Lesbian Speed Date from Hell is a true horror comedy. Following a successful run at the Mainline Theatre as part of Off- JFL/Zoofest, it’s back as part of Montreal Pride’s official programming. Presented by Pride along with Christina Saliba, the show is funny and scary, and for abuse survivors, it can be triggering.

The play revolves around Jackie (Katharine King So), a young lesbian who is grudgingly attending a speed dating event hosted by her friend and neighbor Regina (Kathy Slamen). Regina is your typical lesbian cougar. In case you had any doubts, Slamen’s costumes consist of mostly of leopard print, and her portrayal is a hilarious mix of sassy, maternal, and raunchy.

At the event, Jackie meets Amy (Martha Graham), an awkward blonde, Natalie (Alexandra Laferriere), a beautiful black lesbian jonesing for Regina, Kyle (Jeroem Lindeman), a stereotypical dudebro and Ashley (Kate Hammer), a former one-night stand of Jackie’s with a big grudge.

What follows is a display of awkward conversations, hilarious facial expressions, and uncomfortable torture scenes.

Hammer’s portrayal of Ashley is at once horrific and riveting. All the time she’s on stage you never doubt her anger, her malice, or her psychosis. Her madness is believable yet just over the top enough to keep the play from being too real.

King So’s Jackie is a perfect foil for Ashley’s crazy. Her screams are bone-chillingly realistic and her fear and outrage appropriate.

Survivors of abuse will likely find the interaction between Jackie and Ashley uncomfortably triggering as there is blood and violence and accurate portrayals of pain. But there is enough humour in the play to balance it out.

The fight choreography is hilariously done in slow motion and with more courtesy than one would expect in a struggle between a psychotic murderer and a desperate victim. There are murder mystery clichés like the strategic use of on and off lighting, and Jeroen Lindeman’s Kyle is amusingly obnoxious and a reminder of why our culture needs more feminist entertainment like this.

That said, if you’re an abuse survivor go in prepared to be a little uncomfortable and reassure yourself that with the horror comes plenty to laugh about. For everyone else, be prepared to laugh, cry, and gasp in horror.

It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a show, but it’s worth it.

Lesbian Speed Date From Hell runs until August 16, tickets available through Montreal Pride

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

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.

View this post on Instagram

Trevor Noah about to take the stage at #jflmtl

A post shared by Forget The Box (@forgetthebox) on

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

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.

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

comedian dave merheje

Dave Merheje is a comedic force to be reckoned with. Growing up in Windsor, Ontario to Lebanese immigrant parents, he worked for a sightseeing company along with other odd jobs, soon after, he got into comedy.

Since then his star has only risen; he’s played at multiple Just for Laughs festivals in Montreal, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, the Halifax Comedy Festival, and his 2018 comedy special Good Friends, Bad Grammar was nominated for a 2019 Juno Award. This year, Merheje is appearing at Just for Laughs as part of The Ethnic Show and a solo show at Katacombes as part of Off-JFL & Zoofest.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Merheje at Just for Laughs HQ downtown.

As he’s doing The Ethnic Show this year, I asked if he considers himself to be an ethnic comedian. He smiled, calling it a tricky question and said that he never sought out to be an ethnic comic, but sharing his culture, upbringing and experiences may lead others to perceive him as such.

He considers his comedy to be closest version of himself, on stage as off stage. Early on in his career, he says a fellow comedian advised him to avoid talking about his ethnicity because “everyone was doing it”. It led him to shy away from the sensitive material, until, while talking about his father to another comedian, they suggested he discuss it on stage, now he embraces the subject, and so do audiences.

Merheje portrays his family as this hilarious dichotomy between his calm serene mother, and his aggressive matter-of-fact father. I asked him how his family feels about how he represents them, and he said they’re “dope” about it. Though his father won’t be at Just for Laughs, he comes to many of Merheje’s shows including the Juno Awards this year.

“They can take it.” He says, “they understand it’s humour and they’re not offended.”

Merheje says that some people build their own narratives about him when they find out he’s Middle Eastern, and he considers it his job to tell his truth on stage. He has experienced problems with xenophobic heckling before, with one heckler asking what age he learned to detonate bombs, but he rolls with the punches because at least the comments are said to his face.

He said some Middle Eastern people enjoy his comedy while others think he’s giving people the wrong impression about his culture but if they do. It’s on them, and he’s still going to keep doing what he does.

When I asked Merheje how feels about Montreal audiences compared to others, he said they’re a very comedy-savvy audience.

“It’s a good energy. They watch comedy, they see it every year, it’s the biggest festival in the world so they’re here for it. They’re hip to it.”

Merheje is grateful for all the extra attention he’s been getting lately but is determined to maintain a proper work ethic. He knows that you can’t buy into the attention too much or you can get hurt when it doesn’t go your way.

I asked him if there was one thing he could say to audiences, what would it be.

“Just have fun. Don’t take everything so personally. It’s just a show. It’s entertainment. Just have fun with it.”

In addition to his set at Just for Laughs’ The Ethnic Show and his solo show for Off JFL & Zoofest this year, Dave Merheje can also be seen on the Hulu show, Ramy, where he plays the main character’s devout Muslim friend (a character he says is very different from himself). Check him out.

For tickets go to hahaha.com