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

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

I am happy to report that I had a blast!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When it comes to commenting on the American political scene, no one does it better than Lewis Black. The former playwright has been on the comedy scene for almost twenty years, providing scathing political commentary while peppering his material with none too subtle rants about the stupidity of daily life. His bit about soy milk being in fact soy juice because “there’s no soy tit” is widely considered a classic.

On July 27, Lewis Black gave a show at Place des Arts called The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth Tour.

This show was Black at his best, for unlike past Just for Laughs Galas where he has had to censor himself to make the show appropriate for TV, Black didn’t have to hold himself back for this one-man show. He could use all the words people consider bad, words that Black calls the ones adults use to express anger, frustration, and rage so we don’t grab a tire iron and kill each other.

The expectations of the crowd that night were clear. They all wanted to hear Black’s take on Donald Trump and the upcoming election. He gave the people what they wanted, but not in the way they’d expect.

On a dark stage with a single spotlight, Lewis Black, clad in pale shirt, jacket, and jeans approached the microphone and said one word:

“Help.”

His clear nasal voice was higher pitched than ever before as he told the audience:

“Please help us”.

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He said his career in comedy was over, citing the comments and speeches made by Republicans as far better than any joke he could come up with. As proof, he spoke of Tina Fey’s most recent appearance as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live at which instead of writing her a speech, the SNL writers put Sarah Palin’s actual Trump endorsement speech into the teleprompter for Fey to read. Black nipped any hopes for a Trump joke in the bud saying that everyone there knew at least three he hadn’t heard before.

Most of Black’s humour that night was political and self-deprecating. He went through every Republican candidate, ruthlessly mocking the way they speak, the absurdities they say, and how they dress and groom themselves. He started with Ben Carson whom he compared to a lizard with eyes so heavy lidded he probably doesn’t even know he’s black.

Lewis Black’s take on Hillary Clinton was unique. He said the only reason she is disliked is because she’s been around the political scene for so long people are sick of seeing her. Though Black is a socialist and a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter, he was kinder to Clinton than he was to all the Republicans he spoke of.

Black surprised me that night. He showed that he too is blessed with a skill all great comics have: the ability to evolve and change with the times. Though his comedy has in the past been about the experience of men, he spent a great deal of time joking about women’s issues in a way that acknowledged the struggles and contributions of women while still keeping it funny. He remarked that he couldn’t understand why a man would ask a woman to get a boob job because he himself has never been in bed with a woman and upon seeing her breasts let out a disappointed sigh. Black said that any man who is lucky enough to get a woman to show them to him should be down on his knees every night thanking God, earning him uproarious applause.

Black’s bit about makeup was a treat and a half. He spoke of how much pressure women have to look good and marvelled at our dexterity at putting on makeup. He called eyeliner an instrument of death and talked about how cool he’d look in an eyepatch should he ever attempt to apply it.
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On the transgender bathroom issue Lewis Black said that with all the other problems in America, the last thing people should be worried about is who is peeing next to them.

Though he said he wouldn’t make a Trump joke, it seems Black couldn’t resist sneaking in a jab or two, speaking of how Trump’s lack of business acumen can be seen in the fact that he bankrupted a casino and his alleged success in business has nothing to do with skill and everything to do with nepotism.

People went to the Lewis Black show expecting him to tear apart the American political system with his raging commentary. Black did that and more, showing deference to groups he’d never mentioned in his comedy before while at the same time maintaining his signature angry style. When Black is allowed to swear and scream he shines, and the worse the political system in the States the better his comedy. With the US sliding into an abyss of bigotry and despair, Black’s comedy is better than ever. Though he says he’s done, I say his best is yet to come.

All photos courtesy of Just for Laughs festival.