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Arts, City

Just For Laughs: Week in Review

Posted by Bryan / July 26, 2013

justforlaughs-logo.jpgWith hundreds of shows happening in such a small amount of time, what was worth seeing and what wasn't?

The place des festivals has been overflowing this week.Throngs of people have been lining up in the food truck parking lot for grilled cheese, pad thai and other interesting "street" food, while children of all ages have been thoroughly terrified by clowns on stilts, bright lights and loud noises. Oh, and there's a comedy festival going on! I managed to get out to a few shows and below are my subjective reviews. Comedy is a very personal thing. Some people prefer their standup to be filthy and shocking, others might expect celebrity performers to rehearse tired bits from ten years ago.Personally, I like standup comedy to not only be funny, but to be engaging, challenging and to address contemporary social issues.

The shows I saw were in two different series: Galas and Off-JFL.

Galas:

These are the big-ticket JFL shows. They feature well-known celebrities and are almost always taped for television. The upside is that each gala features 7-8 different comedians over two hours. The downside is that they sell out quickly and tickets are pretty expensive (they start around $50 for balcony seats and only go up from there).

Seth Meyers Gala
(Starring Hannibal Buress, John Mulaney, Debra Di Giovanni, Mark Little, Sean Cullen and Rich Hall)

Hearing Seth Meyers riff on Montreal politics was worth the ticket price. His introduction and his bit in the middle were both very well done. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all of the comedians at the gala. Some had humor that just fell flat on the audience (Debra Di Giovanni), another comedian resorted to a string of impressions which were hilarious, though repetitive (Sean Cullen) and one American comedian didn't recognize that jokes about basketball generally only elicit a few guffaws and lonely claps north of the border (Hannibal Buress). Rich Hall's act was perhaps some of the worst standup I've ever seen; he came out thoroughly unprepared and spent his twenty minutes on stage bullying and mocking audience members in the first few rows. This kind of comedy might work well in a smaller venue, but at Place-Des-Arts, it meant that 98% of the audience was excluded unless they felt like joining in the unrelenting mockery of an attorney in the front row with bright orange pants. Other reviewers found that this gala didn't include a dull moment, while I was often checking my watch.

Eddie Izzard Gala "United Nations of Comedy"
(Starring Gad Elmaleh, Trevor Noah, Rove McManus, Ronny Chieng, Colin Quinn, Jean Paul and Sabrina Jalees)

Eddie Izzard delivered a much stronger performance at this year's gala than he did at this solo show last year at JFL. His comedic musings returned to European cultural history (the English Civil War, the loss of masculine and feminine after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the French Revolution, which was sadly not a revolution in toilets). I couldn't help but wonder whether he had set up our readers for his references to the English Civil war by mentioning the Battle of Naesby in an earlier interview. Izzard's guests were nearly all stellar and had the audience in stitches for over two hours. Highlights included Sabrina Jalees on meeting her wife's republican parents in the deep south for the first time, Jean-Paul on rap battles at the wailing wall in Jerusalem, and Ronny Chieng on the worst torture imaginable (helping a parent with a computer problem over the phone). Special mentions go to Gad Elmaleh, the "Jerry Seinfeld" of France, performing in English for the first time ever (his impression of the Quebecois English accent was uproarious), and to Trevor Noah, who only recycled a small portion of his solo show for the gala (more on that below). The only low point was Colin Quinn's conservative humour on how the Industrial Revolution was humanity exacting revenge on a merciless planet and animal world. Some might find this sort of thing funny, but neither I nor the audience there seemed to think that our destruction of the planet was something to laugh about.


Off-JFL Shows:

****Tickets for all of these shows are STILL AVAILABLE for Fri. Jul 26 and Sat. Jul 27th ****

What is off-JFL? Called Zoofest in previous years, Off-JFL is a series of smaller, less expensive shows that usually feature a solo comedian in a more intimate venue. In my opinion, these are the real gems of the festival. The venues are often humble (Mainline Theater, Cabaret Underworld...), but the comedy is top-notch. The advantage with these shows is that you'll often get to see mid-level comedians (who sometimes work harder to make you laugh than those who are well-established) for a very reasonable price (20-25$ a show or two shows for $30).

Todd Glass

Glass's show had a number of small technical problems throughout. To be fair, I did go and see his first show of the week, so a few hiccups were to be expected. Most of his jokes went over rather well, even if the audience seemed ready to laugh at nearly anything (including some slapstick humour with Rory Scovel who opened the show for Glass). The takeaway from this show was Glass's notion of being "passive-progressive" and responding to ignorant comments with a quick one-off rejoinder.

Godfrey: The God Complex

If you're still wondering what show to go see this weekend, wonder no more. Go and buy a ticket to Godfrey's show. This was the best show I saw all week. Godfrey's humour ranges from the general softening of the world (Drake compared to Run DMC), to his well-loved impressions of his Nigerian father and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His comedy is intelligent, insightful and addresses a number of important social issues. He had the audience laughing so hard that many of us were struggling for breath. A few of the jokes were similar to ones he's done before in his recent one-hour HBO special. Yet, his delivery, his timing and his ability to really dialogue with the audience made each joke fresh, crisp and potently funny.


Trevor Noah

In my opinion, Noah's show is a close second place. If you can't get tickets for Godfrey or would like to see a second show, get tickets for this one. Having been born under Apartheid, Noah is not afraid to talk about racial intolerance and growing up in South Africa. His show doesn't make light of the situation, but manages to find humour in the most unexpected places. Noah's experience of seeking racial identity and how this quest was oddly derailed when he came to the United States is both touching and very funny. What really distinguishes Noah's performance style is that he is a master storyteller. From beginning to end the show followed one clear storyline with a number of hilarious digressions.

Final thoughts

One theme that seemed to come up quite often was how bizarre many comedians found our language policies in the city. Noah was quite right to point out that the only English signs in Montreal point one towards the airport. Meyers, Noah and others mentioned how odd a feeling it is to walk into a store and to have the clerks be so reluctant to speak English, "It's as if they expect you to crack under the pressure and suddenly speak French". Though funny, these comedians' experiences speak for those of many anglophones in this city. Excluding anglos who live in Montreal and could pick up some functional French with a little effort, such treatment of anglophone tourists is not only ill-advised, it's also embarrassing. Our Chinatown, as Noah pointed out, is the only one in the world where everyone speaks French! Montreal is both charming and ridiculous, many of them implied. This is one of the reasons the city lends itself so well to comedy and, sadly, one of the reasons it will never be able to properly assert itself on an international level.

Discussion

18 Comments

bongo / July 26, 2013 at 10:42 am
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So if someone has conservative politics he's not funny? Colin Quinn is probably in the top five working comics around. Go suck on Seth Meyers toes....douche.
Bryan replying to a comment from bongo / July 26, 2013 at 10:53 am
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Hi Bongo, thanks for commenting! I'm not saying that conservative politics aren't funny, and, like I said, comedy is a very subjective art so my comments speak only for myself and report the audience's reactions. Were you at the Eddie Izzard gala last night as well? What were your impressions of Quinn's act and of the gala in general?
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