Standup comedy is an art form that particularly relies on live audience interaction. Comics frequently tour the world and perform in front of as many crowds as possible. That’s exactly what DeAnne Smith was doing until COVID-19 hit.

“I had just moved to LA in January,” Smith told me in a phone interview, “and spent the first few months travelling back and forth to Canada and around the US as per usual. Luckily I had already decided I wouldn’t go back to Australia this year in 2020 and that is part of my usual routine as well.

Everything halted for me in March and my whole touring calendar just got completely cleared out. I’ve been stationary in LA since March, which is truly the first time in about 14 years of doing comedy that I’ve been in the same place for so long. So it’s really different.”

After a few months of appearing in other comedians’ remote shows, Smith decided to try something new: hosting a monthly comedy shows on Zoom. It’s called DeAnne Smith and Acquaintances and you can access it through Smith’s Instagram or Twitter (which are also worth following in general).

“It’s at least a way to feel connected to people,” Smith said, “and to feel a little bit of a sense of community like it would have been if we were all in person.”

While still missing the large in-person group experience, Smith is able to re-create the live show feeling somewhat by performing to a visible audience that have the option of unmuting themselves and laughing and interacting for all to hear.

“In some ways it’s more intimate because I’m literally seeing people’s names on the screen and their faces and they’re all very well lit up,” Smith observed, “in a comedy room a lot of times you can see the first one or two rows and that’s it, but you don’t know people’s name or see their living room or their cat. I’m trying to focus on the ways in which online performances can be more intimate and more interesting than the live performances we’re all used to.”

At Just for Laughs this year, Smith will be part of a different type of live online performance with Hannah Gadsby. The pair will appear as part of the festival’s Conversations with Funny People series.

While they were initially offered a moderator, the two comics who have been friends for well over a decade (Gadsby even sublets her place in LA to Smith when she’s in Australia) opted for a different approach to the show.

Smith gave me the scoop:

“I had this goofy idea that I’m really surprised she went for. I have these little cards that I picked up at a sex shop once and they’re called Speed Dating Questions and they’re just like little get-to-know-you questions. We’ve been friends for so long and there’s still a lot of stuff we don’t know about each other, so we’re going to be reading these goofy speed-dating questions back and forth and answering them for each other.

I think it will be a really fun thing for us to do as friends and she has such a huge fanbase that I don’t think has probably seen her in this way before, so I think it will be really interesting for people.”

Smith lived in Montreal before moving to LA and hasn’t ruled out returning for more than a JFL visit:

“There is a chance I might come and live there. Everything is very uncertain at the moment, so I don’t really know where I’m going to land.

What I miss about Montreal is really hard to articulate. There’s a special quality to the city…Let me try and explain it through an anecdote:

When I lived in Montreal, I had these two friends who knew each other through me and they had known each other for at least five years. They had Thanksgiving dinners together. I mean they knew each other. About five years into them knowing each other, one of them flipped and said something about their career and the other one said ‘Oh, I never knew what you did!’

And I thought that is so special that in Montreal, it’s just not so career driven. It’s focused on everything else. These people who had known each other for five years never once started a conversation with ‘What do you do?'”

Conversations with Funny People Featuring Hannah Gadsby and DeAnne Smith streams live on Saturday, October 10th at 10pm for FREE and will be available through Video on Demand through October 11th at midnight

Comedian and writer Jenny Hagel has good advice for aspiring writers: just write….but also…fake it ‘til you make it. I chatted with Jenny Hagel recently about the writing process, as well as her upcoming appearance at this year’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, which, like most live entertainment events in 2020, will be held online.

Jenny Hagel has a graduate degree in Writing for the Screen and Stage, and cut her comedy teeth while performing for five years with Chicago’s legendary improv troupe, The Second City. Hagel has written for many comedy TV shows over the years, and currently performs and writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers.

