When I settled in for Tommy Tiernan’s latest Just for Laughs solo show Tomfoolery, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean I really had no clue.

The show was recommended to me and all I knew going in was that Tiernan is a comedian, Irish, and clearly doesn’t mind a solid name pun in his show title (but who doesn’t). That and some of my colleagues had seen him at previous JFLs and said he was great.

So without as much as a glance at him on YouTube, I sat down in the Gesù among a packed house of people who, for the most part, were familiar with Tiernan. We were treated to an hour of very intimate, sometimes physical, frequently quite dark, largely observational comedic storytelling.

The lack of a visible mic, mic stand and glass of water, the expected props of a standup set, let Tiernan move around the space and contort his body to play some of the characters in his stories. It felt more like a one-man theatre show, but with plenty of laughs, some of them uncomfortable laughs.

Tiernan’s subject matter ranged from the domestic (including a great, crowd-pleasing impression of his favourite dog) to finally flying again to a bunch of stuff that if I was going to put trigger warnings in front of them, I’d probably have to use them all. Yes, the show gets quite dark, and the humour comes from Tiernan’s reaction to that darkness, generally as a participant in the story he is telling.

He is a compelling storyteller who really knows how to draw the audience in with softer, more serious tones before the punchline. The thing is, the serious part is as real as the joke, and both make a point.

There is something in Tiernan’s delivery and approach that reminds me of later George Carlin material. Funny because it’s serious, true and making a point.

The one part of the show that didn’t land, at least not with me and some of the audience, was Tiernan’s bit about the Pope’s visit to Canada to apologize to the First Nations. I wasn’t really sure what angle his sarcasm was coming from.

Barring that, this was a compelling and funny show. It obviously isn’t for everyone, but those who like their humour a bit uncomfortable and dark will love it.

Tommy Tiernan: Tomfoolery runs three more times, July 28, 29 and 30, at Gesù, 1200 de Bleury, tickets available through hahaha.com

So after a two year hiatus the full version of Osheaga is finally back! Yes there was a smaller version last fall and yes concerts have been back for a while, but this is still a big deal for Montreal music fans.

As usual we at FTB aren’t going to preview the Dua Lipas or Arcade Fires of the world since you know who they are already. Here is some lesser known talent to put on your radar if you’re planning to attend any or all of the three days of fun in the sun this weekend.

This comes with the standard disclaimer: This list is completely biased, unsystematically researched and only meant to inspire you to do your own digging about who’s playing.

Boy Golden

The show I’m the most curious about is Canadian alt rock/country singer, spiritual advisor and mullet enthusiast Boy Golden. His online promotion flirts with the line between cult leader and musician in a very tongue in cheek way and his songs are perfect to listen to on a warm summer day.

His latest album The Church of Better Daze seems to be attracting many converts to his ministry and on Sunday at 2 pm on the Mountain Stage you can check it out for yourself.

Les Louanges

The last time the Fest was in full swing I randomly stumbled into a set by an artist I’d never heard before and was immediately hooked on the warm fuzzy sounds coming from the stage . A short check of the program later, I figured out it was Quebec native Les Louanges.

He’s back again this year on the Tree Stage, Friday night at 7:45 pm. I’ll be checking out his set again, but this time not by chance.

Mitski

Speaking of Osheaga veterans, Mitski is also performing in back-to-back (with a covid hiatus) years. Last time I was super impressed by her energy and stage presence.

Back in February she released her latest album Laurel Hell and I’m excited to hear the new tracks live. She’ll be on the Mountain Stage, Saturday at 6:35 pm.

Idles

My “I don’t really know them but let’s give it a shot” pick this year is British rock band Idles. When I’m trying to decide who to check out for a festival I usually steer towards live performances as the best method of assessment.

I happened to land on the one below and was completely blown away. The energy from this band is just amazing and they didn’t even have a crowd to feed off of for this performance. They’ll be playing the Green Stage, Sunday at 9:20pm.

Les Street Monkeys

The latest Indie sensation is a Cambodian fusion band out of Montreal with tunes that have been inspired by… nah I can’t keep this up. Les Street Monkeys is a restaurant in Verdun and they’re the food truck I’m most excited to try now that Grumman ’78 is no more.

The part about being Cambodian was true and their menu looks pretty awesome. They’ll be playing the food truck area all weekend long.

Osheaga 2022 runs July 29, 30 and 31. Tickets and info at osheaga.com

More previews tomorrow and full coverage this weekend on FTB

Big time journalists probably don’t get super excited and tell all their friends who they’re going to interview, but I sure do. Responses usually come in a mixed bag of people who are impressed, and people who have no idea who I’m talking about, but are happy I’m happy.

When I faux casually told everyone I know that I’d be speaking with Pete Holmes, I discovered how universally appreciated he is. Everyone cited a different project they liked, from College Humor’s Badman, to his most recent foray into network TV, How We Roll.

The more people I spoke to and research I did, the more I realized what an extensive catalogue Pete has; you can be a fan of some of his work, and never even realize all the other projects he’s got going on. Did you know he did a stint as a New Yorker cartoonist? I didn’t.

His 2017 semi-autobiographical HBO show Crashing (which he executive produced with Judd Apatow), put him on the map for a lot of people. It ran for three seasons, and still has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 90%.

His book, Comedy Sex God, came out the next year. Billed as “part autobiography, part philosophical inquiry, and part spiritual quest”, he can now add successful author to his ever growing repertoire.

I first saw him as a podcast guest, which led me to his stand-up, and his own popular pod You Made It Weird where he talks to a wide range of people from actor Ben Stiller to author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, often co-hosted by his wife Val.

He seems to have some unassuming magick that allows him to meet people where they are in a really authentic way, and I ask him if that took practice:

“Well, I think that’s actually the whole thing, isn’t it? Not just for comedians, but just for human beings. The people in my life that I find the most frustrating are the people that don’t seem to be doing the work to, just for its own sake, become more authentic; for its own pleasure, get in touch with how they really feel, with what they’re actually afraid of, with what actually makes them happy — and to stop doing an impression of what they think their parents wanted them to be, or their city wants them to be, or their culture wants them to be, and do the work to figure out who they actually are, and then share of themselves with the people that support that and encourage that.”

