Donald Glover opens his show with a warning: he’s not so good of a comedian that you should stick around if you vomit on yourselves, which apparently happened with one woman at a gig. He certainly wouldn’t stay, even if it was a Zombie Bernie Mac show at the Apollo.
Glover is definitely funny enough to stick around for in all kinds of uncomfortable states, but despite the title of his show, I couldn’t think of why anybody would vomit on themselves. Maybe my tolerance for body gags is far higher than the aforementioned woman, but I don’t think Glover is delivering grown-up Garbage Pail Kids jokes on stage.
This is some great shit about shit in Glover’s show. A female friend of Glover’s tells him she’d shit on anyone attempting to rape her, sparking some amazement from Glover that she can do that on command. Glover claims him and his asshole are always on their third date (“I’m not ready…”). And the show closes with a story about how he and his foster siblings would deal with their time at Home Depot (“Auchwitz for Children” Glover claims.). It involves the toilet section of the store. Saying more would spoil it.
As Glover points out, the N-word isn’t a big part of his life. Race is not something that he’s immune too, which become obvious as he relates the groundswell internet campaign for him to play Peter Parker in the next Spider-Man movie. A consistent reference point for those who opposed him as the webslinger seemed to be Shaft and actors like Michael Cera playing theblaxploitation anti-hero (Glover appropriately points out that this casting would too be awesome). Fanboys seemed to assume that Shaft would be an equivalent sacrilege for Glover, who sincerely loves Spider-Man as much as they do.
Glover does cover race a bit in his act, but the targets of racist words aren’t him or other blacks. They’re inanimate objects, like his seatbelt or slightly more animated objects, like Denise Richards. The distinction between whites and blacks are still there, but Glover grew up with enough colorblind friends that can’t see why he can’t play pranks on random white women.
It’s not post-racial. We’ll never be post-racial. As Glover prescribes, we all need to start using the N-word for everything. Once everything can be called that, once everything is dragged to that bottom, it’ll be meaningless. But as Glover warns, “We’re going to lose some of you white people in the process.”
I caught Jamie Kilstein’s show on Thursday. And wish I hadn’t. I wish I had waited ‘til tonight. I’ll explain in a bit.
KIlstein has a point of view politically and is just not built in a way that he can’t express it. And he does, punctuating points of his rants with a stamp of his foot, emphasizing things like the insanity of religious doctrine where a Fundamentalist Christian sect can demonize something as wonderful and human as hugs. They’re amazingly delivered seemingly without pause - Kilstein’s lung power must be incredible - and often end with audience applause, not just from the physical feat but from agreement of a political view that seems rarely heard when media cameras appear to unfailingly air the dissents finding right-wing organizations.
Kilstein is preachy. And there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be. He believes in something, a trait still too rare in comedians, and he should do what he feels like to get heard. But he said something late in his show that made we wonder. At one point, he stated (paraphrasing) “I realize if I pause, you laugh. And you don’t hate me.” It made me think that perhaps a slow roll of a rant would allow him to hit those jokes more (which are there already), that he could sneak more of his ideas in minds behind the cover of funny. That could be wrong. Maybe they’d cover the points too much.
The best part of the show for me was near the end, when Kilstein talked about the relationship with his father and his realization that he was probably the instigator of most of the distance between the two. It was a look at Kilstein as a person more, as someone questioning himself - in somewhat of an opposition that came before, which is full on angry young man at times. Not righteous but certain of the “wrongeous” of other groups. His coincidentally disastrous attempt to fix that relationship is a hilarious story where he ends up accidentally doing the things he wanted to apologize for is amazingly human and real.
Early in the show, Kilstein revealed his father was coming to the show on Saturday night, driving up from New York after hearing how important it was. The questioning that come from his realization about his dad might tinge the whole show. It’ll likely be an amazingly awkward evening for Kilstein, perhaps coloring the rants early in the show. It’ll be an interesting night. