “I’ve been through a sad experience like that.” The audience and the guests both get to have this great moment of catharsis to get over these strange moments in our lives.

JB: Do you guys get a lot of audience feedback after a show? What do you think people get out of it?

KW: After every show. Every story has an audience member that relates; after the show people will come up and say, “I’ve had that experience.”

We also take audience questions, they don’t have to be on any topic and we’ll answer them without reading them beforehand. We’ve been asked some very strange, very personal questions on stage.

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Keith Waterfield and Leighland Beckman on stage. Photo by Joseph Ste Marie.

JB: What are some of the more memorable audience questions?

KW: One of the questions was “How does it make you feel that your mother or your grandmother have had sex before?” If you hadn’t thought about that, then you have to think about it…

Another question, one that took me the longest to answer, was “Are you happy?” You’re performing in front of 100 people who have paid to be there and you have to ponder this. I think the answer to that was “I’m happy right now, with all of you here… but…” It’s a simple question but hard to answer on the spot.

JB: It seems like there’s a lot of aspects of the show that you guys don’t have a lot of control over.

KW: We have a little bit of control. A bare minimum of control. We do pre-interviews that are very basic to keep it as fresh as possible for the show. No details. Leighland will pre-interview some people and I’ll pre-interview some people so neither of us know all the stories.

Then, of course, there’s the alcohol element. As much control as we try to have, when you throw alcohol into the mix it makes it interesting. We don’t get drunk, but we get more… relaxed.

JB: Do you have a favourite guest or story from the show over the years?

KW: We’ve had some interesting shows. One of them the theme was “porn,” and we had four very different stories. One of the guests was a videocam girl, and it was a very serious, interesting, funny, and enlightening talk. You hear “cam girl” and people have all these assumptions, and I think that we changed the minds of anyone who had a negative assumption or was a bit judgmental of that profession during that conversation. And at the end she showed everyone how to make lightsaber dildos.

JB: This is your guys’ first time at Just for Laughs, right?

KW: Yes it’s our first time, and we are very excited. I’m very nervous and anxious. When I was a kid I used to get really excited about Santa Claus and Christmas, and I was hospitalized on Christmas Eve two years in a row because I would get so excited about Santa coming that I would just vomit non-stop from the nerves and the excitement. I eventually stopped getting really excited about things to the point where I started to have the perspective in life of lower expectations for everything. It came out of a lot of disappointment, but also out of not wanting to throw up.

I eventually stopped getting really excited about things to the point where I started to have the perspective in life of lower expectations for everything. It came out of a lot of disappointment, but also out of not wanting to throw up.

Then, when we found out we were going to be in the festival, my first reaction was, “Oh no, I’m gonna be in hospital the night before the show because I’ll get too excited, and I’m going to have to wear the Ghostbusters pyjamas and someone is going to have to feed me rice crispies and water again.” Which was a thing they did in hospitals in the 80s and 90s.

JB: Is there anything that you’ve had to adjust about the show for the festival?

KW: I think the main adjustment is to what the audience will expect of us. [Leighland and I] think our show is great, and now we have a bit more pressure. So I started reaching out to some really interesting fantastic people and I’ve had some wonderful email exchanges with some of my heroes. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to that without the festival name behind us.

JB: Can you tell me who you have lined up for the show?

KW: I can say that we have Mary Lynn Rajskub, whom I have been a huge fan of for so many years. I was in email contact with George Saunders who’s a New York Times bestselling author for short stories, I sent him an email asking if he’d be interested in doing the show. He couldn’t make the date, but we’re going to schedule a time where he is available for a future show. And now I have an email from one of my favourite authors in my inbox, and that’s amazing.

I’ve also recently been writing with another George, Canada’s Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke, who may or may not be on the show on Saturday. When you write an email reply to Canada’s Poet Laureate you choose your words very carefully, and I’m still not sure that I chose well enough. We will have Ali Hassan, he’s an amazing comic, we’re so happy he’s on the show, and he also has a show of his own in the festival called Muslim Interrupted and it’s going to be incredible. And then, we might have a surprise or two.

JB: Any last words?

KW: Everyone that comes to the show gets a free shot of Jameson so we can all cheers each other. Our catch phrase is “drown your sorrows with us,” and this time we’re able to provide the liquid to do the drowning.

Life Lessons will be playing on July 23 at the Mainline Theatre. For tickets, visit the Just for Laughs website. For future shows, check out Theatre Sainte Catherine.

Comedians are our best social and political critics, our first line of defense against taking ourselves too seriously. It is for this reason that I jumped at the chance to interview Bobby Slayton a.k.a. Yid Vicious, The Pitbull of Comedy. Slayton is a legend in his own right, an old-school insult comic with a raspy take-no-prisoners approach to comedy. Here’s what we talked about:

SG: You’ve hosted the Nasty Show many times in the past. Do you approach it differently every time?

Bobby Slayton: Besides changing my underwear… you know, I’ve been doing it for so long and though I’m not hosting it this year, which is a thrill and a half for me. I can’t tell you how GREAT it is just to be able to go on and do a ten or fifteen-minute set. To answer your original question, I don’t approach it differently. The only difference is – and it’s a big difference – every year I try to have as much new material as I can. You know there’s different comics on the bill, it’s the same people very often but it’s always a different lineup so I’ve got to adjust my material depending on what another comic’s doing. That’s part of being a good host. If I know a comic has a big routine about midgets or whatever, I don’t want to do my midget routine before his, because I think the MC, the host of the show, has to really service the show. It’s your job – like the host of a party – to make everybody comfortable and keep things moving along so that’s the only way I would change things every year. But like I said: this year I don’t have to host it.

They got this new guy Mike Ward and everybody says to me: Aren’t you upset you’re not hosting? No! It’s too much work! For comedy it’s a lot of work. You gotta get up there, you got to warm up the crowd, you gotta get ‘em laughing. By the time you get ’em laughing, you gotta bring out the first guy, you gotta do a minute or two between each comic, you gotta get the audience focused again, you gotta take a break and go back. On a weekend doing two or three shows, by the third show and a couple of glasses of wine you go: Did I just say that joke? Did I say that at the first show? It gets a little confusing.

SG: You’ve done The Nasty Show for many years now and you sometimes participate in the galas. Are there any other Just For Laughs Shows you’d like to do in the future?

BS: Nope! I love the whole festival but they used to have me do the Relationship Show – a lot of the shows they don’t have anymore; Bubble with Laughter, I used to do the Bar Mitzvah Show, you gotta work much cleaner and it’s 90% Jews out there – it’s more Borsht Belt Catskills sensibility. I remember Amy Schumer did it one year and she didn’t do very well. I remember Amy saying to me afterward:

“You know, this isn’t really my kind of crowd. This isn’t really what I do”

And Amy’s great. But those shows I wasn’t crazy about. That’s why I love the Nasty Show so much. People always say to me:

“You’re doing the dirty show this year?”

No, it’s the Nasty Show. The difference is… The Nasty Show is more honest. It lets the comics do what they want. It gives you this ability to not worry about anything. There’s no constraints of television or radio or offending some Bible-belt Christian idiot in Kentucky… and if anybody groans, anybody gets pissed, you get to say: F-you! It’s the Nasty Show! You don’t like it? Go Bubble with laughter! And that was always a joy for me, to do stuff like that. And I think when people come to the show they kinda know what it’s going to be. You go to a James Bond movie and go:

“What are you? Sleeping with that Russian Spy?!”

You kinda know when you watch the Three Stooges that Moe is going to hit Curly in the head with the shovel. You should expect that or you shouldn’t be going to see it.

SG: There’s been a lot of ranting both in politics and in comedy about so-called “political correctness”? How do you feel about all that?

BS: It’s just moronic. It’s always been going on – they just didn’t call it political correctness when I started out. But I was one of those guys, and I certainly wasn’t the first. When I started out in San Francisco in the 70s early 80s there was a big comedy boom and there was a lot of comics. I was in San Francisco and I remember doing a couple of gay jokes and a couple of gay people getting pissed – they weren’t faggot jokes, they weren’t mean, they weren’t AIDS jokes. I would do black jokes and I saw I got a rise out of people and what always pissed me off is they would have a gay comedy night or a black comedy night and you see black comics going:

“White people! White people!”

And I understand they’re minorities and they got a right to do it, but don’t tell me I can’t make a joke about you if you can make a joke about me.

SG: You’re 61 now, do you think you’ll ever retire?

BS: I’ve been doing this for so long, worked in so many crappy clubs, have so many frequent flyer miles on my ass, that I’d love to retire. I still love doing standup, I don’t like the pressure of I HAVE to go somewhere. I gotta take this gig ‘cause I need the money. I don’t know if I’ll ever retire.

See Bobby Slayton at The Nasty Show playing at the Metropolis in Montreal July 20th to 30th. For ticket info, check out the JFL website.

Comedian Walter J. Lyng brings his popular local talk show “Night Fight” to the 2015 Fringe stage. Teaming up again with his musical director Leighland Beckman, the duo engage in all your typical late-night talk show activities… with a twist. (Yes, a knife makes an appearance!)

You have your “politically correct” monologues (last night was about the Charleston shootings, you know a topic that lends no way to being insensitive), awkward banter (both with each other and the audience!), musical guests (aka some delightfully filthy music provided by Beckman), and the popular “Top 38” (This list was “Worst Ice Cream Flavours” which included totally enticing flavours like Vanilla Vag).

None of the pre-mentioned gags that I happened to catch on Thursday will be spoilers for anyone else who wants to check out the show. As with any talk show the jokes and guests change with every performance. I hope the commercials they play during the “commercial break” moments, though, don’t change, because they’re ridiculous, in the most amazing way possible.

While this was my first ever Lyng/Beckman performance, it’s easy to tell the duo have been working together for a long time. They bounce their comedic energy off each other so seamlessly that it’s unsurprising they’ve been hyped as one of the best shows of the fest, and nominated for a Frankie for best English comedy. Check out this show while you still can!