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

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 weather these days may be failing us, but two Fringe Festival shows are definitely delivering, especially if you have a penchant for time travel.

Comedian/Storyteller Al Lafrance, who has been appearing at the festival for a decade now, returns to the stage with a reflective piece entitled Is This Yours? at Café Campus. As the title suggests, Lafrance is often curious about the items he finds at yard sales and thrift shops and what they say about the complex lives we lead. Old photos and handwritten letters have granted him the opportunity to step into the past, crash hundreds of weddings and enjoy beach vacations with families he’ll never meet.

Al Lafrance

Sure, it may sound a little creepy to speculate on people’s lives based on the random fragments they’ve donated or discarded, but as the affable Montrealer explains, he’s always been fascinated by the legacies we leave behind. Especially those of “weirdos with passion projects”.

It’s that very fascination that led him to investigate a particularly unusual discovery – a handmade board game about hitchhiking – and seek out its creator in order to understand how it came to exist in the first place. The answer to that question forms the backbone of this show, which touches on the strange twists and turns that can happen along the way to our ultimate destination.

Energetic and unassuming, it’s easy to see why Lafrance is a two-time Just For Laughs Award winner. His cleverly-woven tale soothes and satisfies, like a warm cup of tea after an especially pleasant dinner party. So, grab a bite to eat on The Main, head on over to his show and prepare to be transported.

Speaking of pleasant journeys, this year’s edition of Fringe features an astonishing one-woman show that revisits the remarkable ups and downs of Josephine Baker’s legendary life. Josephine, a burlesque cabaret dream play stars Tymisha Harris as the titular entertainer – no pun intended – who broke down barriers as the first black woman to star in a major motion picture.

Having already appeared Off-Broadway and toured around the world with this act, Harris couldn’t be more comfortable in Baker’s skin – or her own, for that matter – and is clearly having a ball strutting her stuff. That confidence permeates the show in the best way possible, letting you know from the moment the performance begins that you’re in for a real treat.

Tymisha Harris as Josephine Baker

This piece covers Baker’s ascent to stardom as a sexy, banana-clad dancing sensation in Paris, her work as a spy during World War II, the various romantic entanglements that popped up along the way and finally her activism during the Civil Rights Movement.

It’s a startling history made all the more vivid by Harris’ elegant and enthusiastic delivery. Baker remains a beloved icon and Harris takes visible pride in portraying the nuances of her dazzling and daunting life.

In spite of being born in St. Louis, Baker was rejected by racist audiences upon her return to the States in the ‘30s. The pain of that rejection is reflected in the songs (Strange Fruit, The Times They Are A-Changin’) which Harris delivers with a powerful, unwavering voice. Special credit must be given to her sound technician, who manages to keep her vocals from deafening the audience. Goosebumps, however, are unavoidable.

Biographical one-person shows can sometimes struggle to maintain their momentum, but Harris paces herself well, jumping from song to dance to witty remark with the inexhaustible spirit of a seasoned performer. In spite of the show’s tight structure, she still manages to be playful and improvisational in her approach.

Magical flickering fingers and a knowing smile compliment her array of eye-catching costumes hidden amidst the boudoir-themed set. Harris even goes through the trouble of including a small statue in tribute to Baker’s pet cheetah “Chiquita”, regardless of whether audiences will even spot it – again, no pun intended.

From the smallest detail to the biggest flourish, Josephine dazzles. It stands easily as one of the best shows to ever play at the Montreal Fringe Festival and is, quite frankly, a must-see.

With the festival wrapping up this Sunday and tickets selling out fast, make your way over the Fringe website to secure your seats and swing by Josephine’s website for more information on the play.

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss the plan to make seven Downtown Montreal metro stations free on weekends and the summer festival season beginning with Grand Prix and Fringe.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

The press release for What About Albert? had me at hello:

An absurdist comedy. A Godot inspired fever dream! Pick and Pod are two helpless part timers trapped in a restaurant that may or may not exist…

And the website offered the following advisory: Content Warning This show may depict existential dread and gore.

Be still my heart.

If Waiting for Godot is nihilism dressed in the somber, tattered suit of Chaplin-era tramps, this is a self aware romp of quick wit, wearing the face paint of a fast food franchise spokes-clown.

The script is artfully fast paced, like Gilmore Girls or Aaron Sorkin. No easy feat for writer Xander Chung or performers Jordan Prentice (Pod), Fanny Dvorkin (Pick) and Joseph Ste-Marie (Billy – puppet by Samantha Gold); it’s a trick that only shines when everyone’s on the same page, and here, they certainly were.

The stars delivered so much while their characters, by design, did very little. I was impressed by their performances: it was a lot of range to flex, and if they’d slipped up on the tosses and catches of the linguistic acrobatics, the whole thing would’ve collapsed. A risky prospect that succeeded wonderfully.

I definitely laughed more than expected, and the absurdly strange plot turns did not disappoint. There were truisms hidden in plain sight too, deep fried and ready for consumption.

When Pick says “Appetite and fries are all I have”, maybe I felt it a little too hard; in the end, it’s tasty experiences like this that add flavor to the weird ride we’re all on. Go check it out while it’s hot and fresh.

What About Albert? runs at the Montreal Fringe until June 19th. Tickets at MontrealFringe.ca

Photo by Joseph Ste-Marie, courtesy of The Malicious Basement Theatre Company

To say that it’s wonderful to finally have the Fringe Festival back up and running would be a serious understatement. There’s a palpable sense of gratitude every night, as eager audiences and passionate performers exchange smiles of appreciation in venues up and down The Main.

After a two-year drought, we’re clearly desperate for some live entertainment, but that doesn’t mean any old thing will quench our thirst. Montrealers are a discerning bunch, so with that in mind, we offer the following reviews of shows currently featured in the festivities.

Tango on the Pointe (photo Andrew Clark)

Even those unfamiliar with dance will find themselves swept up in the enchanting Tango, to the Pointe – a sensual and spellbinding show that fuses Argentinian tango with classical ballet stylings to thrilling effect. Director/choreographer Alexander Richardson and partner Erin Scott-Kafadar bring the language of love to vivid life through movement in this eye-catching production, the Company’s fifth thus far.

It opens with an edgy number lit by LED lights before gradually progressing into more traditional tango territory. The dynamic duo slink across the floor to the sounds of spoken word, guitar and eventually accordion accompaniment, the likes of which causes legs to unfurl into dazzling spins.

Their crisp movements and astonishing flexibility early on give way to a softness and vulnerability that pulls you in during their third routine of the evening, set to pleading piano music. Tango, evidently, can be about more than simply building and releasing tension.

Mark Richardson and Erin Scott-Kafadar (photo Mark Ruddick)

Humor starts to creep in around the halfway mark, with Richardson playfully encouraging the crowd to marvel at his muscles before dancing a deconstructed tango with two wooden poles in the place of a partner. Scott-Kafadar busts out some unexpected moves all her own, including a moonwalk en pointe and a feat of strength so startling it’s best left unspoiled. By the time she’s twirling around with one foot in a pointe shoe and another in a stiletto, you’re likely to believe there’s little she can’t effortlessly handle.

It all comes together in a breathless finale punctuated by lifts that will leave you cheering and wanting more. This blend of tango and ballet is the dance equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter – a combination so satisfying you’ll never want to see them separately again.

The only complaint possible is that the final Montreal performance of Pointe is apparently already sold out. Luckily, their next stop is the nearby Ottawa Fringe festival, where they’ll dazzle audiences for six performances between June 16th and the 25th.