While it’s all relative, it’s fair to say that growing and aging are very different things, and without intention, time has a nasty habit of just passing.

“A lot of times I get on the phone with like, old friends that I haven’t talked to in 20 years, and I’m like, oh right, not everybody’s doing this; not everyone’s putting in the effort, And I’m just talking to their dads right now…It sounds pessimistic. I just mean, I think the job of a comedian and the job of a happy person are pretty much the same thing, which is to dig deep, figure out who you are, figure out what actually does it for you, and then present that to people, and find like minded people.”

I tell him that he comes across as a well adjusted adult, especially for a comedian. I wonder if this creates a divide in his comedy life: does he find himself gravitating to those who are doing the work, sometimes quite publicly? Do the spirit nerds, therapy lovers, 12 steppers, et al find themselves on one side of the room?

“You know, it’s funny, I love them all. You know, in fact, when I do Montreal, and I get to hang out with — maybe they are adjusted, but let’s just say they’re more like what I call the pirate comedian, you know, traveling around, swashbuckling, swabbing the deck, killing crowds, destroying, murdering and drinking rum — I love them too…It’s not even ‘too’, like I love them just as much.

“…There’s different aspects to my personality as well. Meaning it’s not just the chipper guy, or the the spiritual guy, or the philosophical guy, or whatever. There’s also, you know, Montreal is home to Mean Pete; Mean Pete does the roasts, Mean Pete will jump on Jim Norton’s show. I love roasting, I love being an asshole for fun, and getting rough and tumble if that’s the game we’re playing. Because, yeah, I mean, it’s beautiful. It’s fun. I love comedians.”

Considering the pandemic forced hiatus that performing in general and the Just For Laughs Festival in particular is returning from, I ask if being back on the road with everyone is akin to a class reunion.

“I think of it more as like a summer camp reunion, because class reunions are tricky. It was always better for me. I was always more of a camp kid than a school kid. You know, I did a festival not that long ago…in Austin, it was the Moontower Fest — and there’s just something very special about…taking the elevator down to the lobby, thinking you’re gonna go eat alone, which is often what you’ll do when you’re traveling, and you run into one person in the lobby, and as you walk to lunch, you run into another person, and by the time you get there, there’s as a party of five, and that’s uniquely a comedy fest experience.”

A spirit nerd myself, one of my favorite definitions of God is a Pete Holmes quote where he said something to the effect of: God is the name we give to the blanket we throw over the mystery in the dark to give it form. His Wikipedia page is more concise, if perhaps less accurate about his spiritual leanings, saying “he now refers to himself as ‘Christ-leaning’ or jokingly a ‘Hooraytheist'”. He’s a bit too busy to be reading his own Wiki though, so he had no idea (when I asked him about it, I misquoted it as Christian-leaning).

“Yeah…interesting. I’m gonna have to edit that.”

But it was Hooraytheism that really piqued my interest.

“It’s like trying to talk about Christian or Jewish people. There’s no way to categorize all of them. But some atheists can be bitter, right? They’re a little upset that this is all a cosmic mistake, and it’s bullshit — this isn’t all of them, but a ton of them. And that’s why when I started to meet more delightful, optimistic, joyful atheists– to sort of have the perspective of like, more, I don’t know what’s going on; I don’t think there’s a God on the evidence, but I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t understand what’s going on, but it’s precious and it’s fleeting, so let’s watch a sunset, let’s have an ice cream, let’s fall in love. Penn Gillette is always my go to example of a truly beautiful atheist. I was like we need a new term, and we should call them Hooraytheists.”

“When you grow up thinking that you are going to be sentenced to conscious, eternal torment for believing the wrong things or not believing correctly enough or hard enough, or for whatever sin you think you’re guilty as you think you’re going to be going to hell, it’s actually quite a relief to think that when you die you go into a void or into nothingness. I mean, don’t get me started with the Buddhists. The reincarnation people, which are Hindus, and Buddhists, would say it’s wishful thinking to be a modern Western atheist that we’re gonna die and just go into the void. The Hindus are actually working really hard to clean up their game so they can earn the right to merge into the nothingness…We’re the new generation and we want the void now.”

Pete got his start as one of JFL’s New Faces in 2009, and now he’s back to host. I asked if he gets a sneak peek of the lineup.

“…It’s supposed to be super hush hush and this year, I don’t know who the people are. And it’s exciting to find out… I guess I could say the same reason fans are going to the new faces show is the same reason I’m going, it’s because I want to be introduced to the new talent…Honestly, the more successful you get, the more isolated you can become…you just aren’t out there as much. It doesn’t matter what profession you’re in, this is true.”

“But Montreal has always been a great opportunity to like, get back together. Like, that’s really the paradox is when you start comedy, it’s a group activity. It’s you and 15 other people that you’re starting with, and you all go to the same open mics together, so you’re like a platoon. But then when you get success, you become like a hitman that travels alone, and does the job alone, and comes back alone. And that’s not as lonely as it sounds, but it’s not as fun as what it feels like when you’re all together. Which is what Montreal feels like.”

Catch Pete Holmes & Friends this Friday. Also this Friday, he’s part of the Patton Oswalt Gala. He’s hosting New Faces 1&2, and New Faces Unrepped. He’s also doing a live You Made It Weird podcast on July 30

Legendary British actor Malcolm McDowell is in Montreal this week for a special Just For Laughs event promoting his CBC comedy series Son of a Critch. Going by a story he told at the recent Montreal Comic Con, however, we should consider ourselves lucky he’s here at all.

During the course of his hour-long panel at the Con, the prolific performer fielded questions from fans about his work in everything from A Clockwork Orange and Heroes to Star Trek and Halloween, all while dropping hints that one of his worst professional experiences was somehow linked to MTL. When someone finally found the courage to ask him outright what had happened, McDowell spilled the beans in his inimitable fashion.

“I’ll tell you this – the only time I was ripped off by a producer was in Montreal. That is the only time in a 60-year career that I was actually not paid. They paid half and suddenly on the last day of shooting I get a call from my agent in LA who goes, ‘Stop working! Don’t do anything else!’ and I went, ‘It’s the last day – are you kidding me? That’s no threat. They’ve got everything they need!’”

