Just for Laughs festival has started and the comics have taken to the stage multiple times. However, when they’re up on the stage, you don’t really get to have a conversation with them. They tell you their jokes and you laugh and think, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Gina Yashere, Ahmed Ahmed, Dan Naturman, and Ronnie Chieng are four of the comics that will be taking the stage at Club Soda twice every night to do the Ethnic Show. I had a very lovely conversation with them and we talked about their experiences as being comics belonging to a minority. So, what is ethnic anyway?
The Ethnic Show runs July 8h to 19th at Club Soda, for tickets and info: hahaha.com
Just for Laugh’s Ethnic Show markets itself as “the most culturally diverse show of the Festival.” And yeah, that’s pretty much true. The seven comics I watched last night at Club Soda came from a variety of different ‘ethnic’ backgrounds and their sets made sure everyone got a good laugh.
Entering Club Soda with my friend, the one question that I had in mind was “What the hell does ethnic mean anyway?” If you have a look at the line-up, you’ll see that none of the comics are what you would call Anglo-Saxon.
Ethnic, in this sense, does not necessarily have to do with skin color. It’s these people’s experiences as belonging to a minority group in North America that has made them fit the label ‘ethnic.’ And they seemed to be okay with it.
At the very beginning of the show, the host Alonzo Bodden reminded the audience that they would be offending everyone equally. Now, in this day and age, it could be really difficult for comics to talk about sensitive issues like race and ethnicity. To be honest, I’d like to think that it should be. I’m not saying that we should be censoring what people can say; but a comic making jokes about racial or ethnic topics should be self-aware.
After all, when people think about ethnic comedy, what pops into their heads are stereotypes. But there is so much more to the “ethnic” experience than old, cliche stereotypes. If such jokes based on stereotypes haven’t gone stale yet, it’s about time that they did.
Luckily, you’ll find very little of that in the Ethnic Show and that’s what I really liked about it. Essentially, these comics are telling their own stories about snippets from their own lives. They just happen to be from a certain ethnicity and that happens to colour these stories.
For instance, Rachid Badouri has a bit about parent-teacher meetings. At its core, his story is about a little boy whose father does funny things without even knowing. But because his father is Moroccan, the story takes on a different aspect. Still, the joke isn’t funny because Badouri is doing accent jokes, it’s funny because of how ridiculous the situation is – AND his facial expressions.
I especially loved Bodden’s performance as the host. He really knew how to get the audience excited and involved. In fact, I daresay some of his jokes got more laughs than some of the other acts.
I’d also urge you to pay special attention to Frank Spadone and Gina Yashere. For some reason I could really empathize with Spadone’s jokes about his family. As for Yashere, I’m simply a sucker for the kind of sarcastic Londoner humour she delivers so well.
Ronnie Chieng’s routine was also pretty funny. He told a story based on his observations at the airport line and delivered it very loudly. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t laughing because he was just screaming, but because he was screaming at an imaginary Asian person at an imaginary airpot for eating BBQ pork at the passport line. The way he set up the story made it impossible not to laugh.
I found Dan Naturman’s act a bit drier than the others. I suppose I find the single-forty-year-old-hitting-on-women routine is getting a bit old. Don’t get me wrong, though – I still laughed at Naturman.
All these comics are hilarious in their own way and not just because they do ethnic comedy. I get the feeling that they have bits in their routines about ethnicity, mostly because the name of the show is the Ethnic Show.
In my opinion, the Ethnic Show is all about great comics telling their own stories, but with us putting the label ‘ethnic’ on it.
In between the acts, Bodden kept asking audiences what they were. I think the purpose of that was to push the audience outside of their North American mind-frame. I mean, what is a Canadian, anyway? Most Canadians come from one “old country” or another.
Maybe I’m over-analyzing a great comedy show, but I think the concept of race and ethnicity deserves being over-analyzed. The show got me thinking and maybe it will do the same for you. But even if you’re in it just for laughs (get it?) I promise that you’ll have a fantastic time. Definitely check the Ethnic Show out.
The Ethnic Show is running between July 8 and July 19, twice every night at Club Soda. Check out the Just for Laughs website for more information.