There’s something about a perfectly-delivered one-liner that just makes life worth living, don’t you find? Lucky for us, the world-class comedians performing at this year’s edition of Just For Laughs have provided plenty. And lucky for you, we just so happened to write down a few of our favorites.
So, in honor of the final weekend of JFL, here’s a smattering of some of the Best of the Fest thus far.
“There’s a new trend of coming up on stage and physically attacking comics. I’ll beat yo ass. I just get bigger as you get closer. Don’t try that shit.” – Alonzo Boden @ Just For The Culture
“You’ve turned on me. I make a joke and now you’re looking at me like I own a business and the French isn’t in big enough letters.” – John Mulaney @ From Scratch
“Men will watch a superhero movie and identify with the hero. Every single man thinks he’s Batman. Crazy! No, you’re not Batman – you’re the mother f***er over there, asking for help!” – Yamaneika Saunders @ The Nasty Show
“I went to fat camp as a kid. It was fun. We all went on our own bus.” – Jessica Kirson @ Just For The Culture
“Invisalign? You’re ‘vis’. We all see it. When you talk, it sounds like you’ve had a stroke.” – Dan Levy @ From Scratch
“’Morbidly obese’ is the ‘n word’ for fat people.” – Robert Kelly @ The Nasty Show
“Doesn’t matter what country I’m in – EVERY SINGLE AUDIENCE joins in for the ‘ba ba ba’!” – Randy Feltface on Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”
“We have two dogs. The first is like a cross between a mop and a panic attack.” – Tommy Tiernan @ Tomfoolery
“Learning to masturbate with a vibrator is like learning to butter toast with a chainsaw. It’s overkill. It’s not necessary.” – Sophie Buddle @ The Nasty Show
“How many more times are we going to have to read an article about how they found a new cure for cancer that only works on rats? Can we all agree that does not belong in the human newspaper? Naw man – that’s rat news. That’s great for the rat community. Let them know. You can leave us out of that conversation.” – Sheng Wang @ Just For The Culture
“Hockey is the only sport where it’s completely legal to assault a guy. You could break a guy’s jaw and they’re like ‘alright, go sit in that box and think about what you did for a few minutes.’ I know what I did. It was premeditated assault. I should be in prison for 5 to 7 years. Maybe 12 if I don’t speak French.” – Yannis Pappas @ Just For The Culture
Just for Laughs runs until Sunday, July 31. For tickets and showtimes, please visit hahaha.com
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
Michael Che is the first Just for Laughs Gala host, or at least the first host I’ve seen, to fully embrace all aspects of the job.
It’s not just having a solid standup set for the beginning, which he did. It’s also not just having the ability to riff on and with the audience, which he clearly did as well.
Introducing the other comics performing is something other hosts I’ve seen have treated as almost a throwaway emcee duty. Che, on the other hand, made his intros a solid part of the show.
Of course he did. Reading dry, witty one-liners off a teleprompter comfortably into the camera is pretty much his day job, or rather his close to midnight on Saturday job as a co-host of SNL’s Weekend Update.
My favorite joke of the night came during one of his intros:
“Our next comic comes from England, which is known for its alcoholism and Islamophobia. He should do great in Quebec.”
– Michael Che
There were other edgy gems in his intros and throughout his set There were also some solidly funny sets from the other comics performing last night.
Jessica Kirson was the standout for me. I’ve seen her perform before, but her inner monologue bits, seemingly a new edition to her act, narrating both what she and the audience were thinking of her set in real time, was some fourth-wall breaking hilarity.
Jay Pharoah, who closed out the evening, had the large audience laughing the whole time he was on stage. His bit about escaping unwanted advances in Greece was particularly good.
Fellow SNL alumn Fred Armisen was, um, interesting. A couple of short songs, a singalong, and that was it.
Fin Taylor, the aforementioned Brit, made some good points, and one really solid one, but, for the most part, I wasn’t really sure where he was coming from and where he would land and I’m still not sure.
Pete Holmes and Sam Jay delivered solid sets, as did fellow Canuncks Matt O’Brien and Phil Hanley. It was a night jam-packed with talent, as Che remarked at the beginning.
Also kudos to the warm up act/hype man whose name I don’t know. He started dancing in our row and decided to let his energy get everyone ready instead of jokes, as those would be forthcoming.