After the crowd’s laughter died down, the 79-year-old recalled exactly which project had ripped him off. “It was a remake of The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” he remembered with a chuckle. “They paid me a little bit and still owed me quite a lot of money and then, like five years later, somebody else bought it (…) and I got this call to say, ‘look, German TV will pay you half of your fee. What do you want to do?’ and I went ‘Take it. Absolutely. A half is better than nothing, right?’ So that’s Montreal filmmaking for me!” he quipped. “No, I loved working in this city and it was fantastic, except for that nasty little surprise at the end.”

Pact With The Devil, the Montreal-made picture that failed to properly pay McDowell

Pact with the Devil, also released under the title Dorian, costarred Christoph Waltz and Ethan Erickson and was filmed here in 2002. Thankfully, it’s not the only project McDowell associates with Montreal. “I did a movie here with Mos Def,” he told the crowd, citing 2000’s horror picture Island of the Dead. “It was a cool little movie and the food was good too!” he said of our unparalleled local catering.

“I’ve always loved Montreal. It’s a great city. I’ve had wonderful times here and made some weird little movies here, so it’s a pleasure to be back. I’ve been shooting in Newfoundland doing the second season of Son of a Critch, a show that I absolutely love, and it’s a fantastic place too. I really love being there and I’m going to be there for the next two months.”

Critch is based on the 2018 memoir of the same name written by Mark Critch, of This Hour Has 22 Minutes fame. The comedian stars as his own father in the semi-autobiographical series, which flashes back to his upbringing in the 1980s and features McDowell in the role of grandfather Patrick.

When asked by a convention-goer if he’d been officially ‘screeched in’, he feigned ignorance of the classic Newfie tradition, retorting, “Is this where they hit you over the face with the wet fish?” The tradition actually involves getting newcomers to The Rock to recite a poem, take a shot and kiss a cod. “No, they didn’t do that to me, I’m glad to say,” he remarked before adding, “at this point, I think we’ve probably gone past that. I’m now a sort of honorary Newfoundlander.”

The cast of CBC’s Son of a Critch

“In the new season, I do get to go out fishing for cod with my son Mark Critch, who is a wonderful humorist and terrific writer,” he went on to say. “Of course, things don’t go smoothly and we try to get a bit of comedy out of it, as you might expect. It’s such a fun series. I love it.”

Returning for Just For Laughs, McDowell will be joined by the cast and creative team of Critch for a special panel and discussion this Saturday the 30th at Doubletree by Hilton. It seems a safe bet, however, that his thoughts might also turn to fellow thespian David Warner, as they did during the Comic Con. Warner sadly passed away this week at the age of 80, losing his battle with “a cancer-related illness” after a lengthy career on stage and screen.

Though he is best known to the public for his supporting role in James Cameron’s Titanic and voice work in shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Disney’s Gargoyles, Warner is fondly remembered by McDowell because of their earliest days together in the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“My great mate was David Warner,” McDowell said during the convention, flashing back to Warner’s star turn in 1965, at the age of 24. “David was playing Hamlet. He was the Beatles generation Hamlet and used to get like 300 schoolgirls outside the stage door waiting for him after his performance, all screaming. I mean, it scared him to death, but ahhh…those were the days! It was fun.”

The two would go on to appear in 1979’s Time After Time, where McDowell played H.G. Wells opposite Warner’s Jack The Ripper.

McDowell and Warner in 1979’s Time After Time

In spite of the ups and downs of a life in the limelight, McDowell seems to have weathered the storms no worse for wear. “I’m really having so much fun as an older actor, actually. It’s lovely and delicious, because I get to play the full spectrum of parts now, from serial killers to grandfathers. And yeah, I kind of enjoy playing psychos because you can do things you can’t even dream of as a person. As a character, you can go nuts and have so much fun. And I love doing comedies because it’s the hardest thing to do. Real emoting is really easy, basically, but the real tough stuff is comedy and timing and getting a laugh, especially on film or on television. It’s always very difficult but it’s challenging and I really enjoy it. That’s why I’m doing Son of a Critch.”

Malcolm McDowell and the Son of a Critch cast will take the stage this Saturday July 30th. For ticket information, visit hahaha.com Son of a Critch is broadcast both on CBC and on the CBC GEM streaming service. The next edition of the Montreal Comic Con will be held from the 14th to the 16th of July 2023

The only thing funnier than biting social commentary delivered as comedy is biting comedic social commentary delivered by a species few of us have ever seen or heard of before. That is exactly what you’ll get at Randy Feltface’s solo Off-JFL/Zoofest show Randy Feltface: Alien of Extraordinary Ability.

In my interview with Feltface last week, he told me he hoped audiences would get sixty minutes of pure escapism and contemplation, and that is exactly what he delivered. But there was more to the show than that, and it’s the kind of show that’s hard to review without giving anything away.

I made a point of not watching any video clips of Feltface beforehand, wanting to see what he does with virgin eyes. I walked out still chuckling, with a song stuck in my head and vague memories of animal trivia he shared throughout the show. There were costume changes, and physical changes, and angry rants, and hilarious anecdotes all peppered with a call to action to save our burning and the soulful musings of a creature deeply aware of its own mortality.

Randy Feltface opened his show with a bang, proving that he’s one of the few entertainers who can master musical comedy without the cringe-factor. There were references to Kurt Cobain and Terry Pratchett that would warm any Millennial and sci-fi/fantasy nerd, but there was also anger and frustration and talks of mortality that were easier to take because Feltface looks like someone you’d see at a children’s show but speaks like someone who belongs on any uncensored standup stage at Just for Laughs.

Even my more skeptical plus-one was laughing himself silly though the personal anecdotes, sing-alongs, and critiques of things we’re so used to – like caffeine addiction – that we take for granted. Despite a couple of obnoxiously loud Aussies in the audience determined to show kinship with Feltface, the show was a sheer delight, start to finish, so immersive and memorable and I didn’t need to take notes.

True to Feltface’s words last week, there’s no one else who does quite what he does. If you love entertainment, intelligent yet biting social commentary, animal trivia, and a lot of whimsy, you’re going to love this Alien of Extraordinary Ability.

Randy Feltface plays his solo show at Théatre Sainte-Catherine until July 28 and makes an appearance at The Patton Oswalt Gala on July 29

Mark Forward breaks down his upcoming series of Just for Laughs shows named A Very Mark Forward rather succinctly: “They’re just really stupid, fun, idiotic hours of comedy.”

Each show has a different theme: A Very Mark Forward Safari, A Very Mark Forward Space and A Very Mark Forward Into the Future. They will also each feature two special guest comics, whose names Forward is keeping a secret.

“I have a game plan for each night,” Forward said in a phone interview when asked about his process, “I’ve done a couple of these shows in Toronto to dry run them for Montreal. So, yeah, it’s all written material and then some improv, because I just want to put on shows that are fun, because I think that’s what people need right now.”

While some comics spent the past couple of years when everything was shut down working on material or doing Zoom shows, Forward had a different outlook:

“I enjoyed the time off, to be honest with you. I just enjoyed being at home. And it’s kind of hard getting back out because I just loved the downtime. It was great.”

When that downtime ended, Forward went on a 37-state tour of Letterkenny Live (Forward plays Coach on the Crave comedy which has developed quite the following south of the border).

“So it was like going from nothing to right back into it. And it was comedy overload. It was a lot of fun.”

I asked Forward about his next career steps are now that things are back to normal.

“Oh, man,” he answered, “here’s the thing. I get asked this all the time. I have never thought beyond tomorrow, so I have no idea. I did not expect to still be doing stand up. I did not expect to be on television shows. I’ve been very fortunate and very lucky to constantly find wonderful work, but I really we don’t have a plan.”

One thing he is planning to do, sort term, is take in as much of the rest of the festival as possible. Forward is no stranger to JFL (winning New Faces in 2006, back when it was still called Homegrown) and the Oakville, Ontario native always enjoys his time in Montreal for the fest.

“I love to see the other shows, for sure. I love to see The Alternative Show every night. That sort of really speaks to me. The Alternative Show at midnight, just walking around that city. That city knows fun.”

And if it’s fun you’re looking for, that’s exactly what Forward plans to bring to the stage.

A Very Mark Forward runs July 26th, 28th and 30th, with a fresh show each night. Tickets available through hahaha.com

It’s an understatement to say that JFL’s The Nasty Show is a big deal. The gala is synonymous with the festival (I’d venture that perhaps only New Faces is more widely known). And it is what it says it is: nasty.

Nasty words, nasty concepts, vividly nasty imagery…it is designed to offend in the most uproarious way. Just For Laughs itself bills the show as “hands down the filthiest of the entire festival”. The prim and proper need not attend.

While I did wear my media hat to the event (old school fedora, card that says PRESS), I’m a comedy fan first and foremost. I don’t dissect jokes in search of reasons to be offended; nay, I understand that saying the most inappropriate or unexpected thing is part of the art.

If you can see it coming, it’s not funny. If the jokes were as basic as the puns you keep in your back pocket for emergencies, no one would pay to see it on stage. Laughing is a reflex: I laugh at things I find funny, won’t at things I don’t. Additionally, I laugh like no one’s watching, ‘cuz I don’t actually care about your opinion, so when I tell you I came for the comedy, believe me.

I’m saying all this because it felt like a lot of people came to cover an event they didn’t choose, or got stuck at a table with a co-worker, leaving both too afraid to laugh. Maybe there were just too many scouts and “industry” people, who I assume never laugh authentically.

Just about every comic mentioned the tension in the room, with host Big Jay Oakerson going out of his way to assure the audience that these are jokes, and funnies are different than realsies. (I spoke to him last week, and you should totes read it.)

Josh Adam Myers was a good way to start. He came out with energy, and songs (I was hoping he’d sing!). Don’t get it twisted: he told jokes, and they were funny.

While I was glad to see him live, I expected no less from him. A New Face at JFL 2013, he’s done tons of festivals, loads of touring, and a lot of music. He created and hosts The Goddamn Comedy Jam, a touring show wherein comedians do a set, tell a story, and sing a song of their choice — with a live band. It’s at JFL this year, as a free outdoor show this Wednesday, July 27.

Sophie Buddle was a name I didn’t know at all, so I was stoked for our Canadian content. The Ottawa native received a smattering of boos when she announced that she’d recently moved south of the border, but that’s reasonable. Her set was fun, and I hope to see more of her soon.

Yamaneika Saunders is a Roast Battling Queen, and I was stoked to see her. She’s not only on Jeff Ross’ new Netflix Historical Roasts series, she writes for it too. She’s known for pulling no punches and having no fear, so even though the crowd still seemed reluctant to enjoy themselves, she charged in with steel cervix energy to shake up the room. My face hurt from laughing, plus she had some genius bits that made me look at things from a fresh new angle, and feel like I got a pep talk from a cool chick. Actually factually cannot ask for more out of comedy.

Next up was Liza Trayger. While I recognized her from Your Mom’s House (the popular NSFW podcast hosted by Christina Paszsitzky and her husband Tom Segura), mainstream media consuming folks might recognize her from David Spade’s Lights Out, or Judd Apatow’s King of Staten Island. Again, I knew what to expect (shameless, funny, well thought out jokes), and was glad to get it. I have a hunch we’ll see more of her in the future.

Robert Kelly closed out the show, because well, it couldn’t be any other way. A mainstay of the NYC comedy scene for almost 25 years, host of the You Know What Dude! pod for more than 10, he’s a pro all day. He did cutting crowd work with one hand, and deft self depreciation with the other. His skills were both on point, and full display.

All this to say, the comedy was chef’s kiss, and the comedians deserved far better than the crowd delivered. I’ve never seen such big names with such a tepid crowd.

At one point I caught myself wondering if I was laughing too much, and had to remember that I was at a comedy show…at an internationally renowned comedy festival…laughing at funny things. Frankly, anyone who wasn’t enjoying themselves was doing it wrong.

