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

Bonnie McFarlane is a Canadian success story. Hailing from Cold Lake, Alberta; she’s a comedian, writer, director, and co-hosts a radio show on Sirius XM. As a filmmaker she’s worked to combat sexism in comedy with the award-winning documentary Women Aren’t Funny. She’s returning to Montreal as part of The Nasty Show, and co-hosting a game show at Just for Laughs with her husband, comedian Rich Vos.

I had the opportunity to meet with Bonnie McFarlane so I asked her why there is the assumption that women aren’t funny. McFarlane has a lot of theories about it.

She said that comedy clubs have been catering to “bro audiences” for a long time so when a woman goes on and performs something other than “bro comedy”, they may not receive a positive response.

McFarlane herself identifies as male-friendly and she’s been working in this system for so long that she’s learned to tailor her act to those audiences. She thinks, however, that it’s important to make room for voices outside “bro comedy”, speaking with deference about comedian Hanna Gadsby and director Jill Soloway, who helped pave the way for female voices in comedy.

Macfarlane experiences inequality when people boycotting Louis CK and urging others to do the same asked her not to play at The Comedy Cellar in New York due to their reputation to book comedians like Louis CK, who in 2017 was accused of sexual misconduct.

“Why should I have to not work because of things that he did? If you want to stop going to The Comedy Cellar that’s fantastic, do whatever you want to do, but I’m not going to work less.”

For McFarlane, the problem lies in boycott and cancel culture, describing once being at a show where Louis CK came in unannounced and did a set. She went on stage after him and people told her after the show that she shouldn’t have gone on.

McFarlane doesn’t see how having fewer female voices is going to help sexism in comedy. There’s a lot of debate in comedy about political correctness and feminism often takes part of the blame for that.

McFarlane acknowledges that it’s a complicated issue but she believes in free speech and that comedians should hold themselves more accountable for what they say. She says it’s especially hard if you’re a female comic because you’re expected to have such strong opinions about these things.

While she has no sympathy for comedians like Louis CK, she personally does not want to stop him from working, highlighting the importance of moving forward instead of constantly drawing attention to bad people.

As she often opens her sets by announcing she’s a feminist, an atheist, and a vegan, I wondered what her take was on whether feminism was compatible with comedy. Her response was an enthusiastic no, saying that making fun of oneself is another way of taking charge.

“We know how far we’ve come when we can laugh at ourselves,” she said.

In addition to being a comic, McFarlane is an author, she directs, and she co-hosts has a radio show, so I asked her which role she identifies with most.

“I’ll always love standup most because it’s given me everything else,” she said.

While her favourite thing in the world is writing jokes, she also loves writing screenplays and TV shows and directing.

“I love taking something from one idea and seeing it all the way through to the end. It’s such a satisfying process.”

In addition to doing The Nasty Show, Bonnie McFarlane is co-hosting Would You Bang Him? with her husband, comedian, Rich Vos. The show is a contest in which a panel of female judges assess male comedians and whether they’d sleep with them. McFarlane cheerfully promises there will be beefy guys in addition to the comedians. Check it out.

Tickets for The Nasty Show and Would You Bang Him available through hahaha.com