When I interviewed Ronny Chieng a few weeks ago, he told me his favourite comedy to perform was on things that annoy him, and that we would see examples of this in his Just for Laughs show.

He is on the tail-end of his Tone Issues tour, the name drawn from his wife’s criticism that he always sounds either sarcastic or angry when he speaks. That said, I was stoked to see his show, as I’ve been a fan of his since I saw him appear on the Australian web series, The Katering Show

Opening for Chieng was Anthony DeVito, who is also playing the Ethnic Show this year. His set was hilarious and endearing, and though some of his material was repeated from the Ethnic Show, some of the jokes I hadn’t heard before. Like his crack about his obsession with shows about odd animal friendships and how he’d like to see a human version. It was a great warm up, and a promise of things to come.

Ronny Chieng came on stage immaculately dressed in monochromatic pants and shoes, each and every hair in place, and launched right into his first rant about anti-vaxxers. In this show, no one was safe. He took the piss out of everyone from Baby Boomers to Millenials, White supremacists to even the lowly comedy show reviewer. On Baby Boomers, he pointed out that they’re a group who’s on their way out and is trying to take everything with them.

Though Chieng’s show was mostly angry in tone, it wasn’t all negative. His comedy shows an infinite respect for women, New Yorkers, and Asians. Many of his jokes about Asians in America and how they’re generally better at running things were repeated from his other shows, but there was enough fresh material to keep it interesting.

When I interviewed him, he explained that he tries to add nuance to Asian stereotypes or destroy them when possible. He did that and more, at once praising the desire of Asian people to keep things working no matter the circumstance, and pointing out the absurdity of Asian weddings. When speaking about women, he praised the meticulousness of those who take the birth control pill and pointed out that they don’t owe men anything.

The only joke that fell flat was a joke he made about the wage gap, but to Chieng’s credit, he admitted during the show that he probably shouldn’t have included it.

That said, Tone Issues isn’t for everyone. If you’re the kind of person who likes “happy” comedy and can’t handle a little negativity, Ronny Chieng isn’t the comedian for you. If you want to laugh your butt off at some of the most brutal social criticism you’ll ever hear, check it out!

I had no idea what to expect when I walked in to She The People. Featuring an all female cast from Second City Toronto, it’s described by Just for Laughs as “a sketch show entirely created, designed, and performed by fearlessly funny women!”.

Sketch shows can often be hit or miss, with a couple of good skits and a ton of bad ones. When you add that to the mistaken belief that women aren’t funny, She the People has a lot to prove, and it does so spectacularly.

I knew this was feminist comedy going in, and I though I myself am a feminist, I was worried that it was going to consist of a slew of period jokes and rants about the patriarchy. She the People had that and more, tackling sexism, racism, rape culture, LGBTQI phobia, reproductive rights, and the pay gap and though I tried to find a serious flaw in this show, I found none. Every skit was funny, every actor made a mark, and every social criticism was hilarious, brutal, and on-point.

Whether it was the sketch about microwaving Lean Cuisine as a metaphor for the reproductive rights debate, or the skit in which the cast portrayed the women in ads, every joke was funny. One notable gag was when a cast member came on stage in a T-rex costume and pearls to talk about men who shame women for their clothing choices, though I have to admit that she could have gone on stage and praised Trump and I still would have giggled and said “T-rex costume!”

One of the best political jokes of the night was the ballet featuring cast members in masks of Canadian male politicians from Trudeau to Scheer to Ford, done appropriately to the song “Send in the Clowns”.

That said, whether you have doubts about whether women are funny, or simply want to laugh yourself silly, you need to see She The People. It doesn’t just smash the patriarchy, it’s a hilarious blow to the glass ceiling of comedy.

She the People is playing at the Centaur Theatre until July 27. Tickets available at hahaha.com.

While it might be cliché to say you didn’t know what to expect walking into a show, for me that was absolutely the case with Adam Conover’s Mind Parasites Live, currently playing in the Just for Laughs festival as part of OFF-JFL.

Was this going to be a live version of Adam Ruins Everything, the truTV show/series of videos Conover hosts, or were we in for a standup set? Turns out it was a little from Column A, a little from Column B, with some Column P, for parasites, thrown into the mix.

I’m talking parasites of the insect world on the screen behind Conover in all their nature documentary glory (good thing this wasn’t dinner theatre). He used a different one to jump into each of his three main themes: advertising, alcohol and the Internet.

His analogies worked, and made quite a bit of sense, in particular the one about the ant on the blade of grass. The tech, which amounted to Conover controlling the various slides and videos we saw on the screen with his phone, worked too, flawlessly.

As someone who has personally experienced casting to a TV from a phone and is left waiting, the seamless transition was impressive. I also liked how, unlike other comedians with multimedia elements to their shows, Conover didn’t have to rely on someone else to change the visuals.

This was a show with good tech and quite a bit of thought behind it that really succeeded in driving it’s points home, but was it also funny? Absolutely.

No, it wasn’t joke-a-minute standup, but Conover’s mix of information, analysis and personal anecdotes was the kind of comedy you could both laugh at and really think about. If the standing ovation at the end of Monday night’s show was any indication, Montreal audiences really get where Adam Conover is coming from and what he has to say.

Adam Ruins Everything presents Mind Parasites Live with Adam Conover runs through July 27th as part of OFF-JFL. Tickets available through hahaha.com.

To say that Jessimae Peluso is happy with her Just for Laughs booking this year would be quite the understatement.

“It’s the one show,” Paluso says of her upcoming gig, JFL staple The Nasty Show, “that for years I’ve said this is my show, this is my jam!”