I felt bad for the comics that we didn’t show them enough love. I feel bad for you now, ‘cuz I can’t repeat any of the jokes or crowd work, and I wish I could, ‘cuz you would laugh too. So go to The Nasty Show while you can; just be sure to leave your clutching pearls at home.

The Nasty Show runs until July 28th. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Big Jay Oakerson is a busy dude. Weekdays, he and fellow comedian Dan Soder co-host The Bonfire on SiriusXM. Twice a week he co-hosts “the most offensive podcast on Earth”, Legion of Skanks with Luis J. Gomez and Dave Smith. And that’s before we even talk about stand-up comedy.

Already this year, Big Jay’s done Bert Kreischer’s Fully Loaded Tour, Kid Rock’s Comedy Jam, and later this year he’ll be recording his special at Skankfest Vegas.

In between it all, he’s back in MTL for JFL’s notorious Nasty Show, this time as host.

Well, when I spoke to him, he was almost here.

“I’m in Oklahoma City. I’m not bragging.” He tells me he was getting some work done on one of his Legion of Skanks tattoos in his hotel room into the wee hours of that morning, which is the low-key rockstar shit I can appreciate. For those keeping score, he currently has five LoS tats, while Luis J. Gomez only has two.

Considering how much he travels, I wonder if there’s anything he does in every city.

“When I was in my 20s, even early 30s…I was so happy to go to another town and as long as possible, you know, they’d be like, well, it’s a Wednesday through Sunday gig. You know, and I’d be like, hell yeah, let’s make it Tuesday. Like, I’d be in a hotel and talk to chicks and blah, blah…have some drinks and everything. And now…at 44 when I’m on the road constantly…my back still hurts from that plane. I pretty much just know my hotel and route to the comedy club and back and then hopefully along the way there’s like a Starbucks, you know, a place to buy cigarettes.”

Traveling during the lockdown did provide some rare opportunities though.

“I was hitting the road for some things when it was you and nine other people on a jumbo jet. And that was fun.”

The road in this current period is more confusing.

“I put no politics into any of this kind of shit at all but…with the masks, you’re just like ‘so, it’s just okay now?’ That’s the funny thing about being in the middle of things like that and not political, because there’s such a staunch thing of people like ‘the masks are bullshit, and it’s just the flu or whatever’. And I’m like, I don’t know about that. And then people that are like, you know, ‘mask up this thing is deadly, it’s killing everybody, and it’s …the worst thing in the world’. Like, I don’t know if it’s that serious…It’s like when they have the masks off…okay, I’ll take the mask off. But like, should we be taking the masks off?”

In a time where everyone has an opinion and soapboxes are more available than ever, it does become tricky deciding who to believe on just about every subject.

“I’m so…swayed…easily on things… The person who I deem to be a little smarter says it and I’ll just roll with that…I’m always a documentary away from changing my opinions completely.”

“…I always use the example of Fahrenheit 911…When it was over I was like, George Bush maybe should be charged with war crimes…And then they made a documentary called Fahrenhype 911…the counterpoint to that, and when that was over, I was like, the guy’s just trying to do his job, man. I mean, president’s a hard job.”

Insight into self is rare enough, but Big Jay goes a step farther with uncanny insight into others. He has a unique knack for embodying a character in the moment; creating inner dialogue improv, or an off the cuff narrative. I ask if he’s always been a people watcher.

“You know, it’s funny…when I first started comedy, it was in Philadelphia, and it was an all black comedy club. And me and Kurt Metzger, another brilliant comic…we were in this black comedy club, and… I looked the part… that worked in that kind of room; Kurt couldn’t have been more like, khaki pants and you know, Quicksilver shirt, white art school kid…When it went bad on stage at these places, you get chewed up by an all black audience who’s coming at you…they’re not just saying ‘you suck, boo’, they’re going ‘look at your shoes’.”

“…So me and Kurt used to go to the DMV in South Jersey, and just sit on a bench outside of it…every kind of person is walking into the DMV every day… we would just like, tear each person walking by apart, just to ourselves…That’s actually how I worked that muscle…It got to a point where it’s like, I don’t know if my jokes are going to be good in this black comedy club, but if somebody starts…heckling me…it was almost like a relief. You’re like, okay, I can definitely do this.”

In addition to hosting the Nasty Show, Big Jay’s also performing at Marc Maron’s gala, and hosting The Worst at Cafe Cleopatra, an experimental storytelling format that sounds both compelling and cringey.

“People come up on stage and tell their stories of their worst experiences with you know, fill in the blank, whatever it is: your worst date, worst show, your worst car accident, it could be whatever…I’m very big on not being rehearsed as much as possible …somebody can have a thing of like, ‘well, I have a story, but it’s like my jokes you know? I mean, it’s like, it’s in my jokes. And I have punchlines in it’. And I’m like, ‘well, you can still say some of the punchlines…but just tell me the story…not like you’re telling it on stage…tell it like it just happened to you and you don’t have those punch lines’. …I sit down at a table kind of…off set from them, so they can tell the story to the audience, but I’m there to like, extrapolate…ask questions…so it’s more like …a podcast live thing, but it’s just a story each person tells, and I kind of go through it…You know, when you’re getting to a story about something that happened at Dunkin’ Donuts, and in the middle of the story, you’re like ‘yeah, I hitchhiked, and a trucker drove me to the thing’, you know, …they’ll just say it like that, whereas I’ll be like, ‘wait wait wait, hitchhiked?!’ and it turns into a tangent of ‘who the fuck hitchhikes? I haven’t heard that since the 60’s’.”

Whether it’s the bits we gloss over, or the parts we polish to distract from our insecurities, there remains nothing more universally funny than the foibles of being human.

Catch Big Jay Oakerson hosting The Nasty Show and The Worst and as part of The Marc Maron Gala

The first thing you should know about Randy Feltface is that he’s not a puppet. He’s a sentient being with thoughts and feelings and opinions who came to self-realization the same way as any human would. I had the privilege of speaking with Feltface on the phone last Thursday, and he was as congenial as any regular I’d meet at a local pub.

