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

Those who have checked out this year’s raucous edition of The Nasty Show will have any number of haunting/hilarious visuals replaying in their heads in the days that follow: Jessimae Peluso’s reenactment of how women spend their lives fighting off an endless barrage of dicks constantly rushing them from all angles…or perhaps host Bobby Lee using the mic stand to demonstrate why black guys masturbating have it easy. Truly, the show is an embarrassment of riche, but to truly get to know this year’s headliners, FTB asked them to offer a glimpse into the nasty experiences they won’t be sharing with Just For Laughs audiences. Their answers surprised us.

“It’s been a fucking nasty-ass year,” comedian CP admits, before narrowing in on why: “A bat shit through my sunroof while I was going through a tunnel, and it landed right on my hand. I don’t know if he timed it, but he shit right on my fucking hand. I play it back in my head and it’s like ‘Ahhhh!’”

“And I was driving at around 60!” he laughs. “It was a 60 shit. This was in LA. I immediately threw the shit out. The bat must have been smoking cigarettes and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beers.”

New York’s Andrew Schulz, meanwhile, didn’t need any assistance from nature to find himself in an unenviable position. “I got a hemorrhoid a while ago and I still have it. It’s bad – really bad. Length-wise, it’s about as big as the nailbed of my finger. It’s like a little bunny tail that was just hanging out of my asshole and I got it a couple of months ago, and it’s been with me since.

Now it’s slowly going back, but that’s the thing – they stay around forever or you’ve got to cut them off. What happened was there was a vein in there that actually hardened. It was intense. It’s absolutely horrible, I don’t recommend it to anybody and there’s really nothing they can do to get rid of it.”

He also offers this warning: contrary to popular belief, over-the-counter creams are not the be-all, end-all solutions they promise to be. “Dude, I was putting Preparation H on my ass and up my ass and all over! I had suppositories that I had to stuff up my ass, and I was doing that for about a month! Nothing works! It just a question of time…and avoiding spicy foods. I had to give up spice. It’s like a West Jet flight, bro: you don’t know when it’s getting off.”

For Bonnie McFarlane, however, the nastiest thing that comes to mind is the reaction female comedians can get when they take the stage to tell jokes. “You know when I started,” the Alberta native explains, “I’d be introduced and a lot of times men would just put their heads right down on the table.”

Thankfully, she notes, things are improving. “I feel like people now get excited to see a woman on the stage. People come up to me after shows and say thank you and that’s so nice. Any time you have somebody who’s not your typical straight white male comedian, it brings new people into the comedy clubs and then you’re sort of curating a new audience and it’s always pushing things forward. So I do think we’re progressing in a good way.”

Featured image ©2019 Benoit Rousseau, courtesy Just for Laughs

Be sure to check out Bobby Lee, Jessimae Peluso, Andrew Schulz, CP, Bonnie McFarlane and Big Jay Oakerson at The Nasty Show, tonight as part of the 2019 Just For Laughs festival. For more information call 514-845-2322 or visit hahaha.com

As one of the most-loved, longest-running shows at Just For Laughs, every edition of The Nasty Show comes with bigger shoes to fill. Not one to shy away from expectations, host Ari Shaffir opened the show—featuring Robert Kelly, Jimmy Carr, Yamaneika Saunders, Godfrey and Big Jay Oakerson — with a bible story, an intriguing, attention grabbing choice to start to off a show that was sure to take the audience even further from God than we were when we started.

The show was full of laugh-out-loud shocking moments – Yamaneika Saunders’ anecdotes about being 39 and single, getting jealous at the romantic dedication of a pedophile who drove 12 hours to see a child on To Catch A Predator, were matched only by Big Jay Oakerson’s disappointment at his daughters’ inevitable failure to turn out as a lesbian and his ruminations on his biggest fear (Hint: It’s not death or public speaking).

Yamaneika Saunders (photo by Nicolas Abu, courtesy Just for Laughs)

Robert Kelly had a lot to say on the subject of aging, from learning to hate your friends to rationing your remaining summers when you realize that you aren’t going to live forever. He says that he has a solid 30 left, and they are rapidly counting down. Considering that in Montreal, summer this year started very late, and has been mostly rain, I’d say that whatever I estimate my own years of remaining summer to be are probably overly optimistic.

Gofrey certainly stole the show in terms of physical comedy. His demonstration-laden observations on the admirable confidence of Creepy Dudes, and ruminations on ‘the one time it must have worked’ was even better than his rendition of Melania Trump. Surprisingly, this was the only set where the current state of American politics came up at all.

Jimmy Carr read most of his jokes, which made him feel a bit less engaged with the audience than the other performers. However, his jokes were much more Montreal-centric than those of the other comedians, so it did feel like more of a personalized performance. Of all the dicks, butts, talk of underage girls, and general Nastiness of The Nasty Show, the only thing that seemed to cross the line for this audience was when Carr made a few jokes at the expense of Montreal patron saint Céline Dion. Stay classy, Montreal!

Jimmy Carr (photo Nicolas Abou, courtesy Just for Laughs)

The spirit of the times nowadays is to police ourselves over sensitive topics.

We’re used to making sure that anything that we say, or that could possibly be construed from our actions, is as inoffensive as possible. Though this is important, it’s also important to remember that we can make fun of ourselves.