Not all heroes wear capes. Some, as I found out during Saturday’s second taping of All Access Live Hosted by Wyatt Cenac, jump on stage to entertain the crowd during technical problems.
Having already been to an All Access Live taping, the one hosted by Moshe Kasher, I expected a funny, intimate show and a well-oiled and well-timed production. It was both, right up to the end of American comic Theo Von’s set when the generator that was powering all the TV equipment blew.
After a bit of confusion, warm up comic Aaron Burr returned to the stage to explain what was happening.
Now since we’re talking about messups, I’ll admit one of my own. In my initial review of the Kasher All Access I called the warm-up guy Bill Burr. I thought it must be Bill. Bill Burr was a comic and Aaron Burr was the guy who shot Alexander Hamilton (note to self: listen to Mirna, she’s usually right).
Turns out not only is Aaron Burr a comic, he’s a damn good one capable of some seriously good improv to keep the audience going when the planned show was temporarily delayed.
Jessica Kirson, whom I imagine was the planned surprise guest for the end, also performed her set during this mid-show interruption. We’ve already reviewed her as part of The Ethnic Show, so I won’t go into her set here only to say that her comedic talent combined with the awkward energy in the room led to a truly stellar set that the audience needed at the time.
Huge props are also due to Von. He had been rocking the crowd with a solid set and then was pulled off the stage before he was able to finish it. When the TV tech was back up and running, he had to start from the beginning, something that I can’t imagine being easy to do when so much of a comedian’s success relies on flow and timing.
While the audience was fully expecting him to repeat most jokes and was even told that he would by Burr, Von opted for entirely different material at the start. He only ended up repeating the setup to the joke he was interrupted on, which involved audience interaction on top of it.
Now while I’m sure professional comedians like Von have a ton of material in reserve, the decision to throw out what he had planned for his TV appearance in order to offer the in-house crowd something new impressed me. It helped that he also happened to be one of the funniest and most animated comics up there that night.
Amidst all the chaos, host Cenac kept his cool and delivered his comedy in the chill, matter-of-fact way he is famous for. His material ranged from personal observations to the current state of US politics.
Audience interactions also played a big part in his performance, something Cenac felt completely at home doing. For one intro he sat casually at a table, just hanging out with some of the crowd.
I interacted with one of the comics, Darrin Rose, when he asked who was an older brother. Turns out he wasn’t that fond of older brothers, or at least his – for comedic effect of course.
Robby Hoffman, with her mousey though confident delivery was great. Kurt Braunholer was another standout.
The other comics, Rhea Butcher, Charlie Demers, Esther Povitsky and Damien Power, all delivered solid sets and I remember laughing quite a bit. I’d have to watch the TV version of this show to properly do them justice in a review, though.
All the excitemen during the unexpected break made Von’s triumphant return to the stage the comedic high point of the night. That and probably the extra bar run we got because of it split my focus between what was currently on stage and thoughts of “how cool was that” about what had transpired.
That dichotomy lasted until the end, with a brief interruption when I fully focused on Cenac’s second mini-set.
It wasn’t the show I was expecting but it ended up being one of the most entertaining shows I saw.
Rick Mercer is a comedy legend. From Talking to Americans, to This Hour has 22 Minutes to Rick’s Rants, there isn’t a Canadian alive unfamiliar with his biting social and political commentary all said with his signature Newfie accent. He hosted a gala last night for Just for Laughs featuring a talented roster of comedians from around the globe.
As was expected of Mercer, his monologues were all Canadiana, praising Quebec if only because we successfully stopped Kevin O’Leary from taking the Conservative Party leadership, a line earning him uproarious applause. He spoke of the idiocy of attempting to drive across Canada and how our country is so big most of us can barely handle the trip. With the audience sufficiently warmed up, he announced the first act.
Jessica Kirson was first to go up. Though she’d done the Ethnic Show earlier in the festival, there was some fresh material in her set in which she spoke of her sex life with her wife. At the same time, she kept her outstanding impressions of elderly Jewish people from her previous sets, which Kirson does so well they’re impossible to get bored of.
Next up was Jon Reep, an American comedian reminiscent of blue collar comics like Larry the Cable Guy. In his Southern drawl he explored the contrast between his father being a proper Christian and the glorious day he and his brother discovered his father’s porn stash.