Feltface is a Just for Laughs veteran who’s played the festival several times in the past, and if my conversation with him is any indication, his solo show, Randy Feltface: An Alien of Extraordinary Ability is a guaranteed good time. Speaking with a heavy Australian accent, Feltface says he loves Montreal and that it’s one of his favorite cities, though he admits he’s never endured a winter here and thus he does not know if he has a full perspective on our city in the colder months.

“I love exploring the city, I like the grittiness of it, I like the beauty of it… I don’t think people necessarily talk about the grittiness of Montreal because it’s so overwhelmingly artistic…I like that it’s a little bit gritty, a little bit edgy.”

Though he looks like the subject of a children’s TV show, Feltface says his target audience is adults. He says that he does get teenagers over the age of fifteen at his shows, but his target demographic is anyone who finds what he does funny.

“I think my stuff resonates with a pretty broad age demographic, but I sort of just write what I think is funny and I speak the way I speak when I’m hanging out with my friends. If stuff gets bleeped, it’s because that’s how I talk.” I can hear a hint of smile in his voice as he says that last bit.

Feltface says anyone who comes and sees his act is immediately aware that it’s absolutely not for kids. He knows his face may suggest he’s child-appropriate, but says that within the first five minutes of his show it’s apparent that it’s not the kind of thing one would like to bring their five year old to.

He says that it has happened at daytime shows of music festivals he’s played, but often these same kids end up enjoying his performance most. In terms of his Just for Laughs show, Feltface is confident that it’s at a time in the evening that suggests it’s not appropriate for children:

“If you are bringing your six year old to see a 9:15 show at a comedy venue then you’re either the coolest parent on the planet or the silliest parent on the planet, no judgment from me.”

Randy Feltface has no idea where he is from, but his US 01 Visa status is marked as “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” when means one is able to do something or performs something or you have a job that is unique enough that one is able to do it on a global level or that there’s no one in the country that is doing what you do. He says his visa status is also an apt description of his present circumstances, traveling all the time, increasingly aware of his own mortality.

In terms of his lifespan, Feltface has no idea, but admits that his potentially lethal habits include drinking too much herbal tea and his love of nature that may one day expose him to being stung by a wasp or eaten by a bear. He adds that he no longer has a spleen as it was removed due to bacterial infection, and as a result, something as simple as drinking tap water or eating street food could lead to another infection that will do him in.

In terms of what Randy Feltface wants Just for Laughs audiences to get from his show this year, he says he wants them to experience sixty minutes of “pure escapism and contemplation.”

Randy Feltface appears in his solo show, Randy Feltface: An Alien of Extraordinary Ability and as part of the Patton Oswalt Gala. Check him out.

It’s easy to forget how good it feels to laugh with strangers. Like fireworks and live music, the ephemeral nature of the experience fades over time, melting into a moment remembered with fondness and a shrug.

Let me assure you: live comedy is the vitamin you’ve been deficient in for years now. No matter how many specials you binged on the couch during the pandy, it doesn’t even compare.

I was impressed and quickly overwhelmed by the sparkly and energetic red carpet style event at Club Soda for Just for The Culture‘s opening night

There were lights, cameras, kind staff whisking people around, funny folks posing and answering questions. I had to think fast on my feet, so I prioritized. First, I fawned and fangirled over Jessica Kirson (who was a total mensch, kind and patient), then I found my seat, and the bar in short order.

While I was familiar with some of the names on the lineup, others were totally new to me. It was hosted by Alonzo Bodden, who I spoke to last week, check it here.

Sheng Wang opened the show. He had a relaxed, slow burn style that eased us in and reminded us how we do this.

Lebanese Canadian Dave Merheje told family stories that’ll resonate with many, and especially with first and second generation Canadians.

Paul Rabliauskas, an Anishinaabe comedian from Winnipeg, let us kno that this was his biggest gig to date, which made it feel special. His set demonstrated his more than 15 years in the game, and I have a hunch his gigs will just get bigger.

Zainab Johnson was another name I hadn’t heard before, but one I will definitely remember. Named to Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch for 2019 (the year when comedy and the world shut down), she’s at the start of her story, and it’s gonna be a big one.

Yannis Pappas hit the stage with jokes blazing and no holds barred. Beware, he’s been here before, and he’s done some research. He’s ready to hold up the mirror the city needs, and make you laugh till you cry while he does.

Jessica Kirson closed it out like the beast she is. She did jokes, voices, act outs, until our laughter morphed into howls. We literally took a moment after the show to catch our breaths before getting up, with one of my table mates wiping away tears and saying “I’m not ready yet”. What more can you actually ask of a show?

Featured Image by Joseph El-Hage, courtesy of Just for Laughs

Just for the Culture runs from July 20th to 28th. Tickets available at hahaha.com

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss Cinema Guzzo’s plans to show the Pope’s visit to Quebec at all of its Montreal-area theatres, rising heat levels and fires around the world and more on this year’s Just for Laughs Festival.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

Rick Mercer is a Canadian legend and one of the few multitalented entertainers Canada has to offer. He’s written books, given political rants on TV, acted in movies, hosted comedy specials, and narrated documentaries. So of course, of all the days to have a phone call with one of my heroes, it had to be on the day that both the Rogers and Fido networks were down. It was therefore a massive relief to find that Rick Mercer quickly agreed to meet via Zoom instead.

Mercer was not what I was expecting. Despite his notoriety, he was down to earth and friendly, speaking to me from his shed where he says he does most of his writing, and where he spent the pandemic writing his book, Talking to Canadians, that came out last November. I opened with a question I am sure Mercer gets all the time, which is what he thinks of the current state of Canadian politics.

Mercer laughed, admitting that he’s less interested in Canadian politics than he’s ever been because he finds it so distasteful. As to whether it’s due to how politics has changed or he has, he’s unsure.
“I’ve always been an avid political watcher and still am, except I just find myself saying ‘a pox on all their houses’ more than I ever did before.”

He says he finds he has a hard time pointing to current individuals in Canadian politics that he admires and it makes him happy to be temporarily out of the opinion business to the extent that he used to be. Though known for his political rants, Mercer does not consider himself to be an angry person. When I ask him about it, he smiles and said that while his Twitter bio says “Anger is my Cardio” and he was once an angry young man, in his latest book he explains that he’s not an angry middle aged man.