In this way, The Nasty Show is surprisingly refreshing. I had almost forgotten that we could flip the script and joke about the negative aspects that connect us, bridging the gap over otherwise untouchable waters. There’s a reason this one’s a classic.

The Nasty Show runs until July 29th at Metropolis as part of Just For Laughs. Tickets available through hahaha.com

* Featured image of Ari Shaffir by Nicolas Abou, courtesy Just for Laughs

In a room in the iconic Monument-National on St Laurent Boulevard, press gathered in anticipation. Festival Season is coming in Montreal and Just for Laughs was ready to announce its long awaited lineup for the 2017 comedy festival.

This year is a special one for Just for Laughs as it marks the 35th anniversary of a comedy festival that helped launch the careers of everyone from Demetri Martin to Amy Schumer. Every year the people behind the festival, including its veterans, do their best to bring in top comedic talent from around the world and give new faces a shot at fame.

This year is no exception.

The biggest names on the ticket this year have to be American comic legend Jerry Seinfeld and French comedian Gad Elmaleh, who is the most beloved comedian in Europe right now. Elmaleh has recently begun doing comedy in English with great success. Seinfeld’s appearance at Just for Laughs will be his first since 1989. For one special night at the Bell Center on July 28th, the two will share the stage in honor of the festival’s anniversary.

Africa’s most successful comedian Trevor Noah will also be performing this year. Since he took over as host of The Daily Show in 2015, he has done some of the most scathingly successful critiques of current events and of the US President and his government of racist, misogynist, classists. If you’ve ever watched any of Trevor Noah’s comedy specials, his style of soft-spoken yet biting social commentary peppered with hilarious impressions promises that any show he’s in will be special.

Writer and Director of Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin Judd Apatow has chosen Montreal as the venue for his new stand-up show which will be recorded live for Netflix during the festival. Transgender actress, model and advocate (plus my second favourite Frank n’ Furter) Laverne Cox will be hosting her own gala, as will SNL veteran David Spade.

The lineup of Canadian talent this year seems to favor comedians from Newfoundland. Among them, we have ranter and political satirist Rick Mercer, who will be hosting a gala. Mark Critch of This Hour Has 22 Minutes will be hosting Homegrown Comics, a staple event at the festival featuring Canadian up and comers in standup comedy. The only Central Canadian names this year are Howie Mandel and Montreal’s own Sugar Sammy, who is the festival’s special guest.

A smiling Sammy took the podium this morning to express his gratitude to a festival that launched his career so quickly he found himself riding the bus to his own show with his fans back in the day. He jokingly told the press that he’d promised himself he’d take a fancy car to Just for Laughs once he got rich and famous, but ended up taking the metro today due to Montreal construction. His gala will feature international standup comedians.

Just for Laughs veteran Kevin Hart is doing what he can to promote young talent via Laugh Out Loud Network Presents: Just For Laughs Eat My Shorts. The initiative between Hart and Just For Laughs will feature shorts submitted by various filmmakers. Twenty films that speak to a diverse audience will eventually be chosen to stream on the LOL website and a panel consisting of Hart and other judges will select the top five for a screening at the Imperial Theatre. A winner will be selected that night and Hart will present them with a development deal followed by a Q&A session.

The Nasty Show is for me the best part of Just for Laughs. It’s the show where comedians, by their own admission, can let loose and tell jokes without having to worry about offending anyone. The lineup for this year’s Nasty Show features the master of British snark, Jimmy Carr, as well as Godfrey, Robert Kelly, and Big Jay Oakerson. What are suspiciously absent from this lineup are female comedians, though whether this is deliberate or accidental is unclear, though it’s not for lack of talent. Anyone who thinks women can’t do filthy comedy is welcome to google Lisa Lampanelli, Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman, or Paula Bel, to name a few.

The Ethnic Show is the festival’s way of fighting racism and breaking down cultural barriers through laughter. The host this year is Iranian-American Maz Jobrani who is joined by Jewish American Jessica Kirson, Korean Irish-American Steve Byrne, and the Dominican Vlad Caamaño among others. The Ethnic Show is the show for cultural criticism and self-deprecating ethnic humor that feels less offensive because it’s made by comedians of those backgrounds.

In addition to festival staples, Just for Laughs is introducing some new attractions. New Faces: Creators features people contributing to the “evolution of the comedy landscape” via digital content creation. Also new to the festival is Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch recognizing the talents of stand-up comedians, sketch artists, and web content creators impacting the comedy industry this year.

For those who shun the mainstream, there’s always OFF-JFL and Zoofest which feature over sixty shows in intimate venues all over the city. The more risqué nature of the shows and the fact that tickets are generally cheaper makes this a great option for those of us who are broke. OFF-JFL regular Andy Kindler will host the Alternative Show, while The Lucas Bros return for more laughs. Other comedians in this series include Vir Das, Cristela Alonzo, and Barry Rothbart, to name a few.

With the tense socio political climate in North America, Just For Laughs is the kind festival we need more than ever. It’s not just because we all need a good laugh; it’s because if anyone can call bullshit on the worst behaviors of our leaders to keep them in check, it’s comedians. The best comedians shine when things are bad so if current events are any indication, it’s going to be a GREAT festival this year!

Ticket info can be had at hahaha.com