Peluso has played JFL before. as part of Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud Live! series. While she considers her previous experience both enlightening and even a bit overwhelming. This time, though, she’s excited to bring the nasty.

“It’s purely based in what I love to do most and how I like to perform, which is uncensored and straight from my brain to my mouth,” Peluso commented in a phone interview, adding: “which, for the better part of my life, I’ve been in trouble for.”

Exile from the classroom and mouth washed out with soap (both of which Peluso mentioned) aside, the comic also hosts not one, but two podcasts. I asked her why so many comedians turn to podcasting and for her, creative control is the most alluring aspect.

“There’s no red tape, there’s no waiting for the network to okay the content, there’s no network notes or anything from people who have never set foot on a stage or written anything creative in their life,” Peluso observed, “it’s a liberating medium for any sort of performer or public speaker. It’s a great way to talk about something that interests you.”

And what interests Peluso? Well, talking comedy on her Sharp Tongue Podcast clearly does. Her Highlarious Podcast, though, has a dual focus of raising awareness about Alzheimers, which her father passed away from in October (and Seth Rogan’s Hilarity for Charity), and talking about the benefits of cannabis, in particular legalization.

When I mentioned that weed is legal now north of the border, Peluso was quite aware and prepared:

“I’m going to be out in a bikini at 8am smoking weed in public saying ‘sorry, sorry, just living my truth’, I’m excited.”

I could tell she was excited throughout the interview. I’d like to bring up more of what we touched on, like how a video of her LOL performance is inexplicably bleeped on YouTube, her discovery that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mom is also playing JFL, her three dogs or the fact she started the interview by calling me Jason Voorhees (some real dad joke-level humour there), but I can’t include it all.

Instead, I’ll leave the last word to Peluso. When I asked her what audiences can expect from her this year, she said:

“They can expect to see somebody who feels real honoured and at home on a stage that celebrates comedy without restrictions.”

Catch Jessimae Peluso as part of The Nasty Show July 17-27. Tickets available through hahaha.com

The Ethnic Show is a Just for Laughs staple. Promoted as a “hilarious celebration of global perspectives” it features an ethnically diverse cast of comics cracking jokes about their own cultures and how whites treat them. It’s one of the few events where white people can feel comfortable laughing at ethnic jokes, guilt-free.

In the past, The Ethnic Show has been kind of hit or miss for me. Some of the comics are great, pulling no punches with their critiques of their own cultures and how white people react to them, while others are lame, opting for the most clichéd ethnic jokes or lame-duck tactics like busting out a guitar.

I was pleasantly surprised this year.

The host is Cristela Alonzo, a Mexican-American from Texas. Though tiny and sweet looking, she made a perfect host, not just because her material was funny, but because as a comedian, she’s relatable and likeable.

Host Cristela Alonzo

Her material ranged from encountering racism for the first time, to her homogenous upbringing, to the adventures of getting older. She also made one of the best Trump jokes of the night, saying she’s ok with the wall…

“Because we build tunnels now!”

Next up was Italian comedian Anthony DeVito, who began his set bemoaning the fact that he looks ethnically ambiguous. His comedy is primarily self-deprecating, his set taking jabs at himself, his girlfriend, and his grandmother (or Nonna), and the racism of older generations.

Anthony DeVito

His set was very stereotypically Italian, but the shy, angry, self-deprecation of his delivery made it hilariously endearing and a joy to watch.

DeVito was followed by Brazilian comedian Rafinha ‘Rafi’ Bastos, who was one of the funniest acts of the night. I had seen Bastos perform as part of Laugh Out Loud Live! last year and in my review I said he’d be a great addition to The Ethnic Show, so I was overjoyed to see him on last night’s roster.

While a lot of his material – like his bemoaning the fact that Brazil is known for bald pussies – was repeated from last year, he had enough new material to keep the set fresh, and his loud angry delivery was hilarious enough to make me not care about the old stuff. In addition to making fun of himself, he took potshots at plastic straw bans, turtles, and English insults – pointing out that ‘pussy’ doesn’t work as an insult because every pussy he’s encountered has been strong and durable.

Dave Merheje, a Lebanese Canadian comedian, was on next and I had high hopes for him. I had had a chance to interview Merheje before the festival and had seen past performances on YouTube. He is incredibly funny.

Unfortunately he spent too much of his time last night trying to engage the audience, who weren’t having it. When he finally did launch into his material, he was great. Here’s hoping he focuses on that for future performances.

After intermission Robby Hoffman took the stage. A former Lubavitch Chasidic Jew-turned-Lesbian, a lot of her set was about growing up in a religious household with a Jewish mom and nine siblings.

As a Jew, I found this material kind of tired, but that’s probably because her jokes were things I hear about all the time from my friends. She also had a bit on dried fruit that could only be described as lame. Her set vastly improved when she started joking about gender, sexuality, and the pay gap, saying that men should pay for women because:

“Pussy is expensive. You want free? DICK is free!” A joke that had the audience hysterical.

Last to go on was Donnell Rawlings. Other media I met at the event described him as a disciple of Dave Chappelle. In addition to being a comedian, he also has an upcoming role in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot film.

He came on stage loud and proud, singing along to the country song Old Town Road by Lil Nas X with the vocal prowess that showed that if he ever decided to quit comedy, he might have a shot as a singer.

Rawlings is a comedic powerhouse. Every joke hit the mark, from his bit about how black people don’t pick up shit, to being into white women who work for non-profits, to his rant about rock music.

He was a great way to end the show and people left the theatre still laughing at his performance.

The Ethnic Show runs from July 11-25 at the Just for Laughs Festival. Check it out

Mental illness is a topic a lot of people are uncomfortable with. Though society is getting better at discussing illnesses like depression, anxiety, grief and others, we owe that in part to the entertainers who have bravely come forward to tell of their struggles. Among these you find comedians like Hannah Gadby and Adam Cayton-Holland.

Adam Cayton-Holland’s story is one of moving beyond grief and turning pain into power. He is returning to the Just for Laughs festival after six years away.

The reason for his hiatus is a sad one. Shortly after he played the festival in 2013, his sister died by suicide. Cayton-Holland was the one who discovered her body.

Following her death, he battled grief and depression and underwent therapy which helped him to cope. He eventually came out with a memoir of his struggles, titled Tragedy Plus Time: A Tragi-Comic Memoir. His show, Happy Place, is loosely adapted from that memoir.

I had the opportunity to speak with Cayton-Holland about his experience overcoming grief and his return to Just for Laughs. He was surprisingly cheerful on the phone given the tragedy he’s endured, saying he’s excited to come back and that he loves Montreal.

When I asked him for specifics, he talked about loving the food at Au Pied de Cochon and that he’s looking forward to eating at Joe Beef this time around. When I asked him whether he preferred New York bagels to Montreal bagels, he pointed out that being from Denver, Colorado, he doesn’t have a dog in this fight.

“I’ll take Montreal,” he laughed.

Pleasantries aside, I asked about the tragedy he endured.

“I came to Montreal in 2012, and I came back in 2013. I came home, and two days after that my little sister took her own life.”

I asked if she was ill and he said she was clearly so but that things only became clearer in hindsight, describing how looking at the timeline, the last two years of her life were characterised by mental illness that turned his sister’s brain in on itself.

I asked him if the grief and depression he endured as a result interfered with his ability to do comedy:

“Oh my god yeah. And I sort of stopped doing standup for a while. It was this odd thing where you know, for a comic from Denver, Colorado to be a New Face, it was a big deal, it was a big career moment, and then two days later your sister takes herself out. So it’s like all things you’ve been caring about in your career and comedy and Hollywood and then you’re just quickly reminded: oh none of that matters at ALL and I’m broken and my family’s broken. My friends and I sold our TV show, Those Who Can’t, which had three seasons to TruTV right around that time so we had to make a pilot and I was sort of doing the best I could but I had a couple of breakdowns and I had to have aggressive therapy and it is as awful as you can imagine. It was THAT awful.”

I know some people, when dealing with grief, tend to work harder to try and forget, so I asked Cayton-Holland if this was the case with him. He said that he tried, but everything happened seven years ago and he hasn’t been talking about it in standup on stage.

Writing the book, then, became his way of mourning. Now that he put the book out, he wants to talk about it in a one-man show format, describing said show as:

“Not standup per se, a little more serious.”


For Cayton-Holland, writing was therapeutic and cathartic, helping him process what he was going through, though he went into the writing process with no hyperbole in mind.

“I’d sit at my laptop and sob, but it helped me. There was a normalization of it. I don’t want this to be a dirty secret. I don’t want this to be something I’m ashamed of. I’m not ashamed of her, not ashamed of what she did. I just feel like mental illness took my little sister out and so writing about it helped me kinda come around and get through the normal feelings of grief and anger and shame and guilt. Writing really helped me with that.”

When he mentioned sobbing, I asked if he wanted to fight the stigma about men crying. In response Cayton-Holland pointed out that the stigma is a little dated and feels like there’s something wrong with a man who can’t cry.

“I lost my little sister. You expect me not to cry?”

When I asked about the response to his memoir, he said it’s been amazing:

“If anything it’s shown me how prevalent this stuff is: mental illness, depression, suicide. I cannot tell you the amount of messages I get all the time, sometimes it’s really big overshare. I put myself out there so people relate. I wrote honestly and tried to normalize it and a lot of people are like ‘Thank you because my family went through something similar’ and just share- It’s the power of story, and people seem to really respond to that.”

He said that in some ways the experience made him less lonely, in some ways it made him more so. He says that telling his story has helped nip any shame and awkwardness in the bud.

“It’s 2019 and we still whisper the word ‘suicide’. I’m comfortable with it but I understand the stigma around it.”

His show is called Happy Place because the therapy he underwent to overcome his grief involved retreating to a happy place in his mind when a traumatic memory – in this case finding his sister’s body – became too intense. The show is based on excerpts from his memoir, but Cayton-Holland says you can expect tons of new material as well.

Happy Place is on at Just for Laughs from July 23-25. Check it out.

Ronny Chieng is one of the few comics to bring an Asian perspective to the Just for Laughs stage. He is playing the Just for Laughs festival as part of his Tone Issues Tour but you can also see him on The Daily Show and in Crazy Rich Asians, his first role in a major motion picture. 

I had the chance to speak to Chieng over the phone. Being half-Asian myself, I know about the expectations Asian parents often have for their children so I asked if his family had different hopes for him career-wise. Chieng appreciated the question because one of his very first jokes at Just for Laughs addressed that.

He spoke of being sent to Australia to study law but he was a poor student. He became a comedian because he couldn’t get a job in law, and comedy ended up paying better. He even said that he didn’t tell his parents about his new career directly – they found out about it when he appeared in the local press in their home country, but they’re okay with his career choice now.

Since Chieng now works in America and a lot of his comedy is political, I asked him if he thinks Trump is good for comedy. He feels it’s fair to say that Trump is good for comedy.

“He’s bad for life, bad for the planet, and bad for the country, and bad for mental health everywhere. At The Daily Show we talk about him every day, so I’d be hard-pressed to say he’s not good for comedy. Would I want that? No, I would rather have someone else – he has more cons than pros for the comedy world.”

Though Chieng doesn’t like the Trump Administration, he doesn’t feel that comedians working in America should feel obligated to criticize it in their comedy.

Great stand-up, in his eyes, comes from really authentic points of view and pandering to trendy topics if you’re not personally passionate about them is not going to make for good comedy. 

While comedians shouldn’t feel obligated to talk about it, he feels that everyone – comedian or not – has an obligation to say something if they feel that something isn’t right.

Chieng’s comedy centers a lot on being Asian in predominantly white countries so I asked if his work was more about dispelling stereotypes or just about laughter. At first he joked that it was about making money, but then said that he is about fighting stereotypes or at least give them a little more nuance. 

“If there’s a stereotype, I would like to explain why that’s a stereotype and maybe take the stereotype to another level – explain the full story behind the stereotype or break the stereotype altogether if I feel a stereotype is unfair. I try to address it because I feel like no one is talking about it in society. I wanted someone to talk about it when I was growing up so that’s the kind of comedy I do. I hope I do the kind of comedy I wanted to see.”

While a lot of Chieng’s comedy is about lived experience, he does research on occasion to make sure he knows what he’s talking about. When it comes to his favourite topics in comedy, he said it’s mostly things that make him angry, saying he has an hour of such examples in his Just for Laughs show.

Crazy Rich Asians was Ronny Chieng’s first film role, so I couldn’t help asking him about it. Chieng loved doing the film because it was shot in Malaysia and Singapore, where he’s from, which allowed him to see family and friends during filming. 

The film was considered ground-breaking because it supposedly opened the door for more Asian characters in film when Hollywood still didn’t think it was possible. While Chieng doesn’t consider the film to be the be-all and end-all of films featuring Asian characters, he thinks the fact it was so well-received is amazing. 

“What the movie was really good at was not over-explaining Asian things and showing Asian characters as complete three-dimensional characters with complicated needs and wants. Some of them are good guys and some of them are bad guys, some of them are in between, they fall in love, they fall out of love, they have complicated lives. I thought that was very useful. I think it also established a baseline for Asian storytelling moving forward. I think there’s no context for Asian stories usually in the West, so a lot of movies can’t be made because there’s no baseline understanding so I feel like Crazy Rich Asians is a very good baseline story for Asian people in the West.”

There have been criticisms of Crazy Rich Asians as only showcasing paler-skinned Asians. For example, Filipinos like myself tend to be darker. Chieng sees the problem in the fact that in North America, Asian is considered a single voting block despite the diversity in Asian nationalities and cultures among the Asian diaspora. 

“You got Koreans, you got Japanese, you got Burmese, you got Thai, you have Filipinos, you have Malaysians, you have Chinese people, not to mention Chinese Indonesians, Chinese Malaysians, Chinese people who live in Japan, Chinese people from different parts of China with all the different dialect groups. Then you have the same number of people Americanized… and each of those groups are very distinct cultures. To expect one movie to cover the entire diaspora of Asia is an unfair burden placed upon it by Western views of what Asia is,”

In terms of criticisms that the film only showcased wealthier Asians, Chieng considers the movie satirical and that it showcases the extreme wealth that’s in Asia right now because that’s how the West experiences Asia in 2019.

Ronny Chieng is playing Just for Laughs from July 23 to 25. Check him out.

Bonnie McFarlane is a Canadian success story. Hailing from Cold Lake, Alberta; she’s a comedian, writer, director, and co-hosts a radio show on Sirius XM. As a filmmaker she’s worked to combat sexism in comedy with the award-winning documentary Women Aren’t Funny. She’s returning to Montreal as part of The Nasty Show, and co-hosting a game show at Just for Laughs with her husband, comedian Rich Vos.

I had the opportunity to meet with Bonnie McFarlane so I asked her why there is the assumption that women aren’t funny. McFarlane has a lot of theories about it.

She said that comedy clubs have been catering to “bro audiences” for a long time so when a woman goes on and performs something other than “bro comedy”, they may not receive a positive response.

McFarlane herself identifies as male-friendly and she’s been working in this system for so long that she’s learned to tailor her act to those audiences. She thinks, however, that it’s important to make room for voices outside “bro comedy”, speaking with deference about comedian Hanna Gadsby and director Jill Soloway, who helped pave the way for female voices in comedy.

Macfarlane experiences inequality when people boycotting Louis CK and urging others to do the same asked her not to play at The Comedy Cellar in New York due to their reputation to book comedians like Louis CK, who in 2017 was accused of sexual misconduct.

“Why should I have to not work because of things that he did? If you want to stop going to The Comedy Cellar that’s fantastic, do whatever you want to do, but I’m not going to work less.”

For McFarlane, the problem lies in boycott and cancel culture, describing once being at a show where Louis CK came in unannounced and did a set. She went on stage after him and people told her after the show that she shouldn’t have gone on.

McFarlane doesn’t see how having fewer female voices is going to help sexism in comedy. There’s a lot of debate in comedy about political correctness and feminism often takes part of the blame for that.

McFarlane acknowledges that it’s a complicated issue but she believes in free speech and that comedians should hold themselves more accountable for what they say. She says it’s especially hard if you’re a female comic because you’re expected to have such strong opinions about these things.

While she has no sympathy for comedians like Louis CK, she personally does not want to stop him from working, highlighting the importance of moving forward instead of constantly drawing attention to bad people.

As she often opens her sets by announcing she’s a feminist, an atheist, and a vegan, I wondered what her take was on whether feminism was compatible with comedy. Her response was an enthusiastic no, saying that making fun of oneself is another way of taking charge.

“We know how far we’ve come when we can laugh at ourselves,” she said.

In addition to being a comic, McFarlane is an author, she directs, and she co-hosts has a radio show, so I asked her which role she identifies with most.

“I’ll always love standup most because it’s given me everything else,” she said.

While her favourite thing in the world is writing jokes, she also loves writing screenplays and TV shows and directing.

“I love taking something from one idea and seeing it all the way through to the end. It’s such a satisfying process.”

In addition to doing The Nasty Show, Bonnie McFarlane is co-hosting Would You Bang Him? with her husband, comedian, Rich Vos. The show is a contest in which a panel of female judges assess male comedians and whether they’d sleep with them. McFarlane cheerfully promises there will be beefy guys in addition to the comedians. Check it out.

Tickets for The Nasty Show and Would You Bang Him available through hahaha.com

comedian dave merheje

Dave Merheje is a comedic force to be reckoned with. Growing up in Windsor, Ontario to Lebanese immigrant parents, he worked for a sightseeing company along with other odd jobs, soon after, he got into comedy.

Since then his star has only risen; he’s played at multiple Just for Laughs festivals in Montreal, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, the Halifax Comedy Festival, and his 2018 comedy special Good Friends, Bad Grammar was nominated for a 2019 Juno Award. This year, Merheje is appearing at Just for Laughs as part of The Ethnic Show and a solo show at Katacombes as part of Off-JFL & Zoofest.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Merheje at Just for Laughs HQ downtown.

As he’s doing The Ethnic Show this year, I asked if he considers himself to be an ethnic comedian. He smiled, calling it a tricky question and said that he never sought out to be an ethnic comic, but sharing his culture, upbringing and experiences may lead others to perceive him as such.

He considers his comedy to be closest version of himself, on stage as off stage. Early on in his career, he says a fellow comedian advised him to avoid talking about his ethnicity because “everyone was doing it”. It led him to shy away from the sensitive material, until, while talking about his father to another comedian, they suggested he discuss it on stage, now he embraces the subject, and so do audiences.

Merheje portrays his family as this hilarious dichotomy between his calm serene mother, and his aggressive matter-of-fact father. I asked him how his family feels about how he represents them, and he said they’re “dope” about it. Though his father won’t be at Just for Laughs, he comes to many of Merheje’s shows including the Juno Awards this year.

“They can take it.” He says, “they understand it’s humour and they’re not offended.”

Merheje says that some people build their own narratives about him when they find out he’s Middle Eastern, and he considers it his job to tell his truth on stage. He has experienced problems with xenophobic heckling before, with one heckler asking what age he learned to detonate bombs, but he rolls with the punches because at least the comments are said to his face.

He said some Middle Eastern people enjoy his comedy while others think he’s giving people the wrong impression about his culture but if they do. It’s on them, and he’s still going to keep doing what he does.

When I asked Merheje how feels about Montreal audiences compared to others, he said they’re a very comedy-savvy audience.

“It’s a good energy. They watch comedy, they see it every year, it’s the biggest festival in the world so they’re here for it. They’re hip to it.”

Merheje is grateful for all the extra attention he’s been getting lately but is determined to maintain a proper work ethic. He knows that you can’t buy into the attention too much or you can get hurt when it doesn’t go your way.

I asked him if there was one thing he could say to audiences, what would it be.

“Just have fun. Don’t take everything so personally. It’s just a show. It’s entertainment. Just have fun with it.”

In addition to his set at Just for Laughs’ The Ethnic Show and his solo show for Off JFL & Zoofest this year, Dave Merheje can also be seen on the Hulu show, Ramy, where he plays the main character’s devout Muslim friend (a character he says is very different from himself). Check him out.

For tickets go to hahaha.com

The weather is warming up, the city is a war zone of traffic and construction, and this only means one thing: it’s festival season in Montreal. On May 22, 2019 media reps attended a press conference for the 37th edition of the Just for Laughs festival. At the event, media members, myself included, were treated to a preview of the festival to come, and it looks to be a great one.

Wanda Sykes is coming to town to host a gala on July 26th, joining comedy stars Howie Mandel, Hasan Minhaj, and Jim Jeffries, who are all hosting their own galas. Trevor Noah is back to do a show, and festival staples like Brit-Ish and The Ethnic Show are back, with Jimmy Carr and Cristela Alonzo hosting.

The festival is also featuring rising stars like Malaysian comic Ronny Chieng, and American Nicole Byer. The Nasty Show, a festival favorite, is being hosted by comedian Bobby Lee this year.

Just for Laughs is a festival known to have launched the careers of Ali Wong, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, and Margaret Cho. Every year they offer an opportunity to new faces in comedy and this year is no exception. In addition to their regular New Faces series, this year will feature New Faces: Canada, featuring rising Canadian stars in comedy.

In addition to the regular fare, this year’s festival highlights the achievement of great women. Just for Laughs will feature Certain Woman of an Age, the critically-acclaimed autobiographical one-woman show by Canadian icon and international mental health advocate (and mother of our current Prime Minister) Margaret Trudeau. The show will have a three night run at the festival, from July 25th to 27th at Gesu.

The Second City Toronto is also bringing their show, She the People, to Just for Laughs, a sketch show created, written, designed, and performed by women, tackling everything from the patriarchy to the government.

This year also brings the return of the Zoofest/Off-JFL festival. Since its creation in 2009, this festival prides itself on giving more room to the next generation, allowing creators more freedom to do shows outside the traditional box of regular Just for Laughs fare. An added bonus is that tickets to these shows are generally cheaper too.

Artists this year include Ron Funches, Adam Conover from the hit College Humor series Adam Ruins Everything, Cameron Esposito, Sasheer Zamata, Andy Kindler, and the Lucas Brothers.

All that said, Just for Laughs 2019 looks like a blast. I’m going! Are you?

Tickets and info: hahaha.com

LOL Live! Is one of Just for Laughs’ newer offerings, so when they invited me to attend the show, I was intrigued. Presented by Kevin Hart, it’s described as a “A four-night multi-comic mega-event showcasing some of the best comedians from across the continent appearing at the Just For Laughs Festival” so I attended the show on Friday night not recognizing any of the names on the roster but prepared for a good time.

Like any multi-comic event, there are going to be some good acts, some great ones, and a stinker or two. I’m going to talk about the best and the worst.

James Mattern

James Mattern hosted the event and I have to say that as a host he was not the best. While he did a good job warming up the audience for the fact that the show was filmed, his enunciation of the comedians’ names needs work. Me and my guest had so much trouble understanding his pronunciation that I had to look up the names of the comedians before writing this review.

That said, James Mattern IS funny.

His rant about names in the US was hilarious and reminiscent of the late great George Carlin’s work. His bit about Spinach vs Kale vs Arugula was current and funny. He may not have been the greatest host, but he is clearly a great comedian.

Vanessa Graddick

If you want to see a comedian slip seamlessly from jokes about single womanhood to jabs at the Catholic Church, you need to see Vanessa Graddick.

Her style appeals to the single woman in us all, and every joke felt at once personal and endearingly funny. Whether it was her talking about going to different churches to find the best single men, or advising us to toss out our self-help books so we don’t become a “bitter bitch”, she was a joy to watch.

Josh Adam Meyers

Josh Adam Meyers began on a hilariously self-deprecating note.

He introduced himself by saying “I sound like I have influenza and I look like Billy Bob Thornton.”

His humour was a funny combination of pop culture criticism – like how The Walking Dead is implausible because it’s a zombie apocalypse where no one uses cuss words – self deprecation, and vulgarity.

He was the most physical act of the night, unafraid to do sound effects and move his body to get his jokes across – like in his bit about how doggy-style changes with age. He was a treat to watch and I hope he comes back to Montreal.

Rafinha (Rafi) Bastos

Rafi Bastos was by far my favorite act of the night.

He introduced himself as Brazilian : “So yes, I wax my vagina.”

His jokes were hilarious observations about his experiences as a Brazilian man coming to grips with the English language and American culture. One of his best jokes was about sexting:

“We don’t do sexting in Brazil—because we actually f*ck.”

Bastos also made the best and only Trump joke of the night, saying that he thought it would be hard for him to be understood in English… “then I heard the president speak.”

Rafi Bastos’ act is ethnic humour done right. Just for Laughs would be wise to include him on the roster for The Ethnic Show next year.

Andrew Schulz

The true modern test of a male comedian is how they handle a sexist joke. As a huge stand up fan, I’ve seen Jimmy Carr, Rafi Bastos, and JFL newcomer Ron Taylor do this gracefully. Unfortunately, Andrew Schulz failed this test.

In the era of #Metoo, the last voice we need is that of a sanctimonious cis man ranting about how the food is better in countries where women are mistreated. We don’t need jokes that make domestic violence look like it’s a good thing; not only is it offensive, it’s lazy. If the best a comedian can do is praise the mistreatment of women, it’s time to go back to the drawing board or consider a career change.

I did not laugh once during his set, and looking around me, I saw that many women felt the same. The audience members who were laughing were mostly men.

I waited for Schulz to save his set with a little self-deprecation, or perhaps few funny jabs at men – ANYTHING to indicate that he actually respects women or that his comedy was not stemming from genuine misogyny, but it never came.

Instead there were jokes full of racism and ethnocentrism that confirm every negative stereotype about Americans – that they’re sexist, racist, and proud of their biases against other countries and cultures. His one funny joke was about Canadian bacon: “not everything has to be shaped like a hockey puck!”

The rest of his set was cringeworthy.

Shows like LOL Live! are fun, but be prepared to not like every act you see. Be prepared to be offended and even outraged, but if you can handle one stinker in a mass of good and great acts, check it out.

New Faces of Comedy is a Just for Laughs institution. After a couple of rounds of auditions, some of North America’s best comedic talents have a chance to take the JFL stage and show the world what they can do.

The people who perform at this show know they’re not just doing it for people out to be entertained, but also industry members and agents looking for the next great comedic talent. This annual event has not only launched the careers of Amy Schumer and Jimmy Fallon, but also that of host Alonzo Bodden who got his start on New Faces twenty one years ago.

From the get-go, the audience was warned the event would be filmed as part of a documentary. Bodden told us what we should do and not do. With all of us briefed, he slipped smoothly into his role as host, warming us up with jokes about the summer students posing as Just for Laughs security and the “cutest” cadets acting as police on festival grounds.

His best joke that night was about the #MeToo movement and his wish that he’d one day hear a story about a woman complaining of sexual harassment that ended with a male relative beating the heck out of the harasser. With the audience sufficiently primed, he began introducing the comedians.

With shows like New Faces, there are bound to be some comedians that fall flat with some audience members. Rather than focusing on the negative, I’m going to talk about those that really stood out to me and made me laugh the hardest.

Daphnique Springs

For me the true test of a comedian is their ability to tackle difficult subjects and make them funny and Springs was one of the best last night. She tackled topics like Libyan slavery and drugging women’s drinks for the purpose of rape in ways that had everyone laughing.

In the era of #MeToo, Springs is the kind of voice we need to hear more of: a strong, beautiful woman of colour who’s hilarious, sassy, smart, and unafraid. She also made the best Trump joke of the night, saying that he got his wife from a “build a bitch” workshop.

Rocky Dale Davis

Rocky Dale Davis is originally from Alabama and you can tell the minute he speaks. He delivered his jokes with that southern twang people generally associate with lower IQs and Trump voters (same thing). He began his act by addressing his accent, saying that his attempts to speak Spanish made him realize that: “I sound racist in every language.”

Davis’ comedy revolves around the contrast between the ignorance and racism of his roots and his current, more woke, worldview. He used sports analogies to explain that Trump isn’t as racist as the people he grew up with and though not all his jokes were homeruns, there was something hypnotic about his stage presence that made it impossible to look away.

In an era where people on the left look at Southern Americans with utter contempt, Davis’ comedy is a refreshing one that’s both self deprecatingly funny and brutal.

Nina Tarr

No comedy show is complete without someone taking the piss out of rich white people and no one did that better than Nina Tarr.

Tarr’s strong suit is impressions and her ones of “botched plastic surgery face” and “De Niro giving a blow job” were hilarious. What stood out most for me was her use of the term “BILF” aka Baby I’d Like to F*ck, a term she used for spoiled rich women who infantilize themselves to attract men, and whom she mercilessly imitated in her performance.

Usama Siddiquee

In an era of Muslim bans and Niqab bans and Islamophobia, Usama Siddiquee is the kind of comedian we need.
He’s Muslim, fearless, and funny as hell.

Whether it was his crack about his mother suggesting he change his name after 9/11, or how having sex once sent his Muslim values out the window, he was a treat to watch. He was consistently funny throughout his routine, tackling such edgy topics as terrorism, racism, and sexism with grace.

Shows like New Faces of Comedy are a bit like buying a surprise bag from your favorite store. You might not get everything you like but you’re bound to see some great things. Check it out. It’s worth it.

* There are two more New Faces of Comedy shows on July 27th with one group of comedians at 7pm and another at 9pm. Tickets available through hahaha.com

** Watch for our review of the second group from Wednesday night coming soon

If you want snarky raunchy humour delivered in a sophisticated British package, you need to check out Jimmy Carr.

He performs in suits with immaculately slicked and trimmed hair and delivers his jokes with a posh British accent that belies his often vulgar content and wit that is as brutal as it is funny. His offering at this year’s Just for Laughs Festival, Jimmy Carr: The Best Of, Ultimate, Gold, Greatest Hits World Tour was no exception.

His show is a selection of his best jokes combined with brand new material. Carr began with engaging the audience with local humor, cracking jokes about Canada only having three cities and how he’s now a Newfoundlander because he passed “Newfie initiation” – drinking a shot of screech and kissing a cod… or screwing your sister.

It was a great introduction that set the tone for his show in which no topic, from pedophilia, to bestiality, to sex, to relationships to homosexuality to religion was off limits. That said, if you’re the type get offended by jokes about these things, Jimmy Carr is not the comedian for you.

But he IS funny. I couldn’t take notes during his show because I was laughing too hard.

Whether it was his quip about how he can’t wait to see how America ends, or his classic joke about buying a book called Cheap and Easy Vegetarian for his girlfriend because she’s also a vegetarian, there was no time during his performance that I or the people around me were left wanting.

The biggest fail of the night came not because of Jimmy Carr, whose clean-cut deadpan delivery made even the most offensive jokes funny, but because of the audience. Carr is a comedian who likes to engage the crowds he’s entertaining and anyone who’s seen clips of his shows online would know this prior to seeing him on stage. In addition to picking on people near the front row, he asked questions to the audience at large.

Unfortunately any time Carr posed a question to the audience, there was up to a full thirty seconds before anyone answered him. It was painful to witness, though no fault of Carr himself who with more aggressive prodding finally got the timid crowd talking to him.

If you go to Carr’s show, you’ll have a great time but be prepared to participate a little. It makes the difference between a good show and a great one.

* Jimmy Carr: The Best Of, Ultimate, Gold, Greatest Hits World Tour runs through July 29th. Tickets available through hahaha.com

When it comes to Tom Green, “expect the unexpected” is pretty much a given. Still, nothing could prepare me for the star of Freddy Got Fingered reciting all the Prime Ministers of Canada since Confederation in order.

But that’s exactly what he did at the end of our phone interview plugging his one-night only show at Just for Laughs. He got it right, too (yes, Wikipedia and I fact-checked Tom Green) and would have done the US Presidents, too, if it wasn’t time for him to move on to his next interview.

Green said that this history lesson will be part of his one night only show at Just for Laughs. Last time I caught him perform, modern US politics were center stage, too, as it happened in the lead-up to the last US Presidential Election. This time around, though, don’t expect him to focus on the current state of US politics.

“I don’t like my audience to think they are coming out to hear somebody preaching against Donald Trump for two hours,” he said, “because that’s not really what my show is about.”

Green feels that politics are all anyone is talking about in the States these days, including him, so while he does do a few minutes on the topic, he focuses more on “social issues and talking about the absurdity of life in today’s world, all of the things that aren’t directly associated with politics but are still kind of interconnected with them.”

Green has been performing stand-up since he was 15, with a break to get famous on MTV and in movies. For the past decade, though, he has been making live audiences laugh pretty much full time.

While he always has old and new material in his head and a tentative plan for the show, it’s never set in stone. He edits his show in his head depending on where the crowd wants him to go.

“When I do a joke that may be a little, let’s say, outrageous and if I feel that the audience loves that sort of outrageous commentary, maybe I’ll do a few more jokes like that,” he noted, “but if they’re getting tired of a certain type of subject matter, I’ll know maybe before they do and switch.”

While Green admits that many comics employ improv and audience work like him, what sets him apart are the different energy levels he brings to a show.

“It’s not just about the material,” he said, “it’s about how I’m saying the joke, the speed that I’m going. I’ll literally have nights where I’m doing standup and I’ll realize that this crowd wants me to be more weird, so I’ll change my personality on stage. Then there are some nights I’ll be performing in Las Vegas where I’ll notice the crowd wants me to be a bit more normal.”

But did all those TV stunts Green pulled off with people on the street influence his approach to stand-up?

“It’s almost in reverse,” he said, “people forget that I did stand-up for several years before I started The Tom Green Show. They don’t really necessarily realize that all that stuff on the street, that was rooted in stand-up. The rhythm of me walking down the street with a hand-held microphone talking to people on the street kinda came from me doing stand-up in a comedy club and talking to people in the crowd.”

Green does admit that they definitely both have influence on each other as he has brought his years of trying to pull comedy out of people on the street to the stand-up stage. He even tells people interested in his live show that only know him from TV and movies:

“It’s kind of like those bits I do on the street, except it’s happening live with people in the front row.”

Having seen him perform live once, I can attest to that. This time, though, the people in the front rows should probably brush up on their Canadian and American history.

* Tom Green: One Night Only, part of the 2018 Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, is Wednesday, July 25, 9:30pm at Maison Théâtre, 245 Ontario Est. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Francisco Ramos is a newcomer to Just for Laughs. A Venezuelan who moved to the United States in his teens, he has a unique perspective on what it’s like south of the border for immigrants, something that is prominent in his comedy and which has surprisingly remained constant even in the current political climate.

“I thought it was going to be more especially when Trump became President,” Ramos said in a phone interview, “but it hasn’t. It’s kind of been the same in terms of stereotypes that people have not for Venezuelans but for Latinos in general. I still use it to get my comedy out there and get the stereotypes out.”

Ramos, who will be performing in this year’s JFL Ethnic Show, doesn’t feel that American comedians, in particular those from visible minority backgrounds, have an obligation to address the current state of US politics. He has noted, however, that he never experienced racism or discrimination in Venezuela, but has since he arrived in the US.

“I think that when you’re an ethnic comic, especially in the States, and I know a lot of them, we don’t talk about it because we need to or we have to,” he observed, “ it’s stuff that has happened to us and we have some kind of experience and then we talk about it.”

While Ramos’ comedy does touch on politics, it’s not the main point.

“For me the main thing is to always be funny, he commented, “I’m not going to talk about anything that’s not funny. I do hit it but I don’t go so direct to it. I will be talking about it but it’s give them the funny first. I also don’t try to divide people. Everybody’s got their own beliefs and I try and respect that. I will tell my point of view, but in a funny way.”

One thing that does come out quite a bit in his comedy, and surely will at The Ethnic Show, is the all too common misconception in the states that Latino means Mexican.

“I mean I get it,” Ramos observed, “because the majority of Latinos in the US are Mexican. If that’s what you grow up with, that’s what you think everybody is. For me I’m trying to go ‘yeah, there’s Mexicans, those are Venezuelans, those are Colombians and we’re similar but we also have our differences’. I try to take it as a whole as hit on those universal things that I can do with my comedy. If I hit that, more people will be interested in seeing me and hearing more about the other stories they haven’t heard of.”

Ramos majored in the admittedly un-funny fields of Finance and International Business and started working at an investment firm after college. Then, after what he describes as a “quarter-life crisis” he moved to LA to do standup.

This journey has led him to the JFL stage for the first time. He is thrilled to be here, and when asked about the current state of US-Canada relations:

“I’d say, well now you feel how we feel. I’d say to Canada ‘keep doing what you do’ because you’re doing a great job with your prime minister and everything.”

* Francisco Ramos performs as part of The Ethnic Show in the Just for Laughs Festival starting Wednesday, July 11. Tickets available through hahaha.com

It’s festival season in Montreal and FTB is ready for it. Once again, we will be covering Just for Laughs, the world’s largest comedy festival, now under the stewardship of Howie Mandel among others after founder Gilbert Rozon was forced to step down after several women accused him of sexual assault and harassment.

The festival released a new anti-harassment policy today. While  they promise a better environment behind the scenes, they certainly seem to be staying the (successful) course on stage.

There are the big names like Trevor Noah, Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart, David Cross, Tiffany Haddish, William H. Macy (I had no idea he did standup) and the aforementioned Mandel. There are also the up-and-coming comics and eternally solid comedians populating the OFF-JFL stages. Festival staples like The Nasty Show and The Ethnic Show are back, too.

Our four-person coverage team is off and running even before the festival kicks off. In the next few days, expect to read Samantha Gold’s interview with Francisco Ramos performing at The Ethnic Show, Ellana Blacher’s conversation with The Nasty Show’s Ms. Pat and my Canadian History lesson from none other than Tom Green. Hannah Besseau will round out our pre-festival coverage with some audio interviews.

Then the real fun begins!

Just for Laughs runs July 11-29. Check hahaha.com for the complete schedule and to purchase tickets and check FTB for our coverage!