After speaking with Rick Mercer the week before the Just for Laughs festival hit Montreal, I had high hopes for the show he was hosting. Comedy Night in Canada was unfortunately a disappointing mishmash of ethnic clichés and other safe topics that left me starving for the edginess that so beautifully defined the other shows I’d seen at Just for Laughs this year.

The roster of Comedy Night in Canada consisted of Mercer, Salma Hindy, Sophie Buddle, Ivan Decker, Dave Merheje, and Eman El-Husseini, whom I remember back when she was waitressing at the now defunct (due to a fire) Comedyworks club in Downtown Montreal. I must applaud the producers of this show for sticking with Canadian comedians, while not shying away from ethnic diversity, making the show reflective of the Canadian Mosaic. That said, I desperately wanted to love this show and I couldn’t.

The material most of the comedians stuck with was brutally safe, and often repetitive. Dave Merheje, whom I’ve interviewed in the past, stuck with family anecdotes and jokes about his own ethnicity, as did Salma Hindy. Ivan Decker and Eman El-Husseini’s stuff was about relationships and mundane activities. Sophie Buddle mainly rehashed the jokes she’d used in The Nasty Show.

Only Mercer and El-Husseini were about to add some edge to their comedy. El-Husseini’s joke about having a boy means having a child “that will masturbate all over your house” was funny, but it came too little too late in her set. Mercer’s material on conversion therapy, naming public property, and the dullness of space were by far the edgiest and funniest the show got.

It must be said that the quality of the comedy cannot be blamed entirely on the cast of Comedy Night in Montreal. As me and my plus one settled in our seats, we saw a sea of Baby Boomer and elderly mainly white faces.

When I saw the cost of the tickets, I understood that the audience was indicative of the generational and racial wealth gaps. The comedians who performed that night were clearly pandering to this audience, and the quality of the jokes suffered for it.

If Comedy Night in Canada comes back, I want the roster to unleash their inner beasts and come out with material that’s actually funny and not just comfortable for white Boomers who love ethnic clichés and bashing young people. I’ve seen these comedians do better and I want them to.

They say that tragedy plus time equals comedy. This Thursday, SNL alum and beloved funnyman John Mulaney put that theory to the test with his one-man show, From Scratch, which detailed his recent recovery from drug addiction. The question some JFL attendees were left asking, however, was…too soon?

“Hi – it’s me. The comedian from a couple of years ago…” he cautiously began, addressing the enthusiastic audience at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, which was packed to the rafters. Clad in one of his trademark dapper suits, the likable comedian touched briefly on the news cycle in America – “CNN does breaking news the way a breathless kid runs up to tell you a pointless story,” he quipped – before getting straight to the meat and potatoes of the evening: the addictions that nearly ruined his life.

“I’m here to be vulnerable for money,” he admitted as he launched into the details, date by date, of how he lost his way. The seemingly-straightlaced 39-year-old admitted frankly to having used cocaine, Adderall, Xanax, Percocet, Seroquel and other drugs in the lead-up to December 2020, when his celebrity friends staged a 12 person-strong intervention under the guise of a dinner party.

“It was a star-studded intervention,” he remarked. “A ‘We Are The World’ of alternative comedians over the age of 40. The funniest people in the world…and they promised each other that they wouldn’t do bits,” he added. “Fred Armisen was serious. Do you know how off-putting that is?”

Mulaney recounted how Nick Kroll and Seth Meyers each expressed their concerns, though it was ultimately actress Natasha Lyonne who got through to him, prompting him to immediately enter a rehab facility where – to his disappointment – no one seemed aware of his celebrity status.

Seeking to connect with the audience during the show, Mulaney engaged in an impromptu interview with a former addict seated up in the balcony, asking her to detail her history of substance abuse for the crowd. While probably a genuine attempt on his part to discuss the subject of recovery candidly, it also came across as exploitative.

Once the woman finished answering his questions – no doubt excited to have connected with him – he rebuffed her request for better seats, leaving the crowd to laugh at her for expecting a celeb to value her honesty or participation. Apparently, the rest of us must content ourselves with being vulnerable for free.

Even with his flawless comedic timing and witty observations, the evening sometimes had the uncomfortable tone of a confessional. An amusing one, mind you, but at the same time, a troubling one as well.

Mulaney’s talents as a writer/performer helped him rise up in the world of entertainment, but it’s his complex personal struggles that have been the subject of headlines for years now, particularly his sudden divorce from first wife Anna Marie Tendler in the spring of 2021 and subsequent involvement with Olivia Munn, who bore his first child soon after. The comedian briefly mentioned his girlfriend and the birth of his son during From Scratch, but sidestepped the subject of his marriage altogether.

If some matters were still too personal to share with the world, others were described in full, such as his relationship with “Dr. Michael” – no last name – who worked from home and provided Mulaney with whatever prescriptions he wanted. The comedian even gave the JFL audience a verbal “how to” guide for finding sketchy doctors online, just in case anyone wanted to get their hands on some drugs. Not that he was endorsing the idea, he clarified. It was, for all these reasons, a bit of an odd evening of comedy.

One can only applaud a newly sober person who is willing to come clean about their mistakes. Mulaney would hardly be the first comedian to know these kinds of struggles, and turning his painful experiences into punchlines must feel both cathartic and like something of a professional reset. How else to move beyond the story of his relapse if not to address it head-on?

Yet, beyond the witticisms, a rather bleak picture is painted here of someone still in recovery who is returning to the same industry whose excesses fueled his addictions. A man who, judging by the name-dropping scattered throughout his show and his frustration over not being recognized while in rehab, seems a tad too focused on finding success of a very particular sort instead of sorting himself out.

Make no mistake: Mulaney successfully mined tragedy for laughter with his one-man show. Was that the best way to go about reintroducing himself to his fans? That may be up for debate.

Perhaps less addiction-related humor would have lightened the evening up. Or, alternatively, embracing the confessional nature of the piece and bravely examining the factors that lead to his addictions and divorce, which could have made for a more intimate and impactful set.

Looking at his current situation, one can’t help but think back to other entertainment legends who feared losing their moment in the limelight more than losing their lives. It might be wise for Mulaney to take a little more time to restabilize and find his footing without the pressures of showbiz complicating matters. His comedic chops, as evidenced on Thursday night, are obviously in no danger of disappearing and neither are his fans, who root passionately for his future to be a brighter one.

For more details about Mulaney’s From Scratch tour, visit his website

When I spoke with Indian comedian Vir Das about his Just for Laughs solo show, part of his Wanted World Tour, he assured me that it would have a story and he certainly delivered when he performed at the Olympia.

To a packed theatre with an audience so ethnically diverse it would have given Quebec Premier Francois Legault a stroke, Das put on a show that was as fearless as it was entertaining. As I waited for him to start, part of me worried that he would stick to safe subjects like family and relationship stuff peppered with comparisons of his own ethnic background to that of white, English-speaking Westerners, but that wasn’t what audiences got. It’s a tactic common among many so-called ethnic comedians, and thankfully Vir Das’ comedy is not like that at all.

If there’s one thing you get from Vir Das’, it’s that he’s absolutely fearless. Though he only spoke for an hour, he managed to cover everything from cannabis, to sex, to dogs, to freedom of speech, giving us – the audience, an education, while still keeping it funny.

No one, from Christians, to the British, to babies, to vegans, to his fellow brown people was safe from his mirth. One of his best jokes was about his anger at experiencing physical abuse by his school teachers, adding:

“I would never slap a teacher, their salaries do that,” a remark that resonates with educators in North America who continue to fight for fair wages and safe working conditions.

Das told me that he is first and foremost a comedian and throughout the show it showed. He was comfortable and friendly on stage, making me and so many others laugh and think while providing insights into his life story.

In many ways it didn’t feel like a standup show so much as a storytelling session with someone you know and love, and despite a few disrespectful types who tried to film the performance, the audience welcomed his approach. If I have one criticism of his performance, it’s that he would switch to speaking Hindi once in a while and didn’t always provide an English translation, something that was fine with the many East Asian audience members, but won’t work for English speakers. In the future he needs to translate all of it for English audiences or provide subtitles above or below the stage.

While JFL is over, Vir Das is sure to be back. Until he is, you can check out his Netflix specials

So I says to my 24 year old daughter, I says:
“Hey, wanna go see some comedy?”
She says yes, I say who? She says Neal Brennen, and I was pretty impressed.

“Do you know him from the Chappelle show?” I ask.
“The what?”
“The Chappelle show; with Dave Chappelle”
“With who?”

After a few more questions, I learned that she hadn’t been familiar with the comedians in town, so she watched standup clips to decide who she wanted to see. She chose the one that made her laugh, which is how she ended up choosing Neal Brennen: Unacceptable as her first ever live comedy show.

A little background: Neal Brennen first collaborated with Dave Chappelle on the cult classic Half Baked, released in 1998.

He co-created and co-wrote Chapelle’s Show with Dave Chapelle, and the rest is history. It bears noting that they promised between themselves to never reveal who wrote which sketch; a quiet sign of both their artistic integrity and their mutual respect.

Neal’s been nominated for three Emmys, and has an impressive list of credits including directing JAY-Z’s 4:44 documentary series, and writing for episodes of SNL. Oh, and he does really good comedy.

It was my first time seeing a show at the Gesù, and it was the perfect venue. The space felt intimate, the seats descending to the stage, putting Brennen among us instead of raised and separate. There was no opener, no mic stand; it was personal, and knowing that this was his one Montreal performance, made it even more special.

Adding to the uniqueness of the experience was the fact that this show felt like a funny one man show. Sure, there were set ups and jokes, but the tapestry of the performance was more intricately woven than simply that. He spoke of his struggles, his frustrations, the strange journey of this life and the state of adulthood that we’ve all found ourselves mysteriously catapulted into.

The writing was perfect, his presence authentic and endearing. In a time where stars hire publicists to teach them how to come across as human, Neal Brennen brought an honesty and candor that reminded me that we’re all on this weird ride together.

And we laughed, of course; at COVID, drugs, relationships, societal expectations, it was liberating to look straight at the dark spots without denying the darkness, and yet also finding light.

This was wholly different than other comedy shows I’ve seen. Brennen had the crowd in the palm of his hand the entire time, controlling the pace and tone of the show with conductor-like precision. There were moments when you could’ve heard a pin drop as we waited to see where he would lead us.

The 90 minute show flew by. The standing ovation felt full of love, and Neal stood gracious and humble, taking it all in.

It was the perfect last show for my festival coverage; profound, professional, masterfully hilarious.

As for my kid, she followed him on social right after the show, which is of course how that gen shows their approval. While she doesn’t know it yet, she’s going to have trouble finding a show that will live up to it, I sure look forward to helping her try.

Drag Queens pride themselves on being able to startle their audiences. Friday night in Quartier Des Spectacles, however, the stiletto was on the other foot.

Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 winner and songstress Trixie Mattel had to bring her open-air Just For Laughs show to an abrupt halt when two separate audience members required medical intervention within moments of each other.

Due to her off-the-cuff comedic sensibilities, most assumed it was just another bit when the performer repeatedly told her band to stop playing mid-song. Trixie then asked her fans for silence and patience so medics could make their way to the people in need of assistance on either side of the stage.

The comedienne credits the crowd for alerting her to the emergencies. “At first, it looked like they were just moving their hands to the music,” she later reflected, noting that both people ended up being carried out, something that “has never happened during a show before.”

In spite of the minor setback, the Milwaukee native – nee Brian Ferkus – enjoyed an otherwise triumphant night. Thousands packed Quartier des Spectacles to revel in Trixie’s signature blend of vintage outfits and frank comedy.

It’s difficult to imagine another personality who could so easily attract audiences both gay and straight and young and old, nevermind one confident enough to quip about anal sex and call guests “whores” at an open-air event.

Trixie has built her brand by maintaining an honest, “you’re in on the joke” dialogue with fans, both as a makeup mogul and an internet personality. Her hilarious YouTube series, entitled UNHhhh, features extremely unfiltered conversations with fellow Drag Race alum Katya and has garnered them millions of views.

Simply put, people would be disappointed if Trixie didn’t bring some irreverence to the proceedings. And Trixie, having attended JFL once before, knew better than to hold back with a Montreal audience.

The self-proclaimed Skinny Legend bantered playfully while strumming a guitar and bopping her way through a selection of tunes from her folk and rock-inspired albums. Hits like Hello, Hello and Malibu were interspersed with covers of Lana Del Rey’s Video Games and even Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda.

And through it all – of course – were a variety of wig and costume changes glamorous enough to delight even those standing back by the Dairy Queen on St. Catherine’s Street. Hilariously redubbed vintage commercials played between sets to afford Trixie time to change, in a welcome callback to the zany editing of UNHhhh.

There was one slightly botched costume reveal, thanks to two unrehearsed audience members acting as assistants. But throughout it all, the star maintained her composure, even delighting when the skies opened up in time for her final number.

As someone who rose up from humble beginnings to the top of the drag world, Trixie knows how to roll with the punches and fans love her for it.

They will also love hearing that her recent renovation reality show, Trixie Motel, may possibly be expanding into something bigger. Much like the plastic doll that first inspired her, Trixie is eager to explore new avenues, thanks to the continued support of those who’ve followed her career.

Mattel basked in their affection while reminding them to savor the moment: “this is the last f***ing time you’ll see Trixie Mattel do something free for you guys!”

Trixie Motel currently streams on Discovery + though fans wanting to see her and Katya in person should check out their upcoming tour dates.

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

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney welcome Special Guest Jerry Gabriel to talk about the full-force return of Osheaga and the final weekend of the full-force return of Just for Laughs – both this weekend!

For live Osheaga coverage, follow @forgetthebox on Twitter and Instagram

Follow @jerrygabrielrocks on Instagram

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

When I settled in for Tommy Tiernan’s latest Just for Laughs solo show Tomfoolery, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean I really had no clue.

The show was recommended to me and all I knew going in was that Tiernan is a comedian, Irish, and clearly doesn’t mind a solid name pun in his show title (but who doesn’t). That and some of my colleagues had seen him at previous JFLs and said he was great.

So without as much as a glance at him on YouTube, I sat down in the Gesù among a packed house of people who, for the most part, were familiar with Tiernan. We were treated to an hour of very intimate, sometimes physical, frequently quite dark, largely observational comedic storytelling.

The lack of a visible mic, mic stand and glass of water, the expected props of a standup set, let Tiernan move around the space and contort his body to play some of the characters in his stories. It felt more like a one-man theatre show, but with plenty of laughs, some of them uncomfortable laughs.

Tiernan’s subject matter ranged from the domestic (including a great, crowd-pleasing impression of his favourite dog) to finally flying again to a bunch of stuff that if I was going to put trigger warnings in front of them, I’d probably have to use them all. Yes, the show gets quite dark, and the humour comes from Tiernan’s reaction to that darkness, generally as a participant in the story he is telling.

He is a compelling storyteller who really knows how to draw the audience in with softer, more serious tones before the punchline. The thing is, the serious part is as real as the joke, and both make a point.

There is something in Tiernan’s delivery and approach that reminds me of later George Carlin material. Funny because it’s serious, true and making a point.

The one part of the show that didn’t land, at least not with me and some of the audience, was Tiernan’s bit about the Pope’s visit to Canada to apologize to the First Nations. I wasn’t really sure what angle his sarcasm was coming from.

Barring that, this was a compelling and funny show. It obviously isn’t for everyone, but those who like their humour a bit uncomfortable and dark will love it.

Tommy Tiernan: Tomfoolery runs three more times, July 28, 29 and 30, at Gesù, 1200 de Bleury, tickets available through hahaha.com

Big time journalists probably don’t get super excited and tell all their friends who they’re going to interview, but I sure do. Responses usually come in a mixed bag of people who are impressed, and people who have no idea who I’m talking about, but are happy I’m happy.

When I faux casually told everyone I know that I’d be speaking with Pete Holmes, I discovered how universally appreciated he is. Everyone cited a different project they liked, from College Humor’s Badman, to his most recent foray into network TV, How We Roll.

The more people I spoke to and research I did, the more I realized what an extensive catalogue Pete has; you can be a fan of some of his work, and never even realize all the other projects he’s got going on. Did you know he did a stint as a New Yorker cartoonist? I didn’t.

His 2017 semi-autobiographical HBO show Crashing (which he executive produced with Judd Apatow), put him on the map for a lot of people. It ran for three seasons, and still has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 90%.

His book, Comedy Sex God, came out the next year. Billed as “part autobiography, part philosophical inquiry, and part spiritual quest”, he can now add successful author to his ever growing repertoire.

I first saw him as a podcast guest, which led me to his stand-up, and his own popular pod You Made It Weird where he talks to a wide range of people from actor Ben Stiller to author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, often co-hosted by his wife Val.

He seems to have some unassuming magick that allows him to meet people where they are in a really authentic way, and I ask him if that took practice:

“Well, I think that’s actually the whole thing, isn’t it? Not just for comedians, but just for human beings. The people in my life that I find the most frustrating are the people that don’t seem to be doing the work to, just for its own sake, become more authentic; for its own pleasure, get in touch with how they really feel, with what they’re actually afraid of, with what actually makes them happy — and to stop doing an impression of what they think their parents wanted them to be, or their city wants them to be, or their culture wants them to be, and do the work to figure out who they actually are, and then share of themselves with the people that support that and encourage that.”

While it’s all relative, it’s fair to say that growing and aging are very different things, and without intention, time has a nasty habit of just passing.

“A lot of times I get on the phone with like, old friends that I haven’t talked to in 20 years, and I’m like, oh right, not everybody’s doing this; not everyone’s putting in the effort, And I’m just talking to their dads right now…It sounds pessimistic. I just mean, I think the job of a comedian and the job of a happy person are pretty much the same thing, which is to dig deep, figure out who you are, figure out what actually does it for you, and then present that to people, and find like minded people.”

I tell him that he comes across as a well adjusted adult, especially for a comedian. I wonder if this creates a divide in his comedy life: does he find himself gravitating to those who are doing the work, sometimes quite publicly? Do the spirit nerds, therapy lovers, 12 steppers, et al find themselves on one side of the room?

“You know, it’s funny, I love them all. You know, in fact, when I do Montreal, and I get to hang out with — maybe they are adjusted, but let’s just say they’re more like what I call the pirate comedian, you know, traveling around, swashbuckling, swabbing the deck, killing crowds, destroying, murdering and drinking rum — I love them too…It’s not even ‘too’, like I love them just as much.

“…There’s different aspects to my personality as well. Meaning it’s not just the chipper guy, or the the spiritual guy, or the philosophical guy, or whatever. There’s also, you know, Montreal is home to Mean Pete; Mean Pete does the roasts, Mean Pete will jump on Jim Norton’s show. I love roasting, I love being an asshole for fun, and getting rough and tumble if that’s the game we’re playing. Because, yeah, I mean, it’s beautiful. It’s fun. I love comedians.”

Considering the pandemic forced hiatus that performing in general and the Just For Laughs Festival in particular is returning from, I ask if being back on the road with everyone is akin to a class reunion.

“I think of it more as like a summer camp reunion, because class reunions are tricky. It was always better for me. I was always more of a camp kid than a school kid. You know, I did a festival not that long ago…in Austin, it was the Moontower Fest — and there’s just something very special about…taking the elevator down to the lobby, thinking you’re gonna go eat alone, which is often what you’ll do when you’re traveling, and you run into one person in the lobby, and as you walk to lunch, you run into another person, and by the time you get there, there’s as a party of five, and that’s uniquely a comedy fest experience.”

A spirit nerd myself, one of my favorite definitions of God is a Pete Holmes quote where he said something to the effect of: God is the name we give to the blanket we throw over the mystery in the dark to give it form. His Wikipedia page is more concise, if perhaps less accurate about his spiritual leanings, saying “he now refers to himself as ‘Christ-leaning’ or jokingly a ‘Hooraytheist'”. He’s a bit too busy to be reading his own Wiki though, so he had no idea (when I asked him about it, I misquoted it as Christian-leaning).

“Yeah…interesting. I’m gonna have to edit that.”

But it was Hooraytheism that really piqued my interest.

“It’s like trying to talk about Christian or Jewish people. There’s no way to categorize all of them. But some atheists can be bitter, right? They’re a little upset that this is all a cosmic mistake, and it’s bullshit — this isn’t all of them, but a ton of them. And that’s why when I started to meet more delightful, optimistic, joyful atheists– to sort of have the perspective of like, more, I don’t know what’s going on; I don’t think there’s a God on the evidence, but I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t understand what’s going on, but it’s precious and it’s fleeting, so let’s watch a sunset, let’s have an ice cream, let’s fall in love. Penn Gillette is always my go to example of a truly beautiful atheist. I was like we need a new term, and we should call them Hooraytheists.”

“When you grow up thinking that you are going to be sentenced to conscious, eternal torment for believing the wrong things or not believing correctly enough or hard enough, or for whatever sin you think you’re guilty as you think you’re going to be going to hell, it’s actually quite a relief to think that when you die you go into a void or into nothingness. I mean, don’t get me started with the Buddhists. The reincarnation people, which are Hindus, and Buddhists, would say it’s wishful thinking to be a modern Western atheist that we’re gonna die and just go into the void. The Hindus are actually working really hard to clean up their game so they can earn the right to merge into the nothingness…We’re the new generation and we want the void now.”

Pete got his start as one of JFL’s New Faces in 2009, and now he’s back to host. I asked if he gets a sneak peek of the lineup.

“…It’s supposed to be super hush hush and this year, I don’t know who the people are. And it’s exciting to find out… I guess I could say the same reason fans are going to the new faces show is the same reason I’m going, it’s because I want to be introduced to the new talent…Honestly, the more successful you get, the more isolated you can become…you just aren’t out there as much. It doesn’t matter what profession you’re in, this is true.”

“But Montreal has always been a great opportunity to like, get back together. Like, that’s really the paradox is when you start comedy, it’s a group activity. It’s you and 15 other people that you’re starting with, and you all go to the same open mics together, so you’re like a platoon. But then when you get success, you become like a hitman that travels alone, and does the job alone, and comes back alone. And that’s not as lonely as it sounds, but it’s not as fun as what it feels like when you’re all together. Which is what Montreal feels like.”

Catch Pete Holmes & Friends this Friday. Also this Friday, he’s part of the Patton Oswalt Gala. He’s hosting New Faces 1&2, and New Faces Unrepped. He’s also doing a live You Made It Weird podcast on July 30

Legendary British actor Malcolm McDowell is in Montreal this week for a special Just For Laughs event promoting his CBC comedy series Son of a Critch. Going by a story he told at the recent Montreal Comic Con, however, we should consider ourselves lucky he’s here at all.

During the course of his hour-long panel at the Con, the prolific performer fielded questions from fans about his work in everything from A Clockwork Orange and Heroes to Star Trek and Halloween, all while dropping hints that one of his worst professional experiences was somehow linked to MTL. When someone finally found the courage to ask him outright what had happened, McDowell spilled the beans in his inimitable fashion.

“I’ll tell you this – the only time I was ripped off by a producer was in Montreal. That is the only time in a 60-year career that I was actually not paid. They paid half and suddenly on the last day of shooting I get a call from my agent in LA who goes, ‘Stop working! Don’t do anything else!’ and I went, ‘It’s the last day – are you kidding me? That’s no threat. They’ve got everything they need!’”

After the crowd’s laughter died down, the 79-year-old recalled exactly which project had ripped him off. “It was a remake of The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” he remembered with a chuckle. “They paid me a little bit and still owed me quite a lot of money and then, like five years later, somebody else bought it (…) and I got this call to say, ‘look, German TV will pay you half of your fee. What do you want to do?’ and I went ‘Take it. Absolutely. A half is better than nothing, right?’ So that’s Montreal filmmaking for me!” he quipped. “No, I loved working in this city and it was fantastic, except for that nasty little surprise at the end.”

