Warning: The second half of this review ended up being more of a rant about Mike Ward.

The Midnight Surprise shows are a staple of Just For Laughs. Part of OFF-JFL, the only thing audiences are told is the host. Apart from that, people buy their tickets without knowing ANYTHING about the line-up. And I mean anything. Any of the comedians that are performing as part of the main festival could appear. For instance, last year, Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle both made very surprise appearances at these shows.

So while I was waiting at the line with my friend, checking my phone to see if there were any rare Pokemon around, I had no idea what to expect. But I was in for one heck of a ride, it turns out.

The first week of the Midnight Surprise is hosted by Piff the Magic Dragon, or John van der Put. You may know Pif from American’s Got Talent, which he did not win. He seems to be kinda bummed out about that, but hey at least he’s got a regular show in Las Vegas, so that’s cool.

Basically, Piff’s whole gimmick is that he wears a dragon costume and does magic acts with a lot of whooshes. All of this is mixed with his brilliant British style humour that involves dark and fast one-liners.

For instance, a good bunch of his jokes involve him implying that he is very mean towards his pet chihuahua Mr. Piffles, who helps him out with most of his magic tricks. It is a bizarre combination of really neat magic tricks, British-style dry stand-up comedy, and the absurd.

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Piff the Magic Dragon with Michelle the Audience Member.

But the relatively more important question is, which stand-up comedians showed up at Friday’s Midnight Show? Long story short, I got to see Tom Green, Jessica Kirson, Yannis Pappas, Brad Williams, Mark Little, and everybody’s favourite controversial Quebecois Mike Ward.

That’s quite a lineup! To put it in perspective, that’s a relatively famous movie star, ~1/3 of the Ethnic Show, ~1/3 of the Nasty Show, and Mark Little, who is also pretty famous, I think.

My favourite was Jessica Kirson, and that’s not just because I got to interview her last week before the Ethnic Show. It’s actually because her style of humour speaks to me. It’s fast-paced, it’s somewhat dark, and it’s sincere. I think I’d call her style psychological humour – she talks about her insecurities and troubles, but does it in a way that makes you laugh. She also tells the audience that she needs our laughter and us to enable her.

If nothing I’ve just described appeals to you, the awkward moments she constantly creates will get you to laugh. One way or another you will laugh at Kirson’s show – and she doesn’t really care whether you laugh at her or with her.

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Jessica Kirson talking about how she does Jew jokes at the Ethnic Show.

Tom Green’s routine is similar to Kirson’s. His delivery is dryer than hers, though. Green talks about how he doesn’t want to die in his sleep, because he wouldn’t know that he had died; and how he doesn’t like/want to understand all those celebrities who die of drug overdose, because their biggest problem in life is having to memorize a few lines.

Again, Green proves that most of comedy has to do with delivery. He stands in the middle of the stage, looking dazed and confused (and is probably drunk), and just talks and talks and talks.

I really want to talk about the other comics as well, but I have limited space, so I have to choose what I talk about. That’s why I want to dedicate the next few paragraphs to a rant about Mike Ward.

In case you haven’t heard, the Quebec Human Rights Commission has decided that Ward has to pay $42 000 for making a joke at the expense of a child with disabilities. Obviously, his entire routine was him complaining about how he has the right to joke about anything and everything he wants.

Now, I admit that $42,000 is a bit too much, and yes, maybe policing jokes is scarily similar to censorship. But the question is, what exactly do we lose if people suddenly stopped mocking people for disabilities? Does the world stop spinning? Probably not.

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Mike Ward complaining about the Quebec Human Rights Commission decision.

Ward is pushing the idea that he is fighting for his right to be mean to people; but I don’t think that’s what we should be focusing on. Ward has a right to be mean, sure; but he’s also a public figure, you know?

At the show, he told us about an interview he once had, in which the media portrayed him as someone who condones pedophilia. Now, in that case, the media seems to have messed up horribly, just to make him look awful. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that he has made pedophile jokes. I mean, sure he can just wash his hands off of all responsibility, arguing that he is simply making jokes, and that people shouldn’t take him seriously.

The problem, however, is that words are more powerful than people seem to think they are. A joke is not merely a joke, I would argue. The kinds of jokes Ward makes normalise meanness and, to be frank, I don’t think that’s okay.

You can be funny without being mean. I understand that this poses somewhat of a problem for Ward and other comedians that have crafted their comedy careers out of being mean; but I’d rather side with the people on the receiving end of mean jokes than with those who make money out of a sick and twisted schadenfreude type of humour.

Anyways, this is what happened to me at Friday’s Midnight Surprise. It probably won’t happen to anyone if they were to go to another Midnight Surprise. But that only means that you have to go and see for yourself!

The Midnight Surprises will take place with Piff the Magic Dragon on July 24, and with Blake Griffin hosting on July 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30. Check out the Just for Laughs website for more information.