Isabel Fuentes and Alexander Cruz (photo Rana Liu)

Considering what’s unfolding in the United States right now, the timing couldn’t be better for an insightful piece of theatre that explores the complexities of an unplanned pregnancy. Regrettably, A Little Bit Pregnant, which plays at Mainline Theatre, misses the mark by a whole lot. This meandering play from Concordia student Kate Lavut recycles a series of well-worn cliches leftover from sitcoms long since departed in its depiction of two couples reacting to the news that one of them is with child.

The script skips over the crucial step of establishing compelling characters and jumps straight to the agonizing and hand-wringing over what must be done. Unusually long pauses punctuate the leaden dialogue, which consists of gems like “I wanted someone to want me!”, “I love to love you!”, “it was different then!” and the obligatory “my uterus – my choice!” By the third reference to “making love”, you’ll start to wonder if the playwright constructed this piece from fragments of an old Dynasty script.

What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in unintentional laughs. Alexander Cruz, dressed in a grandad sweater and perpetually fussing with his hair, brings welcome comedic energy to the role of Shane, particularly when blathering on and knocking over plants. He has zero believability as baby daddy to Isabel Fuentes’ Tasha, mind you, but her natural charisma and confident delivery are almost enough to help you forget that pesky little detail.

A Little Bit Pregnant Cast (photo Rana Liu)

The likeable Sarah Durocher (Maya) and Sanjeev Mannan (Tony) are given so little of consequence to do, they’re upstaged by their costume changes and a concealed bag of popcorn, respectively. It’s a real shame their character arcs are all as flat as a pancake because with material better suited to their strengths, it’s easy to imagine this cast carrying a more memorable piece fully to term.

That’s the charm of Fringing: sometimes you wind up seeing something polished and perfect, and sometimes you see emerging talents before they’ve fully found their footing. Either way, at these ticket prices, you’ll still spend less than you would at the multiplex. So, head on over to the Montreal Fringe website for more information and enjoy the remainder of the festival, which we’ll continue to cover here at Forget The Box.

The 2022 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival runs through June 19. Tickets and info at MontrealFringe.ca

From June 9th through the 19th, the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival will feature over 500 performances by 250 artists in 11 venues. That’s something that happened every June, until it didn’t.

For the past two years, the first event of Montreal’s festival season has only been able to offer completely virtual or hybrid versions. Now, as an early sign of things getting back to normal, the Fringe is back to full force.

With that in mind, here are some potential highlights:

What About Albert? A dark and absurdist comedy about fast-food workers? Hot-button topic meets Godot? That’s exactly what The Malicious Basement Theatre Company has in store for Fringe audiences with What About Albert?. Full disclosure: FTB regular contributor Samantha Gold did the set and costume design for this one, so that’s how it got on our radar, but we’re sure glad it did!

Velvet’s Greatest Tits Given this city’s love for all things burlesque, book your tickets to Velvet La Touche’s new show in advance. The talented Montrealer not only strips but plays classical piano at the same time. Two types of thrills for the price of one sounds like a good time, doesn’t it? Velvet’s Greatest Tits plays at Cafe Campus, though we’re happy to report she’s not the only sexy number in this year’s lineup.

Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play The story of famed entertainer Josephine Baker comes to life in the one-woman, bilingual musical act entitled Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play, at La Chapelle. Co-creator and star Tymisha Harris has been touring all over with this piece, which debuted in 2016 at the San Diego Fringe Festival and also appeared Off-Broadway in 2018. Hailed as “a triumphant homage to a life worth remembering” by CBC, this is likely to be a surefire hit.

The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery Fringe Fest offers all sorts of intriguing delights, such as The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery – a one-man puppet piece from Adam Francis Proulx playing at Le Ministere. Having already won awards at the London and Orlando Fringe Festivals, this one seems certain to be a crowd-pleaser. Who doesn’t love puppets?

Featured Image: What About Albert? by Joseph Ste. Marie Courtesy of The Malicious Basement Theatre Company

The St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival runs June 9-19 at various venues. For tickets and info, please visit MontrealFringe.ca