Rick Mercer is a Canadian legend and one of the few multitalented entertainers Canada has to offer. He’s written books, given political rants on TV, acted in movies, hosted comedy specials, and narrated documentaries. So of course, of all the days to have a phone call with one of my heroes, it had to be on the day that both the Rogers and Fido networks were down. It was therefore a massive relief to find that Rick Mercer quickly agreed to meet via Zoom instead.

Mercer was not what I was expecting. Despite his notoriety, he was down to earth and friendly, speaking to me from his shed where he says he does most of his writing, and where he spent the pandemic writing his book, Talking to Canadians, that came out last November. I opened with a question I am sure Mercer gets all the time, which is what he thinks of the current state of Canadian politics.

Mercer laughed, admitting that he’s less interested in Canadian politics than he’s ever been because he finds it so distasteful. As to whether it’s due to how politics has changed or he has, he’s unsure.
“I’ve always been an avid political watcher and still am, except I just find myself saying ‘a pox on all their houses’ more than I ever did before.”

He says he finds he has a hard time pointing to current individuals in Canadian politics that he admires and it makes him happy to be temporarily out of the opinion business to the extent that he used to be. Though known for his political rants, Mercer does not consider himself to be an angry person. When I ask him about it, he smiles and said that while his Twitter bio says “Anger is my Cardio” and he was once an angry young man, in his latest book he explains that he’s not an angry middle aged man.

“Obviously things can make me angry, make me upset, I would have to be dead inside not to, but no, thankfully I go through most of my day in a non-angry state.”

Given how long Rick Mercer has been doing political comedy and satire, I was dying to know about the politicians he’s worked with over the years. He says the politician he most enjoyed working with was former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, something I was not expecting. He says Chrétien had great comedic timing and was genuinely funny and that working with him was like working with a pro.

In terms of which politician gave him the most material, he says Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was his muse for a long time because his government and cabinet infuriated him so much that he was inspired to write about them.

Of all the roles Mercer has played throughout his career, he considers himself a writer first. He spoke of how the pandemic was great for him because working on Talking to Canadians was the first time he’s done something without a deadline.

“When all the gigs went away, all the jobs went away I was kind of adrift… the book gave me –I won’t say purpose –but it gave me a job to do and deadlines to meet and somewhere to go every day, which is my shed.”

In addition to writing, Mercer loves hosting, speaking fondly of how much he loves touring and how much fun he has. He speaks of the big beautiful venues he gets work in and the talent has the privilege of introducing, saying that though he’s middle aged, he’s not exhausted by it all.

I asked Mercer which up and coming political comedian he admires and he admits that he doesn’t consume much political comedy out of concern that they would influence his work, creating the risk of overlapping material at a show. Of the comedians he has toured with, he speaks highly of Ivan Decker, whom he says he will always watch.

In terms of whether Rick Mercer considers himself to be the Canadian legend he is described as, his immediate response was “Oh God no!” followed by a sheepish smile. He blames the description on publicists, calling the label silly.

Of all the awards he has received over the years, one of the two most dear to him is the Order of Canada, which he was “honoured and amazed” to receive, as he never imagined getting that call. He also mentions receiving the key to the City of his home town of Outer Cove Middle Cove Logy Bay, Newfoundland, because the ceremony took place in the primary school of the community he grew up in and that the award itself – a piece of glass with a small key in it- is currently at his parents’ house.

As to what Mercer is looking forward to in the future he speaks highly of Montreal and the Just for Laughs Festival, saying that while he’s never lived here, he loves our city and doesn’t know anyone who doesn’t. After the festival, he plans to start writing another book.

Rick Mercer is hosting Comedy Night in Canada on July 29th, 2022 at L’Olympia. Tickets available through hahaha.com Check it out.

This is officially the best summer in years. Restaurants are full, dance floors are back in business, and be still my heart, our festivals have returned. The Coachella of comedy, JFL is back for it’s 40th edition, and I found out that the comedians have missed us as much as we’ve missed them.

“I can speak for every comic involved and tell you we have missed the festival so much and we are going to be so glad to once again be invading your city with stupid questions, and with jokes, eating off food trucks and just hanging out seeing the City of Montreal. Can’t wait to get back.”

Alonzo Bodden is a Just for Laughs legend. He was one of the JFL New Faces in 1997, winner of Last Comic Standing in 2004, and this year he’s back to host Just For the Culture Show – formerly The Ethnic Show (“it changed its own pronoun,” he quips).