While she won’t get the chance to perform in Montreal for this year’s (online) Just for Laughs Festival, she has visited before, and the town left her feeling all warm and fuzzy. Tired of people kissing Montreal’s ‘Charming European’ ass, I worried that Montreal was getting smug, and asked Hagel if there was anything that miffed her about Montreal.

“My brother lived there for a little while, I used to visit him and man, what a beautiful, beautiful place. No, I probably have a different baseline for miffed, because I’ve lived in New York, so when I go to any other city, I go ‘These people’s manners are amazing!’”

My French is terrible though…I speak Spanish, I don’t speak any French. The one time I drove to Montreal, I listened to a French CD in the car the whole way up there, trying to learn phrases, to be a polite traveller, to be able to have some phrases when I got there. I’ll be honest, it was years ago, so those phrases have all left my mind. I tried at least, although I’m sure people in Montreal, when they heard my French accent for one second were like ‘No no, this does not help.’

But when I travel, I always feel the weight of the stereotype of the terrible American tourist, so I try very hard to be a one-person goodwill ambassador. I’ve tried really hard to reset that balance.”

Jenny Hagel’s upcoming Just for Laughs show with Amber Ruffin (Drunk History, The Second City, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Amber Ruffin Show), Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be live and unscripted. I asked Hagel if she had any memorable improv calamities she wanted to share.

“Oh absolutely. One time when I was touring with The Second City we were doing a show, and the whole audience was a convention of economists, and I’m sure are very interested in economics, but they were not interested in laughing. At least they were not interested in the jokes we were providing, and it was truly, truly, a gruelling and silent 90 minutes, I’ll never forget it.

I think about 45 minutes in, I thought ‘Well I took two semesters of economics in college, I’m sure I can pull out some fun economic references,’ and I really tried, and they were also not interested in those. I think I tried to pull out something about a PPF curve or something, I really was digging deep. Nothing worked. It was really a rough hour and a half of my life.”

Hagel went on to describe the format of this weekend’s Just for Laughs show, where she and Amber Ruffin ‘will be asking each other questions that they have not seen before.’

Basically we’re going to be interviewing each other. We’ve done a lot of panels in our lives where the moderators ask the two of us questions, but this one, we don’t have a moderator, so I’m going to interview Amber, she’s going to interview me, we’re going to go back and forth, so we each have a list of questions the other hasn’t seen.

We each dug up a clip of the other one performing — I don’t know if it will be embarrassing, but it will be something that the other person doesn’t know is going to be shown, so it’ll be fun. When you do a certain number of panels, over time you start to get the same questions over and over, so I think it will be fun to answer questions that we weren’t expecting.

Oh, and I’d love for people to check out The Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock if they’re able to.”

Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin also plan on discussing their approach to writing, and will be giving advice for aspiring writers. I asked Hagel if she could give us an overview of her advice for writers.

“I think I would just say write. I mean nobody wants to hear that, it’s not sexy advice, but it is the most real advice. The best thing you can do if you want to write is just write.

The best thing you can do when an opportunity comes along is to be prepared and have a bunch of writing to show someone. Like (if they say) ‘Hey, I saw you before, you’re great, do have any writing samples?’ If you haven’t written them it is too late, because they want them then.

Or they’ll be like ‘Hey can I see them tomorrow?’ You can’t go home and stay up all night and write a body of work, so the best thing you can do is be writing all the time.

“If you have one particular writing form you are trying to succeed in, write that as much as you can. If you are interested in a bunch of different writing forms, try them all out, and do them over and over again.

“At Late Night with Seth Meyers, I write monologue jokes, and I did not know how to do that originally. I learned how to do it by applying to late night jobs.

One time I had to do an application, I watched several monologues by the host of the show I was applying to and I transcribed them. Then I looked at them on paper and said ‘OK how do these feel?’ and then I wrote a bunch of stuff. I’m sure they were very terrible at the beginning, and a little bit less terrible later on, and slightly less terrible after that.

And over time, it’s just truly like going to the gym and doing reps. I think the best thing you can do as a writer is just keep writing, and it may not feel like it’s getting better, but it is.”

I expressed my admiration for Hagel’s old school ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ attitude, and meekly mentioned the growing pile of Idiot’s Guides I have piled on my coffee table.

“But that’s OK, as long as you’re doing it. It sounds silly, but I like to run, and I am not a world-class athlete at all, but I know that every time I run, I go a little bit farther, and my legs are a little bit stronger. You don’t want to strive to wake up one morning and be a genius, you want to be just a little bit better each time.

You also want to know that every once in a while, no matter how good you get, you’re going to write something that stinks. That happens to me every week — I turn in so many things each week that inevitably, many of them, I would say most of them, are rejected.

And your job is just to keep coming up with new things, and it’s OK — some will be great, some will stink, a lot will be somewhere in the middle, and all of that is OK.”

Hagel and I discussed how writers have to learn how to be prepared to deal with endless rejection…

“But I don’t even think of it as rejection, I think of it like…if you watch someone play baseball, you watch somebody take a bunch of swings, right? Every time a batter misses a ball, it’s not rejection, it’s just ‘OK, well that one didn’t connect. So let’s hope the next one connects.’”

On comedians/late night comedy in the COVID-19 era:

“You know that’s a great question. I think ‘comedians’ is such a big category, and there are so many different forms comedy can take, that I don’t think that there can be one answer to that.

I know for television, during the spring and summer, a lot of late night shows found ways to tape from home — do safe, remote work, and I think that’s what helped late night shows survive. Now some of those shows are starting to bring it back — like the host is in the studio, and SNL had a small audience last week.

So I think that the way comedy is surviving is the way that we are all surviving, in general in the world, which is to continue to adapt to each new phase of the pandemic, to each new challenge that the pandemic brings.”

On the challenges of doing comedy without a live audience:

“I think you just have to go more on gut, like when you’re writing a late night show that has an audience, then the audience tells you what works and what doesn’t, right? And I think without the audience, you have to go with your gut.

One thing I have really liked about that, and not to say that the pandemic is good, but I feel that an interesting outcome of it, is that I think that shows have started to gravitate a little more to their own weird, quirky personalities, because then it becomes less about writing and choosing jokes by committee.

Then it becomes more like, ‘OK, what is the culture, what is the belief set, the comedic taste of this show?’ It emerges a little bit more specifically, which is interesting to see. But I certainly wouldn’t take this over a normal world, where we all get to be together.”

I asked Hagel if she ever wrote jokes that were so outrageous or ridiculous that she never expected them to get on the air at Late Night with Seth Meyers.

“I think that happens all the time, like if you write enough jokes in a row, you stop being able to tell what’s funny to other people. It probably happens at least once a week where I’m like ‘Oh really? OK!’ and then meanwhile, there are other jokes that I think are a complete slam-dunk and my boss will be like ‘Pass,’ and I’m like ‘Really…OK.’”

“That’s absolutely one (Hagel’s ‘How to Properly Wash your hands’ skit) where I pitched it and was like ‘Well obviously this is not gonna get approved,’ and boy, to my surprise, the next thing I knew, the props department was building a bunch of different skeleton hands for me.”

On the 2020 COVID-19 “everything on Zoom” reality:

“I don’t know, I think it’s a mixed bag, I think everybody thinks it’s a mixed bag. There are some days when I think it really helps, like one day recently where I had a crummy day, and it just happened that a group of women that I’m friends with, one of them texted ‘Hey should we all Zoom tonight?’ Fifteen minutes later we were all on Zoom with a glass of wine, and it really helped.

And then there are some days where I feel like if I have to look at one more human face on a screen I’ll die. So I think it’s probably like a weird blessing and a curse to me, and to everybody — I think we’re getting both a little bit of solace and a little bit of loneliness from it at the same time.”

Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.

Stand-up comic Andy Kindler loves Montreal. He loves it so much that he’s even (half?) joking about moving here one day. He loves the rest of Canada too, for that matter. Well, most of the rest of Canada.

During my recent chat with him, I got the impression that he was a low-key Canada-phile — he knew quite a bit about our geography, culture, politics, hockey, official languages, and he even had a shocking position on The Great Bagel Debate.

Andy Kindler is a stalwart comedy veteran from Queens, New York, known not just for his well-honed stand-up routine (with appearances at the Just For Laughs Nasty Show), but also for his recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, and his many appearances on Late Show with David Letterman. He is also a contributor to the Daily Show, and is the voice of Mort on Bob’s Burgers.

Local comedy fans may know Kindler from his legendary State of the Industry Addresses at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. Andy Kindler has given the speech, which has become a cult institution among comedy fans and industry insiders alike, every year since 1996.

Of course, this year’s address, his 25th, will be a little different, given 2020’s quote-unquote “uncertain times.” To be read in that gravelly voice that radiates grim empathy…you know, the voice that now narrates every commercial…

I asked Kindler how stand-up comedians were faring during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown, especially when a live audience is the lifeblood of the industry.

“I mean everyone is scrambling. I started doing Cameo…do you have Cameo up there? Like if you want a comedian or celebrity to wish you happy birthday or give you a pep talk, you go on Cameo. So what I’ve learned from that is that people will not pay $45 to hear me say happy birthday…but they will pay $35! So if I needed the cold slap of reality in my face, I know what I’m worth now.

The other thing is that I’m doing this speech for the first time virtually from home, and I actually think I’m the only person who looks forward to not having an audience. I mean I know it’s gonna be weird, but so many times I spent in the past castigating the people who aren’t laughing.

And I won’t be sitting down for the speech, I’m gonna put a little effort into it, I’ll be standing. And I’ll be dressed nicely from the waist up. I always dress nice, my mother used to say ‘You mean you wouldn’t wanna wear a dress shirt, open-necked?’ You always gotta have a nice shirt.”

While on the topic of virtual comedy, I asked Kindler about how he has taken to the whole ‘everything online’ zeitgeist of 2020.

“Well in some ways I feel like there’s a green, eco-friendly side to this, and a lazy side to it where I would love to, in the future, not go back to going in for every interview. I actually like going in the studio, but I do think that in some ways, that having Zoom, you can do a lot of things that you had to be in person for, but you can do them remotely now, so I think we’ve learned things that way. It also makes you really focus on what you’re doing because you have so much time on your hands. But obviously I think we’re all hoping it (COVID-19) lifts.”

This being Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address, I asked him to comment on the most notable changes in the industry since he gave his first address.

“Yeah, it’s an unbelievable anniversary, unbelievable that I keep the streak going. I think in 1996 it started. So what happened is the first time I came to the festival (Just For Laughs) was ’93, and I had written an article for National Lampoon called The Hack Comic’s Handbook, you can find it on my website.

Then I did a live demonstration of hack comedy in 1995, and Bruce Hills (President, Just For Laughs) said ‘Why don’t you do another speech?’ and then my manager came up with the idea to roast the industry, and it just became a thing, like a summer camp kind of tradition where I would just give the speech.

I think that what’s changed for sure, is that when I first started coming to the festival in ‘93, it was right when a lot of comics were getting sitcom deals from comedy festivals — you had Raymond (Romano), Tim Allen — all these people got deals from the festival, so you had a lot of presidents of the networks there, so there was more of a charged atmosphere. Everybody knew what sitcoms were coming out and all that kind of thing, so it was…not easier, but I knew how to focus it better.

Now, it’s to the point where there’s no fall TV season. I mean yeah, there are fall TV shows, but it’s all changed. But I kind of like it now, because I like the festival now, not the virtual version, but I’ve liked the festivals in the past few years because it feels like people were up there to have fun. And there are actually really great fans in Montreal.”

The most pressing issue Kindler addressed was whether he would bring up Louis C.K.’s penis, which he has discussed at his previous two addresses. We also discussed who else in the industry deserves to be blasted in this year’s address.

