Delayed Saturday Thoughts

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There it is, publishing date of July 29, perfect manifestation of the biggest downside of Just For Laughs: The reacclimation. It’s not merely the detoxing, or the catching-up on sleep, or the returned attention to unanswered e-mails and voicemails and general treadmill of real-life responsibilities. It’s the epic emotional crash from the Festival high that hits hardest.

Of course folks on the 5:30 Sunday flight to New York had it even worse, when inclement weather forced Godfrey, Christian Finnegan, Horatio Sanz, Kevin Brennan and several other comics to board a plane at Trudeau, fly home, circle the city, and head back from whence they had just come for a final night in Montreal. Add the lingering after-effects of the final evening in the Hyatt Bar—around 4 a.m., lingering revelers discovered that taps hadn’t been turned off at last call a few hours back, thus an impromptu kegger raged until roughly 5:30 a.m.—and a good chunk of talent and industry was looking at a tough 24 hours.

But overall the close of the annual equivalent to Comedy Summer Camp left a slightly unexpected impression. The June debut of Just For Laughs Chicago raised questions about the effect its timing and physical proximity would have on Montreal, and there were several familiar Festival faces that opted to remain stateside for their one yearly comedy gorging. In terms of talent, multiple sources admitted that there weren’t as many boldface names as in years past. The overall scope of the Festival, however, unquestionably exploded. 

Official stats put numbers at 718 artists in 306 shows in two dozen venues, not counting outdoor and street-fair performances. The Film Festival arm’s debut of Funny People was a massive draw, as was the second incarnation of the simultaneous three-day Comedy Conference. And that’s exactly where things got overwhelming. Used to be there was time aplenty for afternoon lounging, a mad stampede of shows, then nightly socializing. With panels and events from 10 a.m. to at least 5 p.m., things got a lot tougher. Throw in the onslaught of newly participating Zoofest shows (at peak, about two dozen a night), and things got darn near impossible. At least JFL remained semi-discriminate enough to put their stamp on only select Zoofest shows (some of the off-program stuff I wandered into was absolute bottom-barrel crap). Who and what will return next year? Remains to be seen, come July 15-25, 2010.

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 11:20 PM | Comments (2)

Jon Dore’s Second Act

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He’s already a star in Canada for his correspondent gig on CTV’s Canadian Idol as well as The Jon Dore Television Show (A female passerby joined our conversation outside the Cabaret Theatre to gush, “I watch you religiously…when I’m not homeless.”) Then Variety named him a 2009 Comic to Watch and he spent the week hopping from the Comedy Nest’s Comedy Night in Canada to Best of the Fest to Go West! to Galas and everything in between.

Dore was certainly winning on his own, but word quickly spread after his Friday-night Alternative Show appearance, when he brought New Face Rory Scovel on stage to perform at the same time under the guise of a time crunch. The ruse repeated Saturday night: Host Andy Kindler apologized for the show running long, and out Dore came with genius musical wordsmith Reggie Watts to talk over each other for seven straight minutes. In all honesty, neither was actually doing his act per se, but instead simultaneously rambling and listening intently, filling the spaces with improvised absurdity and subtly mocking themselves, the onstage “character” all comics embody to some degree and pretty much the entire show and Festival as a whole. Both even returned for an “encore,” with Dore soulfully crooning Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” as Watts flexed a foreign tongue on a nonsensical ditty apparently containing a “Ching chang chong” chorus. 

“Maybe I’m old school,” Kindler mock-apologized following the thunderous applause. “But I found it very distracting.” Distracting? Yes. Perhaps the most memorable set of the entire Festival? Yes again.

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 11:32 PM | Comments (2)

Cos’ Effect

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Leave it to Bill Cosby to put things in perspective. Think two or even three seven-minute Festival sets a night is adequate? On Saturday, Cosby performed to 3,000 in Place des Arts’ cavernous Salle Wilfried Pelletier for two hours and ten minutes, waited 45 minutes for the old,  impressed crowd to file out and a new, eager crowd to file in, and did it all over again. And the stuff he did…it was good.