Reep was funny, but I got the impression he’d be funnier if he was allowed to swear in his act, something that was impossible that night as they were filming the gala for TV. The audience was polite, but he didn’t get as much applause as other comics.
Laura Kitelinger took the stage next. A tall pale statuesque brunette clad in a little black dress and heels, her stage persona is that of the pill popping rich bitch. Her jokes and stories all had a delicious snark to them and at the same time she cleverly addressed touchy subjects like women choosing not to have kids. Unfortunately, her closing joke was a painfully lame story about going to the hairdresser that ended her set on a down note.
Aussie Paul Barron was one of the best acts of the night. He sells out shows in his native Australia and it’s easy to see why. He is one of the few comedians who knows how to use the stage. He is physical in his comedy, but the quality of his jokes doesn’t suffer as a result. He danced and tiptoed and waved his arms and told jokes and stories. One of the most memorable was when he was talking about how penguins mate for life and don’t cheat on one another.
His remark was that there’d be no point in cheating on your mate because “penguins all look the same!”.
Next on stage was Arthur Simeon, a Ugandan Canadian and a regular on CBC’s The Debaters. Simeon began his act by addressing the matter of his accent and the racist assumptions Canadians tend to make of their fellow citizens when they fail to sound like a local.
He was only one to address immigration and refugee issues in his comedy, offering a brilliant way of testing potential Canadian immigrants. One of his best comedy jabs was at people who neglect to put winter tires on their cars.
“I think that if you forget to put your winter tires on, people should be allowed to shoot you in the face!”
The remark earned him unanimous applause.
Arthur Simeon was followed by W. Kamau Bell, an American comedian and author most well-known for hosting the CNN series The United Shades of America. He opened his act by saying straight away that he talks about race a lot, and then he launched into his critiques of American politics which were by far the most scathingly succinct of any I’ve heard during the festival.
Bell spoke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
“A man SO racist he was denied a judgeship in ALABAMA!”
Though his act made you acutely aware of racial and political tensions that have surrounded the Orange Tax Evader’s administration he was still funny in a way that made you think about how biases shape perception.
Last to perform Tom Papa.
The best way to describe Tom Papa’s act is as that of a de-motivational speaker. He gives advice but in a way that is almost insulting. For example, he spoke of his wife giving up sugar and how he thought it was a terrible idea. He explained that people get depressed and in order not slit your wrists “you have a cookie once in a while.” He ranted against dieting and exercise machines and people who insist on doing activities like kitesurfing and ziplining on vacation. The overall message of his act seemed to be that simplicity and low expectations are the key to happiness.
The only thing disappointing about the Gala is that for an event that seemed to stress Canada’s 150th anniversary, there were only two Canadian performers, Mercer and Simeon. The rest were American with one Australian, Barron, the exception. As a Canadian it’s disappointing that once again our neighbors are stealing the limelight.
Jessica Kirson is a comedian all can admire. She’s funny, she’s fearless and she has a versatility few comedians have, shifting seamlessly from social commentary to hilarious impressions. She has the kind of energy most can only match after several cups of caffeine, and though she’s been through her share of struggles, Kirson has managed to find humour in all.
Jessica Kirson is performing at Just for Laughs’ Ethnic Show this year. I had a chance to speak to her. Here’s what we talked about.
SG: Welcome to Montreal, you excited about being here?
JK: I’m very excited about being here! I LOVE Montreal. This is my fourth time doing the festival and it’s great.
SG: How would you describe your style of comedy?
JK: I don’t have a style. I do all different kinds of comedy, I do characters, pretty high energy, very honest, real, talk about my family a lot… I’m not really a joke teller, I’m more of a high energy comic.
SG: I notice you do a lot of impressions. Who do you like to do most?
JK: I like doing my grandmother, my Jewish grandmother mostly because it’s so familiar to me.
SG: What was she like?
JK: She was amazing. She was the reason I got into standup, she was the one who called me over to her table one day and said you should be a comedian, every time people are around you they’re laughing. I never thought I could do it but I listened to her and took a class 19 years ago. Very strong woman, powerful, very honest, she was beautiful.
SG: In the history of standup comedy there have been a lot of Jewish comedians. Why do you think that is?
JK: I think humour comes from pain… I think the Jewish community and the culture have turned a lot of difficult situations into humour and tried to find a lighter way of dealing with it… In my family there was always a kind of laughter and being silly and everyone joking around and this was a way of dealing with pain.
SG: You make a lot of jokes about being heavy in your comedy. Showbiz seems unfairly dominated by thin women. How has being curvy affected your career?
JK: I don’t talk about that a lot anymore because I lost a hundred pounds. I do talk about it a little bit because it’s a demon of mine, food and food addiction and binge eating and everything… I’m very honest on stage so I do talk about it… I don’t care what the industry wants or doesn’t want, I am who I am. I feel like it hasn’t affected me when it comes to being a comedian, being heavy/not being heavy. I’m glad I haven’t made a career because of my looks.
SG: Do you think comedy is more forgiving in that way?
JK: I think standup comedy is. I don’t know so much about movies and getting a major part on a sitcom but I’ve done an enormous amount of television and movies even when I was at my heaviest. I think if you’re funny, you’re funny and you get work, but I know for much more female comics now it’s much more a part of their persona and their image on the internet –about body and body image… and it was never like that when I started.
SG: You’re doing the Ethnic Show this year. Do you consider yourself an ethnic comedian?
JK: I do talk about where I’m from and my family and my experience and my background, so yes… I do a lot of different ethnicities and characters.
SG: Comedians seem to be having a field day with American politics right now. Are you planning to take a shot at it?
JK: I don’t talk about politics a lot in my act. I don’t think it’s funny. I’m actually pretty horrified at everything going on but I do talk about it in a roundabout way… For example, I might talk about gay marriage or something. I won’t talk about it from a serious point of view, I’ll talk about it making fun of people who are against it and why.
SG: You’re doing Just for Laughs the Ethnic Show. You’ve also got a Youtube channel, The Jessy K Show, and the Jessica Kirson Podcast. Tell me about those.
JK: I have different stuff online. I have a lot of stuff on the Jessy K Show on Youtube and I have a lot of videos on my Facebook page, and I have a new podcast called Fat Pig and that is with another comic, a very close friend of mine, Frank Liotti, and we talk about food addiction and funny stories with food and our struggles and we have guests on and stuff.
SG: Do you feel that will empower other women who go through the same stuff?
JK: It does. It empowers a lot of people, we get a ton of feedback and emails and all kinds of things and people just love it because we’re very very honest. We talk about our own experiences and also make light of it.
SG: How do you feel about Montreal audiences?
JK: I think Montreal audiences are incredible. A lot of times it’s real comedy audiences so they want to see it, they want to laugh, they’re smart, they’re cultured. I love Canadian audiences.
SG: Are there any other projects we can look forward to seeing from you in the coming year?
JK: Working on a television show right now about my mother being a therapist and I have a lot of stuff going on online. The podcast has been growing and growing.
SG: If you could say one thing to your audience right now, what would it be?
JK: Be silly, always be silly and not take things too seriously and try and find humour in every situation when you can, when you’re ready, and fight fear and do things that feel uncomfortable because you live once.
Jessica Kirson performs as part of The Ethnic Show running until July 27th. Tickets available through hahaha.com
The Ethnic Show is described by Just for Laughs as “a cultural melting pot for comedy”. This year is its ninth edition and comedians from a variety of backgrounds are here to show their comedic mettle. Some are well-known, some less so, but one thing is for certain, you’re guaranteed a good time even if every style of comedy is not your thing.
This year’s host is Alonzo Bodden, a last minute replacement for Maz Jobrani who had to drop out due to a family emergency. An African American comedian, Bodden’s set began with an apology for Donald Trump, adding:
“Don’t look at me, I’m black…This is on white people!”
This was not his only potshot at the Orange president, but the worst of his wrath was directed at US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, whom he none-too-subtly suggested was a modern Uncle Tom. Direct and brutal, Bodden proved himself a worthy host and I overheard many audience members praising him as the best act of the show.
Next up was Vladimir Camaño, a Dominican American from the Bronx. Of all the acts that night, Camaño’s was the most physical and interesting to watch, as he uses a lot of animal references in his act and manages to contort his body to represent everything from a deer to pigeons. His material is a combination of mocking his Dominican father and potshots at rich people but his best jokes were about sex which managed to be both self-deprecating and original.
Third in line was Mike Rita, a Portuguese Canadian who performed at last year’s Homegrown Comics Show. His material is reminiscent of Russell Peters in that it’s all about growing up with immigrant parents and how widely their beliefs and attitudes differ from North Americans. Like Peters, he imitates his parents right down to their accents and though most of his jokes were the same ones he told last year, Rita’s energy manages to keep it funny despite the lack of originality.
Before mentioning the next act, it should be said that I am not a fan of musical comedy acts and I fully acknowledge my prejudice. Musical comedy acts often consist of either great musicians and lousy comedians or vice versa, and sooner or later said acts fade into obscurity, realizing that not everyone can be Weird Al.
Somehow the next act proved to be neither.
Said act is The Do Wops, a musical comedy duo of John Catucci – known to Food Network fans as the former star of You Gotta Eat Here!– and David Mesiano, a couple of Italian guys who asked that they be described as:
“One plays the guitar, the other is an asshole.”
Catucci, the “asshole” of the group, danced, sang and girated while Mesiano played guitar and sang along. Their jokes were funny and there’s no doubt that they can both sing, but somehow the comedy and music didn’t quite mesh and they were actually funnier when there was no musical accompaniment.
The whole thing reminded me of an exchange between Groucho and Chico Marx in the 1930 film Animal Crackers when Groucho asks Chico, a musician, what he charges not to play. “You couldn’t afford it” is the reply.
The Do Wops were followed by Steve Byrne, a Korean and Irish American who has been doing comedy for twenty years.
Of all the performers that night, he was the only one to do an imitation of the American president. Though Byrne’s take on the Orange man’s voice was on the Satanic side, it was appropriate given the latter’s behavior. If there’s one word to describe Steve Byrne, it’s fearless. He doesn’t just take jabs at his fellow Asians, mercilessly tackling stereotypes, but also takes jabs at Jews and Caucasians.
In this respect his act started out strong. Unfortunately, about halfway through it went downhill as he started ranting about Millenials.
I understand why comedians and people in general take potshots at young people. We don’t tolerate racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or transphobia, and we make demands that people be respectful and pay fair wages. Rather than take responsibility for bad behavior, it’s easier to shift blame back onto victims by calling them whiny and entitled. I also understand that older people have the money to buy tickets to big comedy shows – much if not most of the audience were baby boomers – and many younger attendees are there on someone else’s charity, so it’s perfectly natural to want to pander.
That said, taking shots at Millenials seems incredibly lazy, as most of the material talking about the evils of safe spaces and accusing young people of being soft has already been written a hundred times over by every entitled baby boomer with an internet connection.
Sadly, Byrne’s bit about Millenials had nothing original in it, and prefacing it by saying he loved them couldn’t save the rest of his act. At least older audience members were laughing.
Last to take the stage was Jessica Kirson, who boldly announced herself as “The Jew”.
Jessica Kirson describes herself as a high energy comic and when you see her performance, you know it’s absolutely true. She is the type of comedian who tells stories, but she tells them with the kind of energy that has you laughing hysterically while on the edge of your seat trying to hear more.
Like many comedians, she does impressions, but unlike other acts, she doesn’t limit herself to family members and celebrities. No one from her elderly Jewish audiences in Florida to her Asian pedicurist were spared her impressions, which were so outlandish and exaggerated they managed not to be offensive.
Some would describe her as loud and shrill, but others, myself included, say she’s brave and talented and knows it. Her most outstanding feat was combining a joke about kids and a joke about dildos in a way that wouldn’t offend anyone except the worst of prudes.
But I’m not going to spoil that one.
Go see The Ethnic Show.
The Ethnic Show runs July 14-27, tickets available through hahaha.com
* Featured image of Alonzo Bodden courtesy Just for Laughs
Warning: The second half of this review ended up being more of a rant about Mike Ward.
The Midnight Surprise shows are a staple of Just For Laughs. Part of OFF-JFL, the only thing audiences are told is the host. Apart from that, people buy their tickets without knowing ANYTHING about the line-up. And I mean anything. Any of the comedians that are performing as part of the main festival could appear. For instance, last year, Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle both made very surprise appearances at these shows.
So while I was waiting at the line with my friend, checking my phone to see if there were any rare Pokemon around, I had no idea what to expect. But I was in for one heck of a ride, it turns out.
The first week of the Midnight Surprise is hosted by Piff the Magic Dragon, or John van der Put. You may know Pif from American’s Got Talent, which he did not win. He seems to be kinda bummed out about that, but hey at least he’s got a regular show in Las Vegas, so that’s cool.
Basically, Piff’s whole gimmick is that he wears a dragon costume and does magic acts with a lot of whooshes. All of this is mixed with his brilliant British style humour that involves dark and fast one-liners.
For instance, a good bunch of his jokes involve him implying that he is very mean towards his pet chihuahua Mr. Piffles, who helps him out with most of his magic tricks. It is a bizarre combination of really neat magic tricks, British-style dry stand-up comedy, and the absurd.
But the relatively more important question is, which stand-up comedians showed up at Friday’s Midnight Show? Long story short, I got to see Tom Green, Jessica Kirson, Yannis Pappas, Brad Williams, Mark Little, and everybody’s favourite controversial Quebecois Mike Ward.
That’s quite a lineup! To put it in perspective, that’s a relatively famous movie star, ~1/3 of the Ethnic Show, ~1/3 of the Nasty Show, and Mark Little, who is also pretty famous, I think.
My favourite was Jessica Kirson, and that’s not just because I got to interview her last week before the Ethnic Show. It’s actually because her style of humour speaks to me. It’s fast-paced, it’s somewhat dark, and it’s sincere. I think I’d call her style psychological humour – she talks about her insecurities and troubles, but does it in a way that makes you laugh. She also tells the audience that she needs our laughter and us to enable her.
If nothing I’ve just described appeals to you, the awkward moments she constantly creates will get you to laugh. One way or another you will laugh at Kirson’s show – and she doesn’t really care whether you laugh at her or with her.
Tom Green’s routine is similar to Kirson’s. His delivery is dryer than hers, though. Green talks about how he doesn’t want to die in his sleep, because he wouldn’t know that he had died; and how he doesn’t like/want to understand all those celebrities who die of drug overdose, because their biggest problem in life is having to memorize a few lines.
Again, Green proves that most of comedy has to do with delivery. He stands in the middle of the stage, looking dazed and confused (and is probably drunk), and just talks and talks and talks.
I really want to talk about the other comics as well, but I have limited space, so I have to choose what I talk about. That’s why I want to dedicate the next few paragraphs to a rant about Mike Ward.
In case you haven’t heard, the Quebec Human Rights Commission has decided that Ward has to pay $42 000 for making a joke at the expense of a child with disabilities. Obviously, his entire routine was him complaining about how he has the right to joke about anything and everything he wants.
Now, I admit that $42,000 is a bit too much, and yes, maybe policing jokes is scarily similar to censorship. But the question is, what exactly do we lose if people suddenly stopped mocking people for disabilities? Does the world stop spinning? Probably not.
Ward is pushing the idea that he is fighting for his right to be mean to people; but I don’t think that’s what we should be focusing on. Ward has a right to be mean, sure; but he’s also a public figure, you know?
At the show, he told us about an interview he once had, in which the media portrayed him as someone who condones pedophilia. Now, in that case, the media seems to have messed up horribly, just to make him look awful. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that he has made pedophile jokes. I mean, sure he can just wash his hands off of all responsibility, arguing that he is simply making jokes, and that people shouldn’t take him seriously.
The problem, however, is that words are more powerful than people seem to think they are. A joke is not merely a joke, I would argue. The kinds of jokes Ward makes normalise meanness and, to be frank, I don’t think that’s okay.
You can be funny without being mean. I understand that this poses somewhat of a problem for Ward and other comedians that have crafted their comedy careers out of being mean; but I’d rather side with the people on the receiving end of mean jokes than with those who make money out of a sick and twisted schadenfreude type of humour.
Anyways, this is what happened to me at Friday’s Midnight Surprise. It probably won’t happen to anyone if they were to go to another Midnight Surprise. But that only means that you have to go and see for yourself!
The Midnight Surprises will take place with Piff the Magic Dragon on July 24, and with Blake Griffin hosting on July 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30. Check out the Just for Laughs website for more information.
July is here with all its humidity. It was disgusting outside yesterday, but that was the only thing I could complain about, really. In fact, the whole of Montreal should be squealing with glee right now because the world’s funniest festival is back in town!
Of course, I’m referring to the one and only Just For Laughs. In fact, JFL may be one of the only reasons why I’ve decided to stay in this city after school. (I may be slightly exaggerating because of all the free shows I get to see and review; but hey, bloody constructions everywhere, sheesh…)
JFL is celebrating its 34th birthday this year and as always, the schedule is jam-packed with hilarious comedians from all over the place. I’m excited to see such great comedians like Jimmy Carr, Cameron Esposito, Michelle Wolf, Aparna Nancherla… The list goes on.
But I’m particularly stoked about the Midnight Surprise, because no one knows who is gonna show up. Big-timers often go to these events before their big show to test out their material – and I wouldn’t mind accidentally bumping into David Cross, you know?
But today’s focus is The Ethnic Show; a spectacle that has a very interesting concept. The comedians who do their sets at this show are all “ethnic” – notwithstanding the fact that the word does not really mean what we expect it to mean.
The line-up is basically the set up for a joke: A Greek guy, an Italian guy, a Moroccan dude, a Jewish woman, a Lebanese guy, a Puerto Rican woman, and a Nigerian guy walk into a bar… I mean, the result is hilarious. And the comics seem to think so as well.
Before the show I talked with Jessica Kirson, who told me that she was looking forward to performing. Thursday’s show wasn’t the first show of the festival, so Jessica was already pumped to be doing the show.
“It feels good to be on the show,” Jessica said. “I’m the Jew on the show, so I’m very proud of my heritage and everything. I love talking about it, it’s great!” Indeed, Jessica’s set had a lot of stories about old Jewish women, who apparently all have the same facial expressions and all sound like Fran Drescher. But you probably already knew about that stereotype, right?
My favourite part about her set, though, was her talking to herself. Apparently it’s a gimmick that she does. At random points during the show, she turns her back to the audience and “comforts” herself by saying weird things about oatmeal. It’s bizarre and great.
Oh by the way, before I forget, she wanted me to write that “Yannis Pappas is an asshole.” Yannis, the “token Greek” of the show echoed her sentiment (in case it’s not obvious, this was a joke).
Speaking of Yannis, he started off his set by saying that he has been to Laval and is pretty sure that it’s a Greek island. Everyone else laughed at that; but, to be honest, I’ve never been to Laval (because I never really needed to) so I didn’t get the joke. I laughed anyway, because everyone else was also laughing, and I really did not want to stand out.
To my chagrin, Yannis did not have any jokes about Turkish people. I suppose the entire Greeks vs. Turks trope doesn’t really exist in North America, so that’s understandable. Regardless, I managed to get him to admit that “Yoghurt was probably not a Greek invention.”
However, he also told me before the show, “I’ll give you guys yoghurt, if you guys give us baklava.” I’ll let him get away with that because he was a good sport and a funny guy on stage.
You know who’s really cool though? Rachid Badouri. That guy had its first major anglophone show at JFL last year. He was also one of the comedians on the Ethnic Show last year.
This year, they got him to host the Ethnic Show and he was psyched. “They finally trusted me,” he told the audience – amazed. He repeated the same material from last year; but he’s still funny. It’s all in the delivery, I guess.
In addition to Rachid, Yannis, and Jessica, the Ethnic Show also features Godfrey, Gina Brillon, Nemr, and Dom Irrera. Now, all of these people are absolutely amazing. Godfrey killed it with a joke about how he wished humans would have mating calls and acting out a very riveting mating ritual that takes place at a dance club. Nemr explained to us that, in Lebanon (and in Turkey, I might add), people light a matchstick to check for gas leakages.
Gina talked about her up-bringing in Bronx and how the guys there would try to hook up with anything, including a literal broom with boob. Dom was great as well, portraying the stereotypical Italian guy perfectly. I also didn’t know this, but apparently, he was Ernie Potts in the Hey Arnold! TV series.
Bottom line is, go see the Ethnic Show. It’s fun, it’s different. Most of the time comedians put some background jokes into their sets, but the Ethnic Show allows them to craft an entire set out of their identities. I could talk about it for hours upon hours, but the best way to understand it is to see it.
You can see the Ethnic Show between July 13-28 at Club Soda and Metropolis. For more information, check out hahaha.com. In addition, Yannis Pappas, Jessica Kirson, and Gina Brillon have their own shows as well. So be sure to check them out.
Gina Brillon appears on the featured image, taken by Cem Ertekin.