Pact With The Devil, the Montreal-made picture that failed to properly pay McDowell

Pact with the Devil, also released under the title Dorian, costarred Christoph Waltz and Ethan Erickson and was filmed here in 2002. Thankfully, it’s not the only project McDowell associates with Montreal. “I did a movie here with Mos Def,” he told the crowd, citing 2000’s horror picture Island of the Dead. “It was a cool little movie and the food was good too!” he said of our unparalleled local catering.

“I’ve always loved Montreal. It’s a great city. I’ve had wonderful times here and made some weird little movies here, so it’s a pleasure to be back. I’ve been shooting in Newfoundland doing the second season of Son of a Critch, a show that I absolutely love, and it’s a fantastic place too. I really love being there and I’m going to be there for the next two months.”

Critch is based on the 2018 memoir of the same name written by Mark Critch, of This Hour Has 22 Minutes fame. The comedian stars as his own father in the semi-autobiographical series, which flashes back to his upbringing in the 1980s and features McDowell in the role of grandfather Patrick.

When asked by a convention-goer if he’d been officially ‘screeched in’, he feigned ignorance of the classic Newfie tradition, retorting, “Is this where they hit you over the face with the wet fish?” The tradition actually involves getting newcomers to The Rock to recite a poem, take a shot and kiss a cod. “No, they didn’t do that to me, I’m glad to say,” he remarked before adding, “at this point, I think we’ve probably gone past that. I’m now a sort of honorary Newfoundlander.”

The cast of CBC’s Son of a Critch

“In the new season, I do get to go out fishing for cod with my son Mark Critch, who is a wonderful humorist and terrific writer,” he went on to say. “Of course, things don’t go smoothly and we try to get a bit of comedy out of it, as you might expect. It’s such a fun series. I love it.”

Returning for Just For Laughs, McDowell will be joined by the cast and creative team of Critch for a special panel and discussion this Saturday the 30th at Doubletree by Hilton. It seems a safe bet, however, that his thoughts might also turn to fellow thespian David Warner, as they did during the Comic Con. Warner sadly passed away this week at the age of 80, losing his battle with “a cancer-related illness” after a lengthy career on stage and screen.

Though he is best known to the public for his supporting role in James Cameron’s Titanic and voice work in shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Disney’s Gargoyles, Warner is fondly remembered by McDowell because of their earliest days together in the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“My great mate was David Warner,” McDowell said during the convention, flashing back to Warner’s star turn in 1965, at the age of 24. “David was playing Hamlet. He was the Beatles generation Hamlet and used to get like 300 schoolgirls outside the stage door waiting for him after his performance, all screaming. I mean, it scared him to death, but ahhh…those were the days! It was fun.”

The two would go on to appear in 1979’s Time After Time, where McDowell played H.G. Wells opposite Warner’s Jack The Ripper.

McDowell and Warner in 1979’s Time After Time

In spite of the ups and downs of a life in the limelight, McDowell seems to have weathered the storms no worse for wear. “I’m really having so much fun as an older actor, actually. It’s lovely and delicious, because I get to play the full spectrum of parts now, from serial killers to grandfathers. And yeah, I kind of enjoy playing psychos because you can do things you can’t even dream of as a person. As a character, you can go nuts and have so much fun. And I love doing comedies because it’s the hardest thing to do. Real emoting is really easy, basically, but the real tough stuff is comedy and timing and getting a laugh, especially on film or on television. It’s always very difficult but it’s challenging and I really enjoy it. That’s why I’m doing Son of a Critch.”

Malcolm McDowell and the Son of a Critch cast will take the stage this Saturday July 30th. For ticket information, visit hahaha.com Son of a Critch is broadcast both on CBC and on the CBC GEM streaming service. The next edition of the Montreal Comic Con will be held from the 14th to the 16th of July 2023

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

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

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss Cinema Guzzo’s plans to show the Pope’s visit to Quebec at all of its Montreal-area theatres, rising heat levels and fires around the world and more on this year’s Just for Laughs Festival.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram