The Comedyworks was a Montreal institution. Not only did it launch the careers of so many standup comics, but it was my go-to place for a night out in my CEGEP and university days.

I therefore had very high standards when I set out to cover The Unknown Comedy Club’s virtual Comedyworks tribute show. The lineup consisted of Comedyworks veterans, including The Unknown Comedy Club’s founder and host, Rodney Ramsey, Eman El-Husseini, DeAnne Smith, Kwasi Thomas, and headliner, David Pryde.

I am happy to report that I had a blast!

The show was set up as a giant Zoom call, with audiences invited to ask the moderator of the event to unmute their mics since “laughter is crack for comedians”. Since I spoke to Rodney Ramsey a few days before the show, I knew to expect him in avatar form when hosting.

His avatar, I must say, was extremely creepy. Ramsey had told me it looked him in a suit, and while that was technically correct, it had some traits that were rather unnerving: the eyes are larger than the rest of the face, but the irises don’t move with him, giving a wide-eyed look, the hands were also disproportionately larger, and the jaw only moved up and down. The overall effect was similar to a ventriloquist dummy planning to kill you.

Handling the music before and during the show was DJ ‘Black Nick’, whose tunes had me bouncing in my seat on the couch. All the while the group chat was active, allowing for a more intimate experience where audience members can communicate with the performers. My big honor was when DeAnne Smith herself gave Forget The Box a shoutout in the chat.

When showtime arrived, I braced myself for the mixed bag that comes with every group standup comedy show, and I was pleasantly surprised. Every comedian killed, including headliner David Pryde, a Montreal comedian whom I’d seen fall flat a few times at the Comedyworks in my youth.

Host Rodney Ramsey in his intro invited all the performers to tell a joke from their days at the Comedyworks and they did not disappoint. Kwasi Thomas, whose standup is clearly quite physical, managed to deliver the physical aspects of his jokes while seated at his computer. Thomas also gets credit for having the best laugh, howling so much that David Pryde had to pause during his set to give him a chance to calm down.

Eman El-Husseini’s jokes were superbly topical. El-Huseini is Palestinian and made a lot of jokes about her life with her Jewish wife, all of which are sadly relevant given the ongoing fight between Israel and Hamas.

DeAnne Smith deserves credit for the best COVID joke, ranting about people wearing masks incorrectly and comparing mask wearing to making love to a woman:

“If you’re doing it right, it will fog up your glasses.”

Headliner David Pryde was the only performer who was standing and holding a microphone for his set. Dressed in the classic old-guy-trying-to-look-cool outfit of a T-shirt and blazer, he opened with a great line comparing his basement to the Comedyworks:

“I’m in a filthy room that’s a fire hazard.”

Pryde’s jokes were his classic mix of wordplay, snarky comments, and tongue-in-cheek remarks about his own life during the pandemic, not a single joke fell flat. This was a perfect performance by a seasoned standup veteran and very much worth the wait.

If you’re stuck at home due to COVID rules, you need to check out more of The Unknown Comedy Club’s shows. They feature standout lineups of supremely funny people, delivering standup comedy from the comfort of your own home.

Featured Image of Rodney Ramsey (without his avatar) courtesy of The Unknown Comedy Club

The Jane Krakowski Gala at Salle Willfrid Peletier  had an excellent lineup of comedians: Tituss Burgess, Chris D’Elia, Jen Kirkman, Randy (the puppet), Eman El-Husseini, Sean Emeny, Donnell Rawlings and Steve Simeone.  The variety of talent was so great that this was a really enjoyable gala, as galas go.

Coming from New York with her hit show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Jane Krakowski has a few Emmys under her belt. And while she has had a ton of success in the United States, with the election of Donald Trump, she would like the world to know that she wants to move to Canada.

During her show Jane reminded us she is usually typecast to play characters like Jenna Moroney (30 Rock) and Jacqueline Voorhees (Unbreakable: Kimmy Schmidt), narcissistic, overwhelming women with multiple personal problems and psychological issues bordering on insanity. But in truth, she tells us, she couldn’t be anymore different then the characters that she portrays on television. She cares about people around her and likes to give them jobs; that’s why at all times she has a “dozen unpaid interns massaging the leather interior of [her] car  so it doesn’t crack in the sun.”

Although her performance was strong, the theme of her show “how great Canada is” is getting pretty tiresome at these galas.

It seems that whenever an  American comedian is hosting a Galas, that person has to mention “how amazing Canada is compared to the United States.” Just a thought for future hosts: please quit talking about how much better Canada is in your jokes, it’s been way overdone.

We know,  it’s great up here.

The Highlight of Jane’s performance was most definitely when her costar Titus Burgess, who said he just flew down just to “sing this one with her” and he was planning on flying back to New York immediately after, serenaded the audience with his sweet angelic voice.

While Jane gave us a decent performance, the standouts from the lineup were really excellent. There was Randy the Austrailan puppet with some serious Schadenfreude  for people aggressively waiting in line at the self-checkout of the supermarket. Then there was Chris D’Elia’s delightful observations of the nature of Canines. Elam El-Hussaini, meanwhile, spoke about the “Israeli-Palestinian Issues”  with her Jewish wife at home. Finally, Sean Emeny was like a deadpan joke machine who rapidly spit out hilariously innocent jokes; think Jimmy Carr, but without insults.

By the end of the night I had such a great time I didn’t mind if Jenna Krakowski seriously decided to moved Canada. For one reason, we would get to see a lot more of her funny self. And secondly, she’d probably talk a little bit less of about how great Canada is if she were a resident.

I’ll admit, Queens of Comedy didn’t live up to my expectations, but it did have some nice surprises.

The show has graced Zoofest for several years now, but this was my first time seeing it. Featuring Eman El-Husseini, Jess Salomon and DeAnne Smith, the show started off a bit lackluster with watered down audience banter from Mike Patterson, the entirely decked out in a king costume host. I’m all about the punny style humour, but this didn’t do it for me.

Eman El-Husseini was first up, and offered a relieving and relevant set, going for the big ones: religion and the Quebec Charter of Values. It was a good start to the show, and El-Husseini definitely knew her crowd.

Montreal local Jess Salomon followed El-Husseini with an eclectic set full of light but raunchy humour. Putting her sexuality on her sleeve and the crowd on the spot, Salomon talked about her experiences of being bisexual, and how people react. Salomon engaged with the crowd, and all in all it’s always nice to see a local on stage.

DeAnne Smith Queens of Comedy Zoofest
DeAnne Smith

DeAnne Smith really stole the show. Wildly animated and quick on her feet, Smith had the crowd pretty much the moment she got on stage and described the “style” of her lanky arms. At one point the lights turned on to the crowd rendering the audience visible to the comedian to which Smith, without skipping a beat, talked about how uncomfortable that visibility was – for both her and the audience.

Without giving it away, I will say I was happy with the end. Not only did it finish on a high note with an incredibly promising comedian, but given the premise of the show being on the classic trope of the King finding his Queen, it did well.

* The Queens of Comedy runs until August 1, tickets available through Zoofest.com

* Photos by Chris Zacchia