Gray-haired and comfortably bumming in a long-sleeve t-shirt, sky-high sweatpants and Crocs, Cosby spent the majority of his time at stage center, seated in a chair draped with a red sweater reading “Hello Friend,” a nod to his own Ennis William Cosby Foundation. In that chair he hemmed and hawed about one singular topic: Marriage. “So there I am,” he began. “Mrs. Cosby. My wife. That’s what I want to talk about. This Evening.” He leaned back and rolled his eyes in despair. He sat poker-straight, making dazed, hangdog, “old-person” expressions. He knelt on the stage to depict himself cutting down a Christmas tree for the sake of “romance” and hunched forward, hands on knees, explaining and warning what one was in for as one aged. There were car rides, health woes, grandkids, Biblical reinterpretations, wolves, wives and mothers. Things weren’t as tight towards the end as they had been at the beginning, and it was an uncomfortable physical effort just watching him perform for so long, but in terms of tone, cadence, exaggeration and outright life wisdom, the 72-year-old is clearly still one of the top storytellers around. 

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 03:09 PM | Comments (0)

Miscellaneous Friday Thoughts

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I had made it a point this year to stick to shows featuring artists I rarely had the chance to see live. Thus no Rich Vos, no Christian Finnegan, no Golds either Judy or Elon, no Aziz Ansari, no Marc Maron, etc. The same was supposed to hold true for Louis CK, yet I was easily swayed into catching his final midnight show at the 2300-cap Metropolis [an additional last-minute show was announced for tonight at the Kola Note]. Prolific as ever, CK managed to fill at least half of a one-hour, 45-minute show with material crafted since his spring Hilarious CD and DVD tapings. As for the old stuff, I overheard the quoted phrase “You are sitting in a chair…IN THE SKY!” twice more before the evening was out.

On the downside, as always, a sacrifice had to be made. I opted out of the midnight Alternative Show, where I had hoped to catch Duncan Trussell, an out-there New Face whose darker stuff had previous been nixed from the Cabaret Theatre. He was one of the fortunate ones, however. Scrambling to fill late-night space vacated by Paul Provenza in the St. Catherine Theatre, two free New Faces…Encore shows were announced, only to quickly be dubbed “Best of New Faces.” Normally the top of the New Faces crop gets play over at Comedyworks, the Comedy Nest and elsewhere, and it still happened to some extent, but now not being included in Encore equated to instant, in-Festival failure. Ouch. Aren’t these guys already under enough pressure?

Over at Doug Stanhope’s second annual Just For Spite Festival (two nights at Cafe Chaos, in the heart of the JFL street fair grounds), both shows were sold out by Friday’s 8 p.m. start time. As a result, Stanhope will be making more money off two independent sets than most acts will make in their entire Festival run. [Full disclosure: I’m married to one of Stanhope’s business cohorts.]

Speaking of selling out, Russell Peters checked “Sell out the single biggest show in JFL history” off his to-do list. Recently named one of Forbes’ “Top 10 Earning Comedians” Peters counted 11,000 paid tickets at the Bell Centre, later celebrating the achievement at a “Midnight at the Opera” shindig in association with Just For Laughs Comedy Conference at Club Opera.

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 02:10 PM | Comments (1)

The Bobcat Came Back

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“Um, hi, you don’t look the same, either,” Bobcat Goldthwait announced upon taking the stage at Friday’s Bubbling with Laughter show. Though he was due on much earlier, the former Jimmy Kimmel Live director (in Montreal promoting the Canadian premiere of his Robin Williams-starring World’s Greatest Dad) ended up in the penultimate spot after a phone call to his hotel room informed him the show he thought was tomorrow was currently underway.

With the same eardrum-splintering voice but shorter hair, the once-retired stand-up also relied on some old material: Having a woman approach him to say, “I don’t mean to insult you, but you look like Bobcat Goldthwait” and relating a story from the set of Blow in which he asked Johnny Depp and Paul Reubens who amongst them was not on probation.

Fortunately sandwiched in between was some eye-openingly introspective stuff about his return to the live stage (“There’s a connection I make with the audience that in the other things I do…I ran out of money, ladies and gentlemen!”) and a transfixing story about being trapped on a plummeting airplane with a team of Special Olympics athletes. None of it was particularly hilarious, and was in fact reliably hesitant and stuttery, but it definitively marked what could be a more personally revealing direction. Then he blew the light, admitted to stealing his entire act from Sesame Street‘s Grover and left no question that yes, the same old Bobcat had returned. 

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 01:21 PM | Comments (1)

Andy Kindler’s State of the Industry (and TV)

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For 16 years, Andy Kindler’s annual State of the Industry lambast has been the must-see credentialed event, the one time suits jockey for sitting room up front, as opposed to elbow room at a venue’s back bar. “Let’s meet up at State of the Industry,” is akin to the theater crowd’s “Let’s do lunch at Sardi’s”; stating as apparently Elon Gold did, “This is the only hour in my life that I laugh,” cements one’s status as one of the Cool Kids (assuming there even are cool kids in comedy).

The hour and a half address was self-aware and kvetching as usual, preceded this year by an excellent introduction courtesy of Marc Maron. “Like Andy, I have absolutely nothing left to lose,” he offered, then described how touring with with Kindler is like “traveling with the history of the Jewish people.”

Yet something felt off, and it wasn’t merely Kindler’s running gag about odd microphone placement. The television screens, the branded banners, the lights and the red carpet clearly indicate that SOTI is a fully-sanctioned, downright embraced ribbing, leaving zero illusion of true nose-thumbing. Feeling like you’re doing something wrong by being in the room is half the fun, and a fake brick wall sporting fake graffiti isn’t going to change that.

“It has to be industry-related, or something I saw on TV…I’m going to ridicule things I’m not that familiar with,” Kindler noted up front of his range of topics. With no Last Comic Standing to kick around, the laundry list included the ShamWow pitchman, TMZ, how “Montreal found a way to do less than they least they could do” with two non-adjacent economy seats, Carlos Mencia, Tyler Perry, Howie Mandel, various agencies, Kevin James, Dane Cook, Carrot Top, I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, Jay Leno, and, as ever, himself. However, his running commentary seemed harder hitting than his material, which often came across as just that…themed material. “Now this is just anger,” he admitted,” shaking his head at his notes. Yet it wasn’t the angry, Roast-oriented side of Kindler that most shone through. The best part of his humor has undoubtedly always been his self-effacing and hand-wringing. But with an ending like, “This could be my last year doing this speech. There’s a lot of things I could say right now…in lieu of crying. I get the feeling a lot of people come in here thinking something else is going to happen. Maybe I could get paid to stay home next year. Too real?”, the answer is a surprising “yes.”

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

Noble: A Prize

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I had been cautioned before going into Ross Noble not to believe the hype, that, contrary to the official spiel, the wildly prolific cult Englishman’s act wasn’t all improvised.

Didn’t matter a bit. From start to finish, his one-man show was a densely packed display of energy, absurdism, audience interaction and controlled chaos. With his long hair, boy-band headset and surfer-dude-by-way-of-Monty-Python accent, Noble turned one table of devoted fanboys into a modest roomful of converts, just as he turned the presence of one audience member’s baked-good snack into a monstrous running gag involving the woman, her friend, her mother, the tacos on another table, his miraculous ability to “feed, like, 100 people with just some nachos” and his status as “some kinda Mexican Jesus.”

Some bits on Madonna, Boba Fett and a brass band providing a peculiar soundtrack to porn were obviously rehearsed, but then it was right back into 10 minutes on imagined tourist groups taking in the Musee JPR venue in all its questionable glory. After all, why bother with jokes when your stream of consciousness leads even you deep into an entertaining unknown?

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 02:04 AM | Comments (1)
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