“The beauty of this is everyone’s bringing their own voice to the show. So when we say just for the culture, it’s not like you’re only going to be talking about your culture, you’re going to be talking about the world from your viewpoint. With the Americans, you know, my culture is both Black and American. So I have both involved. And the same thing with the Canadians, you know, Dave [Merheje] is going to be who he is, but he’s also going to be Muslim and he’s going to be Canadian… the only thing I can tell you about the show, it’s going to be funny, and it’s going to go long, because we all have something more to say than what they want us to say. We are going to have a fantastic time and we are going to be uncensored, we are not going to worry about ‘don’t say this, don’t say that’. The thing I’ve always said about the Ethnic show, and now the Culture Show, is we are people who should be at war and yet we are laughing, so join us. I will do my best as host to tie it together, but quite often I’m simply one of the audience members with the best seat in the house.”

Current affairs are a mainstay in Alonzo’s comedy, so it should be no surprise that he’s a news junkie who’s been doing his own podcast for over 10 years now.

“The podcast is called Who’s Paying Attention?, and it started because the news stopped paying attention…We don’t have a Walter Cronkite anymore, we don’t have an Edward Murrow, we don’t have somebody saying, wait a minute: this is ridiculous. They cover Marjorie Taylor Greene like she’s real news. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the only reason Lauren Boebert is so angry is she thought she was crazy, and then Marjorie came along and she’s been out-crazied. Let’s not talk about Ted Cruz, but you guys could have kept him in Canada.”

I made it clear that we don’t want Cruz, and will not be accepting that return. Jokes aside, I ask how he manages to keep his head above the never-ending flow of bad news.

“I’ll be honest, I have to take breaks from the news. It will wear you out. The constant barrage of stupidity is beyond belief.”

Which is exactly why his latest tour is called Stupid Don’t Get Tired. With that in mind, I ask him where he finds hope.

“You know, it’s really tough…on my podcast whenever I have a guest in, I ask them ‘what’s the good news’, because we have to try to find some good news in this dumpster fire. My hope, honestly, is the youngest generation. I think they’re the ones who hopefully will take over and restore some form of sanity, Even that they’ve given up on though, you know, because they started with Generation X. Okay, when you start at X, it shows there’s no long range plan. Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, what then? Oh, we’ll have destroyed it all by then.”

From looking forward to looking back, I asked Alonzo about the new mini-series he’s a part of called Right to Offend: The Black Comedy Revolution.

“I am so honored to be a part of that. It is such a brilliant documentary, going from vaudeville, and the minstrel and blackface era. right up into today with Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock, and Tiffany Haddish and everyone in between. Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Wanda Sykes, Moms Mabley Whoopi Goldberg, so many brilliant voices in comedy over the years, and to be asked to be a part of that, to comment on that, and my history, it’s truly been phenomenal. They could have called it the duty to offend. We have to push buttons. And we do it unapologetically, because you can’t apologize for the truth. You can try to cancel us, you can do whatever you want to do. We are going to continually tell the truth…When I started, Somebody told me ‘listen, if 20% of the audience isn’t upset, then you’re not doing your job’, so I am okay with that. The truth hurts sometimes, but the other side of that, is there are people who are like ‘thank God for your voice. We’re so happy to hear you’. We need somebody telling the truth out there. Jon Stewart famously became a major news anchor and he was like, ‘you know I’m doing a comedy show. They were like ‘no, no, no, we’re coming to you for the truth’…We’re the last voice. Years ago, Lewis Black, brilliant comic and an old friend of mine said listen, we don’t want this job but no one else would do it. Right? We’re the last ones to tell the truth and laugh at how ridiculous it is.”

I know it’s selfish, but I had to ask what he loves about Montreal, and what makes us special on the global scene. It’s akin to a civic thirst trap, but sometimes you just want the likes.

Getting lost walking the streets of Old Montreal; the art galleries the whole vibe… I go to Old Montreal to get…centered… I truly miss that: walking the streets of Old Montreal, and looking at the beautiful people. Your city has beautiful people. And I enjoy that. You’re stylish.”

We chat briefly about Quebec’s politics and distinct identity crisis. There’s much to laugh at when you take a step back.

“Yeah, it is a different crazy,” he says. “But it’s a crazy that doesn’t involve bullets. I appreciate that…hang on to that.”

We’re sure as hell trying.

Just for The Culture runs from July 13 to 28 hosted by Alonzo Bodden, featuring Dave Merheje, Jessica Kirson, Paul Rabliauskas, Sheng Wang, Yannis Pappas and Zainab Johnson. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Vir Das wears a lot of hats: he’s a Hollywood actor, a Bollywood actor, and a TV show host, but first and foremost, he’s a comic. When I met him via Zoom, he was in Goa, India, his only hat on being one of gunmetal gray perched high on the head of a friendly, down to Earth fellow seemingly unaffected by the extent of his notoriety.

Though known internationally for his comedy, the temporary ceasing of stand-up due to public health measures forced Das to spend the worst of the pandemic acting. As a comic, he sees all his other roles as fodder for his comedy, considering humour to be a way of keeping himself grounded.

Das sheepishly admits that he cannot shoot movies year ‘round because there’s only so much he can stand hanging out with other actors discussing stuff like protein shakes and intermittent fasting. At the same time, he admits that touring is exhausting and his ideal would be a balance between all the roles he plays in the entertainment industry.

He laughs occasionally as he speaks, realizing the humour of his remarks, the sign of a man for whom comedy is as natural as breathing. He says that as you age, the acting roles on offer become smaller and more nuanced, whereas as a comedian, the work gets bigger and better.

As an Asian Canadian working in the arts, I have had my share of experiences dealing with the disapproving reactions to my profession. I wondered if Das had a similar experience with his family.

Das admitted that he waited two years before telling his family that he studied theatre, adding that his parents’ attitude has always been that if he can pay the rent, whatever he did was fine with them. He says it’s been a long time since he’s worried about making an income, adding that the cultural attitude toward working in the arts is changing.

“I think the whole ‘My Strict Indian Parents’ stereotype and joke, and sitcom, and movie, and series, and documentary is losing steam and validity as we speak,” he says with a smile.

Das is one of the few artists to work in both Bollywood and Hollywood. Though Bollywood is the bigger industry of the two, it seems mostly unknown to white English speaking audiences.

When I think of Bollywood, I think of beautiful costumes, elaborate makeup and jewelry and dance routines that put old Hollywood musicals to shame. I wondered what the differences were to someone like Das, who has an insider’s view of both industries.

Das said there isn’t much a difference, and that everyone involved is trying to tell authentic stories, though he admits that Bollywood sets seem to work a bit faster, something borne of experience more than anything else. When I asked him about his dancing, he said it was good.

“Give me the right choreographer and enough rehearsal time and I can dance,” he says, adding that he finds it ironic how audiences appreciate the escapism of Bollywood and yet the only movies that succeed in America are Avenger movies and Marvel movies. He points out that in the latter everyone is wearing ridiculous costumes in a fantastical world, suggesting that perhaps superhero movies are America’s Bollywood.

Das is often presented as a man bringing an authentic Indian perspective to audiences worldwide. He agrees that it’s a fair assessment, given that most perceptions of Indians come from British, American, and Canadian versions of India, which are more “palatable versions”. He says that such views miss out on the voices of 1.3 billion people who have things to say.

He speaks fondly of other East Asian comedians such as Russell Peters and Lily Singh, the former showing a young Vir Das that Indians can do standup. He has immense respect for Lily Singh as a community builder who created one devoid of gatekeepers. In terms of celebrities who opened the doors for more East Asian actors in Hollywood, Das credits Priyanka Chopra.

When playing to white, English-speaking audiences Vir Das’ primary goal is to make them laugh and get to know him. His comedy influences include Richard Pryor for his vulnerability, Eddie Izzard for history and making his shows seem unscripted, and George Carlin for punching up and being anti-establishment.

Das admits that his comedy is likely to change over the years, pointing out that Carlin only found his stride twenty years into his career when Das himself has only been doing comedy for fifteen. At present his comedy hinges more on being an outsider rather than a specific cultural identity. He prefers to begin a show with something the audience knows nothing about and then systematically proving the similarities between his world and theirs.

His upcoming Just for Laughs show, Vir Das’ Wanted World Tour is based on the premise that home is anywhere, adding that it will have a story. Das is also appearing in the Patton Oswalt Gala, though he grins and says he’s looking forward to his own show more, adding that in the latter he only has eight minutes for audiences to get to know him, something that he does happily, though he prefers the kind of “friend sits you down for a talk” format better.

In terms of his future work, Das says his Wanted World Tour is going to thirty-eight countries, followed by a Hollywood rom-com, and a Bollywood action movie

If Vir Das’ Netflix special, Losing It, is any indication, his Just for Laughs shows are bound to be fun!

Tickets are available at hahaha.com

The Montreal festival that launched the careers of comedy legends like Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler, Dave Chapelle, and Jimmy Fallon is back, and it is back with a vengeance. That’s right comedy lovers, the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival has announced its 2022 lineup and it looks awesome.

This year’s festival features galas hosted by comedy legends including Hannah Gadsby, Jo Koy, Chelsea Handler, and Russell Peters. Concert events include live performances by Hassan Minhaj, Vir Das, and John Mulaney, whose work includes writing for Saturday Night Live and his standup specials like two thousand fifteen’s The Comeback Kid and Kid Gorgeous in 2018, the latter winning him an Emmy award.

As per Just for Laughs’ continued commitment to introducing the world to rising stars in comedy, the second season of New Wave of Standup is premiering on CBC Gem Tuesday, March 29, 2022. This show was filmed during Vancouver’s 2022 Just for Laughs Festival and aims to showcase the best Canadian comedians about to hit the big time.

The lineup includes Janelle Niles, a Black and Mi-kmaq comedian who raised awareness of indigenous causes with her show, Got Land?, the Montreal-based actor and comedian Nick Nemeroff, as well as Allie Pearse, who is known for her work writing for the award-winning show Letterkenny. Other performers include Hisham Kelati, whose debut album, Tigre King, was nominated for a Juno in 2022, Maddy Kelly, Hoodo Hersi.

These are just the acts that Just for Laughs has lined up so far, which means there’s more excitement to come. If this lineup is any indication, this is going to be one of the best Just for Laughs seasons yet!

The 40th Anniversary of the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival runs July 13-31. For info and tickets, please visit hahaha.com

The second season of The New Wave of Standup premiers Tuesday, March 29 on CBC Gem

In 2020, the Just for Laughs Festival, a staple of Montreal’s festival season and the largest comedy festival in the world, went all virtual with a mini-fest for reasons evident to everyone. Last year, they offered a scaled back hybrid version with shows emanating from Montreal, New York and Los Angeles.

Now, for JFL’s 40th anniversary, the festival appears to be back in full force, making them the first major summer event to promise such a return. While most of the lineup has yet to be announced, we do know about two shows, two really big, Bell Centre-big shows:

Kevin Hart’s Reality Check Tour: Arguably one of the world’s most successful comedians, Kevin Hart has a long history with JFL. He was a breakout comic in 2001 as part of the New Faces series and has returned to perform several times over the decades.

Recently, he has been helping to promote up-and-coming comics as the chairman of the Laugh Out Loud Network. LOL has been presenting shows consistently at JFL for the past few years (minus the COVID years, of course).

In 2018, Hart sold out JFL’s largest venue, the Bell Centre, a space he returns to this summer. His Reality Check Tour stops in Montreal for one night only, Friday, July 29th at 8pm.

Bill Burr (Slight Return): Bill Burr was originally scheduled to perform here in 2020, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. He’s back year at the Bell Centre on July 30th as part of JFL and tickets from the original show are being honored at this one.

Burr is no stranger to JFL and a top comic on comedy stages worldwide, but he’s also no stranger to genre sci-fi audiences thanks to his appearance on The Mandalorian (honestly where I first discovered him) or to movie audiences (he co-starred in The King of Staten Island), or SNL fans (he hosted in 2020), Breaking Bad fans (he was a guest star) or fans of his own co-created show F is for Family. Plus there’s a whole new generation discovering his comedy in YouTube reaction videos.

I know, through his Monday Morning Podcast and his comedy, that he’s quite the avid sports fan. And everyone knows that he’s from Boston. So I wonder if, given his venue and the fact that the hockey team that uses it aren’t having, um, the best season, he may open with a dig at the Habs.

More acts are going to be announced soon, but for now it looks like JFL will be back at full force, and that’s a welcome development.

The 40th Anniversary of Just for Laughs runs July 13-31, 2022. More shows will be announced soon. For tickets to these two shows (Kevin Hart tickets go on sale Friday, February 18 at 10am) please visit hahaha.com

Jason C. McLean and Special Guests Dawn McSweeney and Jerry Gabriel start with Quebec’s second curfew which begins on New Year’s Eve and then talk about some of the top news stories of 2021.

Follow Dawn McSweeney on Twitter and Instagram @mcmoxy

Follow Jerry Gabriel on Twitter (@depressingbear) and Instagram (@jerrygabrielrocks)

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter and Instagram @jasoncmclean

Sophie Buddle isn’t a huge fan of the Zoom comedy show, the go-to performance option for many standups during the pandemic.

“Yes, I was doing Zoom shows,” she said in a phone interview, “but I will say that doing Zoom shows is almost worse than doing no shows at all for me because, number one, I have very bad WIFI, but as a standup, if you boil down what we do, we create a vibe in a room and in order to do that, you have to be in the same room with everyone you’re creating said vibe with.”

Buddle feels that with Zoom, you miss the smaller laughs which allow the comic to really connect with their audience.

“In my set, I have more fun with the little laughs in between the big punchline laughs,” Buddle observed, “that’s really where I think all the personality is. It’s the little in-betweenies. In Zoom shows, the big pops still come in, but all the little ones that really bring the flow along don’t get anything.”

This Sunday, she will once again be performing in front of a live, in-person audience at Just for Laughs. Of course, this is a hybrid version of the festival, meaning, among other things, that capacity will be limited and social distancing and health measures will be in effect.

Buddle knows that it will be different. She has been performing socially distanced shows in Vancouver, a comedy scene she loves, for about a month now, since venues re-opened, and sees the advantage to this new type of performance.

“Comedy audiences are as desperate for standup as the comedians are to do it,” she said, “it’s kind of good that everyone who is there is really keen to be there. There’s no filler audience members anymore.”

This year, she won’t just be performing for the audience in the room, Buddle will be recording her first comedy special for Crave and the CTV Comedy Channel. She is thankful for this opportunity and sees it as her career regaining momentum.

“I was waiting in line to board the plane to go to the Junos (she won Best Comedy Album for 2019’s Lil bit of Buddle) and I got a text that the Junos were going to be cancelled,” Buddle remembered, “I’m sure for every industry, you work your entire career to get some momentum, and I felt like winning the Juno was definitely the biggest thing and finally things were starting to roll for me and then that happened and I just had to sit in my apartment all year and I felt like I’m not going to get anything big like that again…and now that things are opening back up again and I’m getting a special on Crave, it’s just such a relief. The momentum is starting up again!”

Buddle plans to spend a few days in Montreal after the festival, as this was where she was born and spent a few years of her childhood and she still holds a fondness for this city. In the fall, though, she plans to move down to the US, California most likely, and look for comedy writing work.

Her previous TV writing gig was for This Hour Has 22 Minutes, but was cut short due to the pandemic. In particular because it was remote work, the show operates on Halifax time and Buddle lives in BC and keeps “stand-up comedian hours”, aka she’s not an early riser.

And you can catch her during standup hours twice this Sunday.

Sophie Buddle and Chris Robinson will be recording CTV Comedy and Crave Stand-Up Specials Sunday, August 1 at 7 and 10 pm at L’Astral, 305 Ste-Catherine Ouest. Tickets available through HaHaHa.com

Comedian Arthur Simeon is the kind of voice we need more of. Born and raised in Uganda but now based out of Toronto, he brings his life experience as an immigrant and a black man in Canada to his comedy, while still managing to keep such a heavy topic light and funny.

His comedy album, The Blackest Panther, is a riff on the fact that Wakanda from the Black Panther film and comic book series is allegedly located in Uganda. I had the privilege of seeing him perform at Rick Mercer’s Gala in 2017 where he was one of the highlight performances of the evening, so I was eager to speak to him before his appearance at Just for Laughs’ 2021 hybrid festival.

Like most entertainers, Simeon’s ability to perform was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. He admits that he’s done everything but standup since it started.

“It’s been a lot of downtime, I guess. I mean I worked a little bit; I did some writing for myself and for others. I grow plants, or tried to, just to keep my mind off of things, I read a lot, caught up on a lot of reading that over that over the years I’ve sort of let slip, but I’d run out of excuses. I was reading fiction for a long time but I was convinced try non-fiction. I went back to a book I read as a teenager called The River Between which is a classic African novel that I hadn’t read in a very long time and it still holds up, is still wonderful… A bit of fiction, a bit of non-fiction.”

With the rise in awareness of racism in Canada during the pandemic, I wanted to know about Simeon’s experiences with racism as a black man and a Ugandan immigrant with an accent. Segwaying into the subject, I mentioned that Canadians like to think they’re immune to the racism problem. Simeon immediately shut that notion down.

“Obviously, being a performer and an entertainer and traveling in so many different places I have first-hand experience with racists.”

In terms of whether racism is more of a rural thing, Simeon feels that it’s a problem no matter where he is.

“I don’t like the rural idea of people because it feels like it’s a lot of white people trying to distance themselves from their own actions. When they say ‘oh it’s the country bumpkins’ it’s like no, it’s not. I’ve been threatened, and slurs have been used in the middle of two major cities in Canada, that being Toronto and Montreal, right in the middle of the city. I’ve also been threatened in rural Canada, so it’s both. I don’t think it’s a geographical thing, I think it’s a mentality thing, it’s an ideology thing. I feel like it’s something everyone has to reckon with and everyone has to wrestle with whatever bias they have especially if it manifests itself in hateful language or action that affects other people.”

Though Montreal has been the location of a lot of Simeon’s professional success, his favorite part of Canada is the Maritimes. He finds it picturesque and loves St. John’s Newfoundland, but quips that perhaps it’s because he doesn’t live there.

While I feel that stories and comedy like Simeon’s are especially important in this social environment of heightened racial tensions and the Black Lives Matter Movement, he doesn’t necessarily see it that way.

“I think it’s being received a little more openly because the conclusions we’ve had about racism have opened up from just the hate. I think everyone focuses on just the hate and rightfully so because as we’ve seen, a man can just plow through a family just going for a walk and purely just based on hate, so I like that we address the hate a little bit, but the hate is sort of just the culmination of a lot of other things that we’re doing: the lack of education, the lack of empathy, the lack of real understanding between people who are not the same as you, and so the conclusion we’ve had in the last few months have opened up about everyone’s individual responsibility.”

He calls on everyone to stop throwing blame around, the way some claim racism is just a problem among the ignorant or rural populations. He feels that every single person contributes to that hate that culminates in violence that kills people.

In terms of his plans for his Just for Laughs appearance this year, he plans to be more purposeful in his comedy with a focus on entertaining rather than sounding preachy.

“I think after this year and after all the stress, I think there will be genuine purpose to reach out to as many people as I can and try to entertain.”

Arthur Simeon will be appearing as Just for Laughs 2021 as part of an all-star lineup for Comedy Night In Canada which takes place tonight, July 28th, at 10pm at Club Soda, 1225 Boul. St-Laurent, and will be available free online as of July 30 at HaHaHa.com

Cassie Cao is no stranger to Montreal. She lived here for four years while studying Economics at McGill and has returned on more than one occasion to perform at Just for Laughs, but she hasn’t been here since the last pre-pandemic JFL in 2019.

“I’m genuinely thrilled to be coming to the festival,” Cao said in a phone interview, “I didn’t know if it was going to happen this year.”

While Cao will be performing “Live in Montreal” to both an in-person and online audience, some of the comedians playing this year’s hybrid festival will do so from either Los Angeles or New York City while others will take part in local Crave and CTV Comedy tapings.

“I’m excited to see what’s going to happen,” Cao said of the potentially unique experience this year, “I suspect that people will make it fun. We’re all getting double vaxxed. Comics are always fun people, we’ll find a way to make it fun.”

Cao did keep busy during the pandemic, mostly by booking TV roles and doing some TV writing, but also by turning to a medium many other comics have found: the Zoom comedy show:

“I did do some Zoom shows. I liked the Zoom shows a lot…as a comedian, you are mostly bound by geography and that’s why you have to tour…and that’s the hardest part of the job, but with the Zoom shows I was doing shows in New York and LA and meeting American comics and seeing what other people are working on and happy to be invited onto their shows.”

She also considers herself lucky for getting to do some TV tapings in front of live audiences mid-pandemic, including one for the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.

“It was wild,” Cao remembers, “I was travelling by air during the second wave and everyone was like ‘it’s fine, doing live comedy’.”

Currently based in Toronto, Cao sees it as a great town to do comedy in, during normal times, of course. She hopes that when the scene returns, it will do so full-force.

“I don’t know what the landscape will look like when everything comes back up,” she notes, “but I’m confident that people want to see live comedy, so the demand will make things happen.”

As for her former home of pre-pandemic Montreal, she remembers ordering St-Viateur bagels for McGill Economics events, but mainly the nightlife:

“Honestly, I’m not going to lie, I love that everything’s open 24 hours in Montreal. In Toronto, you’d think that it is, but it’s not. Toronto shuts down at midnight. In Montreal, I lived there for four years and I just didn’t sleep for four years, there’s just always stuff going on…All the best stuff in Montreal happens after 2am.”

Most of the best stuff, that is. There will definitely be quite a bit of fun had before midnight with Cao and others at JFL Live in Montreal.

Cassie Cao will perform as part of JFL Live in Montreal, hosted by Jon Dore and featuring Dino Archie, Jen Grant, Nigel Grinstead, Marito Lopez and Rodney Ramsey. Wednesday, July 28, 7pm, Club Soda and available online as of July 30 at HaHaHa.com

DeAnne Smith is a Montreal favourite. Born in the US, they lived in Mexico for a while, and then moved to and got their start in comedy in Montreal.

I remember seeing Smith at Stand Up Strip Down in my twenties, and now they perform and do TV appearances all over the world and have their own Netflix special. I recently saw Smith at the Unknown Comedy Club’s ComedyWorks Tribute Show this past May.

At this year’s Just for Laughs Festival they will be filming their own standup special. I had a chance to speak with DeAnne as they and their partner were road tripping from visiting family on the East Coast to Los Angeles. Though I could hear the road in the background and our connection was iffy, the interview felt less like a formal exchange and more like a chat between old friends.

I asked them, as I do every standup comedian I interview, what they’ve been doing during the pandemic, given the limits on live performance due public health measures.

“Everyone says I’ve been losing my mind. Please put that on the record. It took me a couple of months to embrace my comedy, but in September 2020 I started doing my own monthly show on Zoom that I call DeAnne Smith and Acquaintances and I ran that from September until June and we’re taking a break for the summer but honestly, I think I’m going to bring it back in the fall even though there are live shows because we built such a nice, fun, supportive little community every month…I was doing my time with online shows.”

DeAnne Smith admits that, like many other comedians, it took them a while to learn the tech but they had a tech from their monthly show to help. Regarding how COVID has affected their comedy and career, they said their career halted overnight.

“Even before the pandemic, I think, a lot of what I’m trying to do in comedy… I’ve always been aware of how special it is to be in a room with people and just be creating a moment that’s not going to be repeated, that’s just for the people there. I’ve always done comedy from the point of view of real connection and I think that’s only deepened for me in pandemic. It’s like really the only thing I’m interested in is connection and making a moment where we can all feel joy together and feel good together.”

Smith acknowledges that shared joy is the goal of comedy, but feels that some people approach the art as having funny ideas they want others to hear, and while that is part of their comedy, for them it’s as much about connection and shared experience. They point out that the shared experience they seek with their comedy has deepened due to the pandemic.

“I don’t remember a moment in my lifetime where I’ve felt such a collective consciousness where we’re all experiencing some pretty similar things together.”

DeAnne is openly non-binary and has been using the pronouns they/them for many years and they made many jokes about it in their 2018 Netflix special. Though their gender identity is nothing new, they are more open about their preferred pronouns and insisting on their use.

“It feels really good to me and I’m finally in a place where I’m willing to inconvenience people a tiny bit to feel seen and referred to correctly.”

Smith says there hasn’t been any pushback regarding their gender identity and they never thought much of it until the Netflix special came out in 2019.

“I have gotten a lot of emails from people of all ages, but especially [from] teenagers and young adults saying that it was really important for them to see someone like them in a public role talking about gender issues and I forget about that a lot but I think it does help people realize that there’s a lot of ways to identify and there’s a wide spectrum of how to be a human being.”

Smith’s comedy generally has a very openly feminist slant though they admit that they aren’t discussing issues exacerbated by the pandemic like domestic violence as much in their online shows.

“One thing that’s happened with the pandemic, at least with the online shows, is that I’m not speaking to as generalized an audience as I am in the real world in the comedy clubs. By that I mean it seems the online crowds are kind of self-selected to have a similar political sensibility, so I don’t know that I’ve been pushing an agenda as much as I do in the comedy clubs because there’s not as much to push against.”

People who come to Smith’s online shows know exactly what they’re getting, with Smith pointing that if anything their comedy has gotten more personal due to the pandemic, especially with the monthly show. Many people taking in online shows are often in their pajamas or not wearing pants, and that lends itself to a more personal experience, though Smith laughingly says they will be wearing pants during their Just for Laughs appearance.

DeAnne Smith, Chris Locke and Kyle Brownrigg will be recording CTV Comedy and Crave Stand-Up Specials Saturday, July 31 at 7 and 10 pm at L’Astral, 305 Ste-Catherine Ouest. Tickets available through HaHaHa.com

The Just for Laughs festival is upon us and with more and people vaccinated and the easing of restrictions, this year’s festival is a hybrid one, with some shows streaming for free online, and live, socially distanced in-person events with limited seating. Among this year’s virtual offerings is Just for Laughs Live in LA, featuring an all-star cast of comedians including my interviewee, Jeremy Hotz.

Hotz is a standup legend, having made his big debut at the Montreal Just for Laughs festival in the nineties. His unique brand of passive aggressive observational comedy is hilarious and, as it turns out, it’s not just an act.

When I phoned Hotz on a Friday afternoon, I had SO many questions! What was he doing during the pandemic? What does he think of it? Does he really talk like he does on stage? I wondered if that high pitched, passive aggressiveness was just a persona, and whether he’d be a completely different person on the phone.

I was in for a pleasant surprise.

“Yeah, people don’t understand with me that it’s not an act. Everyone says that about me, the miserable things that happen in my act happen in my life and if you spent a day with me you realize that I seem to be a magnet for it. It’s really bizarre.”