All photography by Cem Ertekin.

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July is here with all its humidity. It was disgusting outside yesterday, but that was the only thing I could complain about, really. In fact, the whole of Montreal should be squealing with glee right now because the world’s funniest festival is back in town!

Of course, I’m referring to the one and only Just For Laughs. In fact, JFL may be one of the only reasons why I’ve decided to stay in this city after school. (I may be slightly exaggerating because of all the free shows I get to see and review; but hey, bloody constructions everywhere, sheesh…)

JFL is celebrating its 34th birthday this year and as always, the schedule is jam-packed with hilarious comedians from all over the place. I’m excited to see such great comedians like Jimmy Carr, Cameron Esposito, Michelle Wolf, Aparna Nancherla… The list goes on.

But I’m particularly stoked about the Midnight Surprise, because no one knows who is gonna show up. Big-timers often go to these events before their big show to test out their material – and I wouldn’t mind accidentally bumping into David Cross, you know?

But today’s focus is The Ethnic Show; a spectacle that has a very interesting concept. The comedians who do their sets at this show are all “ethnic” – notwithstanding the fact that the word does not really mean what we expect it to mean.

The line-up is basically the set up for a joke: A Greek guy, an Italian guy, a Moroccan dude, a Jewish woman, a Lebanese guy, a Puerto Rican woman, and a Nigerian guy walk into a bar… I mean, the result is hilarious. And the comics seem to think so as well.

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Jessica Kirson doing the Jewish Grandmother face. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

Before the show I talked with Jessica Kirson, who told me that she was looking forward to performing. Thursday’s show wasn’t the first show of the festival, so Jessica was already pumped to be doing the show.

“It feels good to be on the show,” Jessica said. “I’m the Jew on the show, so I’m very proud of my heritage and everything. I love talking about it, it’s great!” Indeed, Jessica’s set had a lot of stories about old Jewish women, who apparently all have the same facial expressions and all sound like Fran Drescher. But you probably already knew about that stereotype, right?

My favourite part about her set, though, was her talking to herself. Apparently it’s a gimmick that she does. At random points during the show, she turns her back to the audience and “comforts” herself by saying weird things about oatmeal. It’s bizarre and great.

Oh by the way, before I forget, she wanted me to write that “Yannis Pappas is an asshole.” Yannis, the “token Greek” of the show echoed her sentiment (in case it’s not obvious, this was a joke).

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Yannis Pappas. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

Speaking of Yannis, he started off his set by saying that he has been to Laval and is pretty sure that it’s a Greek island. Everyone else laughed at that; but, to be honest, I’ve never been to Laval (because I never really needed to) so I didn’t get the joke. I laughed anyway, because everyone else was also laughing, and I really did not want to stand out.

To my chagrin, Yannis did not have any jokes about Turkish people. I suppose the entire Greeks vs. Turks trope doesn’t really exist in North America, so that’s understandable. Regardless, I managed to get him to admit that “Yoghurt was probably not a Greek invention.”

However, he also told me before the show, “I’ll give you guys yoghurt, if you guys give us baklava.” I’ll let him get away with that because he was a good sport and a funny guy on stage.

You know who’s really cool though? Rachid Badouri. That guy had its first major anglophone show at JFL last year. He was also one of the comedians on the Ethnic Show last year.

This year, they got him to host the Ethnic Show and he was psyched. “They finally trusted me,” he told the audience – amazed. He repeated the same material from last year; but he’s still funny. It’s all in the delivery, I guess.

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Nemr. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

In addition to Rachid, Yannis, and Jessica, the Ethnic Show also features Godfrey, Gina Brillon, Nemr, and Dom Irrera. Now, all of these people are absolutely amazing. Godfrey killed it with a joke about how he wished humans would have mating calls and acting out a very riveting mating ritual that takes place at a dance club. Nemr explained to us that, in Lebanon (and in Turkey, I might add), people light a matchstick to check for gas leakages.

Gina talked about her up-bringing in Bronx and how the guys there would try to hook up with anything, including a literal broom with boob. Dom was great as well, portraying the stereotypical Italian guy perfectly. I also didn’t know this, but apparently, he was Ernie Potts in the Hey Arnold! TV series.

Bottom line is, go see the Ethnic Show. It’s fun, it’s different. Most of the time comedians put some background jokes into their sets, but the Ethnic Show allows them to craft an entire set out of their identities. I could talk about it for hours upon hours, but the best way to understand it is to see it.

You can see the Ethnic Show between July 13-28 at Club Soda and Metropolis. For more information, check out hahaha.com. In addition, Yannis Pappas, Jessica Kirson, and Gina Brillon have their own shows as well. So be sure to check them out.

Gina Brillon appears on the featured image, taken by Cem Ertekin.