“Obviously things can make me angry, make me upset, I would have to be dead inside not to, but no, thankfully I go through most of my day in a non-angry state.”

Given how long Rick Mercer has been doing political comedy and satire, I was dying to know about the politicians he’s worked with over the years. He says the politician he most enjoyed working with was former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, something I was not expecting. He says Chrétien had great comedic timing and was genuinely funny and that working with him was like working with a pro.

In terms of which politician gave him the most material, he says Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was his muse for a long time because his government and cabinet infuriated him so much that he was inspired to write about them.

Of all the roles Mercer has played throughout his career, he considers himself a writer first. He spoke of how the pandemic was great for him because working on Talking to Canadians was the first time he’s done something without a deadline.

“When all the gigs went away, all the jobs went away I was kind of adrift… the book gave me –I won’t say purpose –but it gave me a job to do and deadlines to meet and somewhere to go every day, which is my shed.”

In addition to writing, Mercer loves hosting, speaking fondly of how much he loves touring and how much fun he has. He speaks of the big beautiful venues he gets work in and the talent has the privilege of introducing, saying that though he’s middle aged, he’s not exhausted by it all.

I asked Mercer which up and coming political comedian he admires and he admits that he doesn’t consume much political comedy out of concern that they would influence his work, creating the risk of overlapping material at a show. Of the comedians he has toured with, he speaks highly of Ivan Decker, whom he says he will always watch.

In terms of whether Rick Mercer considers himself to be the Canadian legend he is described as, his immediate response was “Oh God no!” followed by a sheepish smile. He blames the description on publicists, calling the label silly.

Of all the awards he has received over the years, one of the two most dear to him is the Order of Canada, which he was “honoured and amazed” to receive, as he never imagined getting that call. He also mentions receiving the key to the City of his home town of Outer Cove Middle Cove Logy Bay, Newfoundland, because the ceremony took place in the primary school of the community he grew up in and that the award itself – a piece of glass with a small key in it- is currently at his parents’ house.

As to what Mercer is looking forward to in the future he speaks highly of Montreal and the Just for Laughs Festival, saying that while he’s never lived here, he loves our city and doesn’t know anyone who doesn’t. After the festival, he plans to start writing another book.

Rick Mercer is hosting Comedy Night in Canada on July 29th, 2022 at L’Olympia. Tickets available through hahaha.com Check it out.

This is officially the best summer in years. Restaurants are full, dance floors are back in business, and be still my heart, our festivals have returned. The Coachella of comedy, JFL is back for it’s 40th edition, and I found out that the comedians have missed us as much as we’ve missed them.

“I can speak for every comic involved and tell you we have missed the festival so much and we are going to be so glad to once again be invading your city with stupid questions, and with jokes, eating off food trucks and just hanging out seeing the City of Montreal. Can’t wait to get back.”

Alonzo Bodden is a Just for Laughs legend. He was one of the JFL New Faces in 1997, winner of Last Comic Standing in 2004, and this year he’s back to host Just For the Culture Show – formerly The Ethnic Show (“it changed its own pronoun,” he quips).

“The beauty of this is everyone’s bringing their own voice to the show. So when we say just for the culture, it’s not like you’re only going to be talking about your culture, you’re going to be talking about the world from your viewpoint. With the Americans, you know, my culture is both Black and American. So I have both involved. And the same thing with the Canadians, you know, Dave [Merheje] is going to be who he is, but he’s also going to be Muslim and he’s going to be Canadian… the only thing I can tell you about the show, it’s going to be funny, and it’s going to go long, because we all have something more to say than what they want us to say. We are going to have a fantastic time and we are going to be uncensored, we are not going to worry about ‘don’t say this, don’t say that’. The thing I’ve always said about the Ethnic show, and now the Culture Show, is we are people who should be at war and yet we are laughing, so join us. I will do my best as host to tie it together, but quite often I’m simply one of the audience members with the best seat in the house.”

Current affairs are a mainstay in Alonzo’s comedy, so it should be no surprise that he’s a news junkie who’s been doing his own podcast for over 10 years now.

“The podcast is called Who’s Paying Attention?, and it started because the news stopped paying attention…We don’t have a Walter Cronkite anymore, we don’t have an Edward Murrow, we don’t have somebody saying, wait a minute: this is ridiculous. They cover Marjorie Taylor Greene like she’s real news. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the only reason Lauren Boebert is so angry is she thought she was crazy, and then Marjorie came along and she’s been out-crazied. Let’s not talk about Ted Cruz, but you guys could have kept him in Canada.”

I made it clear that we don’t want Cruz, and will not be accepting that return. Jokes aside, I ask how he manages to keep his head above the never-ending flow of bad news.

“I’ll be honest, I have to take breaks from the news. It will wear you out. The constant barrage of stupidity is beyond belief.”

Which is exactly why his latest tour is called Stupid Don’t Get Tired. With that in mind, I ask him where he finds hope.

“You know, it’s really tough…on my podcast whenever I have a guest in, I ask them ‘what’s the good news’, because we have to try to find some good news in this dumpster fire. My hope, honestly, is the youngest generation. I think they’re the ones who hopefully will take over and restore some form of sanity, Even that they’ve given up on though, you know, because they started with Generation X. Okay, when you start at X, it shows there’s no long range plan. Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, what then? Oh, we’ll have destroyed it all by then.”

From looking forward to looking back, I asked Alonzo about the new mini-series he’s a part of called Right to Offend: The Black Comedy Revolution.