“Nah…you know, I think at this point I will get off of his penis (chuckles), but I probably will bring him in at some point. But you know what, there are so many other people to talk about. Like Joe Rogan. And it used to be I would make fun of Jay Leno, but I kind of want to apologize to him because I used to make fun of him just for having bad comedy…but now, with Adam Corolla, he’s not just a horrible comedian, he’s also saying that COVID-19 is fake.

And everybody is going after Chris D’Elia as a person, but let’s not forget that he was also a horrible comedian. What he was doing on stage, it was also a crime.

So I don’t know exactly how I’m going to tackle this thing, but I am totally going to tackle this idea of these people who weren’t very good at stand-up comedy who have gone into things like…Adam Corolla does shows with Dennis Prager and all this right-wing media about how there are no safe spaces on campus, it is a very odd and disturbing trend, so I’m gonna analyse that a little bit.”

No interview with a New Yorker is complete without getting their take on the great Montreal vs. New York Bagel Debate, and Andy Kindler’s response genuinely surprised me. Poutine, and other Montreal and Canada-related topics were touched upon in this exchange, and his proficiency in French also came up.

“Well certain things about Montreal are always going to be great. The bagels will always be the greatest in the world. I decided to try Montreal bagels one year, and they’re lighter and they’re sweeter (than New York bagels). I took a bunch of them to my family in Long Island, and they didn’t travel well, and they made fun of me for years. But overall I much prefer, right out of the oven, a Montreal bagel.

I don’t know what it’s called…oh yeah, the smoked meat. When I first tried it, it was ‘Oh my God it’s the greatest thing in the world,’ but that did wear off. And let me say something…not that anyone cares about poutine, but there’s nothing charming about it. It’s a national joke, right?

But what am I complaining about? It’s really hard, coming from LA or New York to complain about Montreal, I mean when I first went there in the 1990s, I was single at the time, women’s legs were taller than me, I couldn’t even believe it. And the French, everything French, I just love it. And the food, the French food…it’s really hard to get tired of it. But I will say this — Montreal is very touristy.”

When the topic of politics was sideswiped, Kindler brought up a Canadian political figure I was not expecting.

“You know what, I like that Chrystia Freeland. I don’t like Bill Maher, I can’t watch him anymore, but I used to like her when she’d go on Bill Maher. You know, Canadians are better people than Americans. I know you have prejudice up there, and I know you have First Nations issues, but anything bad you’ve got, down here, it’s dwarfed — we’ve done it worse and with less taste.”

On performing in Canada’s Western provinces:

“I remember going out west, it was the late ‘80s early ‘90s, that’s how old I am, I used to play the Western part, and I remember I used to bomb a lot. I was bombing in Edmonton…these crowds were not for me, and the bartender was like ‘Yeah it’s hard to impress us because we have everything here.’ Y’know, they’d just won all those Stanley Cups, so they were very smug in Edmonton. But it’s pretty amazing how diverse the crowds in Canada are, from Halifax and Vancouver, to Montreal.”

On speaking French:

“I speak French very poorly. I took French in grade school, it was terrible, it was in New York and Queens: ‘Bone-jouar class…ou est le porte, ou est le fenêtre?’…so when I go into a room (in Montreal) now, it’s ‘Where is the window, where is the door?’”

On Donald Trump:

“At least you have a regular government there. I’m gonna get in trouble, but (Trudeau isn’t bad) compared to a fascistic madman running around. Well you know the thing is, there’s a Comedy Central clip…there used to be a show on Comedy Central called The Root of all Evil, Louis Black hosted it, and I actually argued that Donald Trump was the root of all evil, and I was making fun of Trump University. So I don’t want to say I’m a seer, but I pride myself on being the first person to compare Trump to Hitler. At least Hitler was a veteran. So that’s basically my take on it.

So you know I’m holding on by my elbows, or whatever you hold onto when you’re trying to keep yourself suspended over a vat of hot oil. I just can’t think past November, I think America is going to be sunk as a country if Trump gets re-elected. We’re in such a deep hole, because it literally is like Orwellian times a million.

Everybody he puts in every department knows nothing about the department, and just wants to undo that department. There are so many parallels (to Hitler), I mean people in the conservative Weimar government, they thought they could play ball with Hitler, people made fun of him. He obviously was smarter than Trump, there are so many parallels — he looked like a crazy man with the way he talked and everything. Actually Trump looks a lot like Mussolini, you know how he shakes his head up and down, self-satisfied.

I don’t think he’s gonna win. I think he might implode before, he’s going nuts I think now, it’s really crazy. That Mary Trump book, I got it and I love it. You really see how he is a sociopath. That will never change (Trump’s support from his base), it will always be about that 40%, but I don’t think he’s gonna get people coming onto him like he did four years ago, I think people are scared of him.”

(Ed’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the news that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19)

What else Andy Kindler is working on:

“I do a podcast called Thought Spiral, and my co-host is Josh Elvis Weinstein, he used to be on Mystery Science Theater 3000. We advertise it as ‘Two jews, two microphones, two hours,’ so it’s basically us just bantering, I really love it. It took me a long time to love it, because it’s a different kind of skill, but we’ve been doing it for three years, so if you need more of me, that’s where I would go to. And I do have an album that’s still available in digital download anytime you want, it couldn’t be any less COVID dangerous.

You know what? You want an answering machine message? I’ll do it for you for $25.”

Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.

This time of year, the world’s largest comedy festival Just for Laughs is normally in full swing in Montreal (and we’re generally knee-deep in coverage). We knew a few months ago that 2020 would be different, with the festival officially pushed back to the fall.

Today JFL announced that the entire event will take place over two days, October 9th and 10th, and be entirely online. This is due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the surrounding uncertainty over what type of event they would be able to run, given the heavy presence of international talent usually relies on.

“With no precise indication of when borders will reopen, and faced with soaring demand for high-quality digital comedy content, we’ve made the decision to move our festival online,” JFL President Bruce Hills said in a press release, “while always maintaining our focus on the excellence of our offerings – an excellence that is recognized and appreciated throughout the world.”

Just for Laughs is still sorting out the details, but so far we know that this year’s festival will consist of comedy performances, panels, conversations, gatherings and events. They promise to do their best to recapture the feel of the in-person festival as much as possible and that most of the festival will be free to virtually attend.

While the English event will be 100% virtual, its sister festival Juste pour rire will offer a combination of in-person, pre-recorded and virtual performances. According to Charles Décarie, President and CEO of the Just For Laughs Group:

“More than ever, we want to maintain our position as an industry leader by creating innovative comedy events that allow our artists to work and to make the highest-quality comedy available to the public. Despite all the changes our industry has been going through, the most important thing for us is to satisfy our festival-goers. We’re sparing no effort to present the best festival possible, while respecting the health measures that are in force.”

For more information: hahaha.com

Just for Laughs, a staple of Montreal’s summer festival season and the largest comedy festival in the world, will still take place in 2020, just a little later than  anticipated. Due to the developing COVID-19 pandemic, organizers have postponed the festival, until fall. Originally slated for July, JFL, which features a large slate of international acts along with local comics, will now take place September 29th through October 11th.

“We are energized by the ability of our teams to adapt to current conditions and present a festival redesigned in its form and content as early as the fall,” Just for Laughs Group President and CEO Charles Décarie said in a press release. “If the situation permits, we will resume work in the interim and thus be able to play an important role in reviving the cultural sector, but also in the social healing that we all need.”

Organizers are looking at several possible scenarios for staging the outdoor portions of the festival, but that will depend,of course, on social gathering restrictions. JFL will honour festival passports purchased for the summer event at shows in the fall.

This information comes two days after the Montreal Fringe Festival decided to postpone its 2020 edition to summer 2021. We also learned today that both the Montreal Jazz Festival and Les FrancoFolies are cancelled for this year.

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.

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Trevor Noah about to take the stage at #jflmtl

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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