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Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival

August 7, 2011

Last week I attended the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal Canada and had saw three excellent shows around the city. This month long festival is an attraction to both comedy connoisseurs, up and coming comedians, and seasoned veterans. Montreal went all out for its annual festival, complete with all the street entertainment you can even imagine. Festivities included Victor, the green alien-like mascot, a diving pool with syncronized-divers, a large festival stage with revival bands, circus acrobat street performers, and a campy game show called The Cheese Quiz. Comedians were also walking around the area, and I was lucky enough to spot comedian Weird Al Yankovic in a downtown park. The festivities started early in the afternoon and kept alive until well after midnight. The festival area, just north of Chinatown, became very crowded on weekend nights of the festival.

Just For Laughs featured a slew of up and coming comedians, performing at smaller venues around the city, in a subset of the festival called Zoo Fest. The line-up for Zoo Fest included Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney, New York indie comedy favorite Eugene Mirman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon writer Anthony Jeselnik, stand-up comedian Nick Thune, Comedians of Comedy’s Maria Bamford, Comedy Central’s Paul F. Tompkins, stand-up comedian Ari Shaffir, Comedy Central Presents’s Big Jay Oakerson, as well as seasoned professionals Bill Burr, Robert Kelly, Joe DeRosa. These comedians will be the ones who certainly will become bigger in the next few years and will be playing the mainstage shows. Zoo Fest allowed the public to see these performers in a more intimate setting before they play theatres in the near future.

I was lucky enough to see Zoo Fest comedian Hannibal Burress at Theatre St. Catherine on July 27th. Burress is currently a writer for the show 30 Rock and has written for Saturday Night Live. He has appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and Lopez Tonight.

Burress’ performance was opened up by New York indie comedian Moshe Kasher. Kasher’s style was very confident and somewhat impromptu. He immediately commented on the fact that there were two young teenage boys in the front row and that the mother with them had made an unwise decision to take them to the show. Kasher did lots of crowd work throughout his ten minute set and told a couple stories divulging his lack of ability to fight, his relation to the Jewish faith, and trouble with girls. Overall, the act seemed to meandor a bit, but it definetly got the audience listening and focused for Hannibal Burress. Kasher was a good opener in my opinion because he did not steal the show from the headliner Burress, but he got the audience laughing and ready to laugh even harder.

Hannibal then proceeded to bring the house down. His super-deadpan style and impecable timing was brilliant. He began his set with a somewhat improvised recounting of a jay-walking ticket he got earlier in the day. Burress referred to the police officer giving him a  jay-walking ticket as “clown work.” After this display of confidence of working through a new bit on the spot, he went on to more planned jokes that make up his act. Burress’s act draws from everyday experiences and a lot of observational humor. He is incredibly witty and sets up potent punchlines that are not predictable. The deadpan style highlights his jokes and his crafty writing style is one of the best I have seen. He truely is one of the best joke writers in the business today. Burress’ shows was one of the tightest written acts I have seen and he will certainly become a household name within the next few years. I definetly recommend going out to see Hannibal when he comes to your local comedy club.

(Clip of Hannibal Burress’ performance on Lopez Tonight)

The mainstage showcases at the Just For Laughs festivals where mostly held in the multi-theatre arts centre Place Des Arts.

Shows included:

Best Night Ever featuring Russell Peters, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jimmy Carr, Dom Irrera, and Jeremy Hotz

The Relationship Show featuring Eric Stonestreet, Bob Marley, Tim Minchin, and Robert Kelly

A Tribute To Nerds featuring Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, and Brian Posehn

Craig Ferugson’s International House of Comedy featuring Craig Ferguson, Russell Howard, and Adam Hills

Decline of the American Empire featuring John Oliver and Alonzo Bodden

Other mainstage performers included musical comedians Weird Al Yankovic,  Bo Burnham, and Reggie Watts, British favorite Eddie Izzard, JFL favorite Danny Bhoy, alternative comedian Andy Kindler, Comedy Central Presents’ Tammy Pescatelli, Iranian comic Maz Jobrani, seasoned veterans Bobby Slayton and Caroline Rhea, Last Comic Standing’s Natasha Leggero, comedian Elon Gold, Roast Master General Jeff Ross, Live at Gotham’s Amy Schumer, Chapelle Show’s Donnell Rawlings, Tough Crowd’s Colin Quinn, Whose Line is it Anyway’s Greg Proops, The Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick, and WTF’s Marc Maron.

Additionally showcases such as The Homegrown Talent Competition, New Faces of Comedy, New Faces Characters, Talk of the Fest, Best of the Fest, and Triple Threat were hot spots for comedy agents and the media. The Just For Laughs Comedy Conference gave a behind the scenes look into the business side of comedy. The conference featured a keynote speech by Marc Maron, a state of the industry speech by Andy Kindler, a comedy podcasting discussion led by Greg Proops, and an award presentation to Louis CK for “Comedy Person of the Year.”

I had the privilege to see comedians Louis CK and Daniel Tosh. Unfortunately, Just For Laughs had problems with their ticketing software and had to work around double booking for our seats. After this confusion was all sorted out, everything was smooth sailing.

Louis CK’s show was at the Theatre Maisonneuve at 7 PM on July 28th. Opening up for Louis CK was Parks and Recreation writer Harris Wittels. Wittels seemed to have a low energy and centered around self-deprecating material. He hit some of his jokes, however, most of the act seemed to fall flat and was not very joke-oriented. Overall, he performed the function of an opener very well because he did not steal the thunder for Louis CK but got the people situated for the headliner.

Louis CK was infectuous from the moment he walked out on stage. Being one of my all-time favorite comedians, I did not mind his seemingly unprepared improvised style. Although he did do material that he had obviously planned, CK took time to work out his thought process in the moment and comment on the stand-up he was performing. This style resonated because he knew that he was playing to his own fanbase who would enjoy Louie just being Louie. Ultimately, his performance was still brilliant because he was totally himself. CK always brings a refreshing honesty that is not prevalent enough in stand-up today. His ability to be real with topics such as marriage, raising his kids, sex, and everyday life is brilliant and he has no limits when it comes to content or censorship. This only raises the stakes more and seperates him into an elite club of  contemporary comedians. His self-deprecating, yet very likeable persona and his ability to get behind a subject and boil it down into its basic and sometimes sad truths is a talent that few other comedians possess. Louis CK is a must see and a comedian that if you don’t already know, you should check out.

(Clip of Louis CK’s performance from HBO’s One Night Stand)

Daniel Tosh’s show was at the Theatre Maisonneuve at 7 PM on July 29th. Opening up for Daniel Tosh was up and coming comic Kyle Kinane. He told very interesting stories including his trip to a K-Mart late at night to buy Pajamas and a time that he bought an inflatable life-like person from the back of an “little dirty man’s” car. Kinane’s vulnerability was endeering to the audience and his positive energy made him very likeable to the crowd. I definetly recommend keeping an eye on Kinane as he progresses in the next few years. He has already been featured on John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show and has a Comedy Central Presents half hour out on Comedy Central.

Daniel Tosh followed Kinane and brought a fresh witty energy. It was nice to see Tosh live because he has matured a lot since his Comedy Central special Completely Serious. His style is now more relaxed with a slower pace. He still deploys jokes that are semi-shock value and pits himself against the audience. Tosh’s style of pitting himself against the audience while allowing them to like him is a risky way to perform. However, he successfully makes himself a likeable smart alec. He covered material that was more linked together than previous specials such as dating, being famous, and sports. Still he had his patented Tosh one-liners thrown in throughout the act which caught the audience off-guard and caused a rowr of laughter. One line that struck well was when Tosh said, “The White House is in a bad neighborhood now…yeah, the economy is terrible…oh, you thought it was because he’s black…you folks are racist.” Overall, I think I used to like Daniel Tosh more than I do now. His style is still very witty and edgy, but his live performance was not as quick and from punchline to punchline. Still, Daniel Tosh is one of the most fun contemporary comedians around. Check him out on Comedy Central with his show Tosh.0.

(Clip of Daniel Tosh’s performance from his Comedy Central special Completely Serious)

If you’re considering attending Just For Laughs next year, I would definetly recommend it. From what I experienced, it is best to buy tickets early so you recieve them in the mail before you leave for the city. Alternatively, you can choose to pick them up at the box office by checking that option if ordering online. There are also branches of the Just For Laughs festival in Chicago and Sydney Australia. If those locations are more convenient for you, I urge you to attend. Ultimately, Montreal is a great city with a European feel that has a burgeoning comedy scene. For more information visit the Just For Laughs website.

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