“I am so honored to be a part of that. It is such a brilliant documentary, going from vaudeville, and the minstrel and blackface era. right up into today with Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock, and Tiffany Haddish and everyone in between. Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Wanda Sykes, Moms Mabley Whoopi Goldberg, so many brilliant voices in comedy over the years, and to be asked to be a part of that, to comment on that, and my history, it’s truly been phenomenal. They could have called it the duty to offend. We have to push buttons. And we do it unapologetically, because you can’t apologize for the truth. You can try to cancel us, you can do whatever you want to do. We are going to continually tell the truth…When I started, Somebody told me ‘listen, if 20% of the audience isn’t upset, then you’re not doing your job’, so I am okay with that. The truth hurts sometimes, but the other side of that, is there are people who are like ‘thank God for your voice. We’re so happy to hear you’. We need somebody telling the truth out there. Jon Stewart famously became a major news anchor and he was like, ‘you know I’m doing a comedy show. They were like ‘no, no, no, we’re coming to you for the truth’…We’re the last voice. Years ago, Lewis Black, brilliant comic and an old friend of mine said listen, we don’t want this job but no one else would do it. Right? We’re the last ones to tell the truth and laugh at how ridiculous it is.”

I know it’s selfish, but I had to ask what he loves about Montreal, and what makes us special on the global scene. It’s akin to a civic thirst trap, but sometimes you just want the likes.

Getting lost walking the streets of Old Montreal; the art galleries the whole vibe… I go to Old Montreal to get…centered… I truly miss that: walking the streets of Old Montreal, and looking at the beautiful people. Your city has beautiful people. And I enjoy that. You’re stylish.”

We chat briefly about Quebec’s politics and distinct identity crisis. There’s much to laugh at when you take a step back.

“Yeah, it is a different crazy,” he says. “But it’s a crazy that doesn’t involve bullets. I appreciate that…hang on to that.”

We’re sure as hell trying.

Just for The Culture runs from July 13 to 28 hosted by Alonzo Bodden, featuring Dave Merheje, Jessica Kirson, Paul Rabliauskas, Sheng Wang, Yannis Pappas and Zainab Johnson. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Vir Das wears a lot of hats: he’s a Hollywood actor, a Bollywood actor, and a TV show host, but first and foremost, he’s a comic. When I met him via Zoom, he was in Goa, India, his only hat on being one of gunmetal gray perched high on the head of a friendly, down to Earth fellow seemingly unaffected by the extent of his notoriety.

Though known internationally for his comedy, the temporary ceasing of stand-up due to public health measures forced Das to spend the worst of the pandemic acting. As a comic, he sees all his other roles as fodder for his comedy, considering humour to be a way of keeping himself grounded.

Das sheepishly admits that he cannot shoot movies year ‘round because there’s only so much he can stand hanging out with other actors discussing stuff like protein shakes and intermittent fasting. At the same time, he admits that touring is exhausting and his ideal would be a balance between all the roles he plays in the entertainment industry.

He laughs occasionally as he speaks, realizing the humour of his remarks, the sign of a man for whom comedy is as natural as breathing. He says that as you age, the acting roles on offer become smaller and more nuanced, whereas as a comedian, the work gets bigger and better.

As an Asian Canadian working in the arts, I have had my share of experiences dealing with the disapproving reactions to my profession. I wondered if Das had a similar experience with his family.

Das admitted that he waited two years before telling his family that he studied theatre, adding that his parents’ attitude has always been that if he can pay the rent, whatever he did was fine with them. He says it’s been a long time since he’s worried about making an income, adding that the cultural attitude toward working in the arts is changing.

“I think the whole ‘My Strict Indian Parents’ stereotype and joke, and sitcom, and movie, and series, and documentary is losing steam and validity as we speak,” he says with a smile.

Das is one of the few artists to work in both Bollywood and Hollywood. Though Bollywood is the bigger industry of the two, it seems mostly unknown to white English speaking audiences.

When I think of Bollywood, I think of beautiful costumes, elaborate makeup and jewelry and dance routines that put old Hollywood musicals to shame. I wondered what the differences were to someone like Das, who has an insider’s view of both industries.

Das said there isn’t much a difference, and that everyone involved is trying to tell authentic stories, though he admits that Bollywood sets seem to work a bit faster, something borne of experience more than anything else. When I asked him about his dancing, he said it was good.

“Give me the right choreographer and enough rehearsal time and I can dance,” he says, adding that he finds it ironic how audiences appreciate the escapism of Bollywood and yet the only movies that succeed in America are Avenger movies and Marvel movies. He points out that in the latter everyone is wearing ridiculous costumes in a fantastical world, suggesting that perhaps superhero movies are America’s Bollywood.

Das is often presented as a man bringing an authentic Indian perspective to audiences worldwide. He agrees that it’s a fair assessment, given that most perceptions of Indians come from British, American, and Canadian versions of India, which are more “palatable versions”. He says that such views miss out on the voices of 1.3 billion people who have things to say.

He speaks fondly of other East Asian comedians such as Russell Peters and Lily Singh, the former showing a young Vir Das that Indians can do standup. He has immense respect for Lily Singh as a community builder who created one devoid of gatekeepers. In terms of celebrities who opened the doors for more East Asian actors in Hollywood, Das credits Priyanka Chopra.

When playing to white, English-speaking audiences Vir Das’ primary goal is to make them laugh and get to know him. His comedy influences include Richard Pryor for his vulnerability, Eddie Izzard for history and making his shows seem unscripted, and George Carlin for punching up and being anti-establishment.

Das admits that his comedy is likely to change over the years, pointing out that Carlin only found his stride twenty years into his career when Das himself has only been doing comedy for fifteen. At present his comedy hinges more on being an outsider rather than a specific cultural identity. He prefers to begin a show with something the audience knows nothing about and then systematically proving the similarities between his world and theirs.

His upcoming Just for Laughs show, Vir Das’ Wanted World Tour is based on the premise that home is anywhere, adding that it will have a story. Das is also appearing in the Patton Oswalt Gala, though he grins and says he’s looking forward to his own show more, adding that in the latter he only has eight minutes for audiences to get to know him, something that he does happily, though he prefers the kind of “friend sits you down for a talk” format better.

In terms of his future work, Das says his Wanted World Tour is going to thirty-eight countries, followed by a Hollywood rom-com, and a Bollywood action movie

If Vir Das’ Netflix special, Losing It, is any indication, his Just for Laughs shows are bound to be fun!

Tickets are available at hahaha.com

The party’s going down over at the Palais de Congrès this weekend, and all the proof you need is in this gallery of standout outfits from Montreal’s finest cosplayers. Before you head on over to join in, get inspired and dress for the occasion. Everyone else has!