Throughout our conversation, my best attempts at professional composure were useless in the face of his answers to my questions. When I asked him, for example, what was his biggest challenge during the pandemic, he spoke of problems getting his large nose in the mask. Given how many people wear their masks incorrectly, I asked if he only wore his mask over his mouth or covered “the whole shebang”.

“Well, you know, they got to make the mask big enough to get over the whole shebang, that’s the problem. I have the same problem with condoms.”

You’d have to be dead not to laugh.

On Just for Laughs’ website he’s identified as a Canadian American comedian. Born in South Africa, he spent much of his life in Ottawa, but moved to the United States in the nineties. In spite of this, he still considers himself a Canadian comic.

“I’m the most passive aggressive human being on the planet!” Hotz said, describing how for the past three years he’s been calling a yellow cab company once a month and sending them to a bogus address because they stood him up once, resulting in him nearly missing his flight. He considers passive aggressiveness to be a very Canadian trait.

“Canadians, they won’t say you’re an asshole but they think it all day long.”

Standup comedians, like other artists, could not perform in front of live audiences, so I wondered how he’d spent the pandemic.

“I’ve just been standing there waiting for this thing to end, like most people. And now that it is, I seem to have to go back to work which is, you know, shit…”,

When he could no longer perform in front of live audiences, he began live streaming on his Facebook page and it just exploded. Hotz says he loves the format, though, like many comedians, he had to learn the technology to give his fans the best possible experience, and that came with time and doing the show regularly. Now that they’ve mastered the tech, Hotz says they have a good little show.

“Through the pandemic when you couldn’t do standup and I could do the live show once a week, I put a lot of fucking work into it and I really enjoyed it and it became something that I actually looked forward to doing and I’m Jeremy Hotz. I look forward to sex!”

He said there are some anti vaxx trolls and conspiracy theorists that he occasionally responds to in the comments sections of his live streams, and while his responses get hundreds of likes, he can’t respond to them all.

For his upcoming appearance at Live in Los Angeles, he plans to touch on his pandemic experiences a little but feels that by the time of the show in the last week of July, the topic will be dated, opting instead to tell jokes that make people happy.

He describes the setup as a comedy club, pointing out that in Los Angeles so many people are vaccinated that COVID restrictions and mask mandates have eased almost entirely. It promises to be a good show and it’s absolutely free online!

Check it out.

Just for Laughs Live in LA will be available to watch for free online as of July 29th on HaHaHa.com

Jason C. McLean speaks with veteran comedian and Just for Laughs mainstay Andy Kindler about hosting this year’s JFL Alternative Show from L.A., the state of comedy, his affection for Montreal and more.

Follow Andy Kindler on Twitter @AndyKindler and his podcast @thought_spiral

For the complete Just for Laughs schedule: HaHaHa.com

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter @jasoncmclean

After offering a scaled back all-online version in 2020, Just for Laughs is back in person this summer…with a twist. What is arguably the world’s biggest comedy festival and one of the major tentpoles of the Montreal festival season will run in 2021 from July 26-31 and offer in-person standup shows in Montreal, New York and Los Angeles.

This difference is undoubtedly due to JFL’s hefty international comedic talent component mixed with the uncertainty surrounding international travel restrictions. There isn’t presently a border exemption for comedians, no matter how funny they are.

Montrealers who want to watch the out-of-town shows can do so online. They can also enjoy all the local shows that way, too.

All in-person standup shows will be available online for free. This includes the Just for Laughs Awards Show, which will feature recipients Dave Chappelle (Comedy Person of the Year), Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo (Comedy Writers of the Year), Jason Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence (Comedy Series of the Year for Ted Lasso) and SNL’s Bowen Yang (Breakout Comedy Star of the Year) with more to be announced.

Other big names and returning favourites this year include Kevin Hart, Patton Oswalt, Gina Yashere, Andy Kindler, Dave Merheje and The Daily Show‘s Dulcé Sloan. The Nasty Show and the newly re-branded The Alternative Show are back and so are more recent creations New Faces and Comedy Night in Canada.

Just For Laughs 2021 runs July 26-31. For ticket info and to watch shows online: hahaha.com

Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Samantha Gold discuss some of the top news stories of the day (local, national and international):

Quebec’s curfew lifting, Marjorie Taylor Greene stalking AOC, hidden systemic racism in the Federal Government, the Montreal Municipal Election & this summer’s hybrid festivals.

Follow Samantha Gold Artist on Facebook @samiamart and Instagram @samiamartistmtl

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter @jasoncmclean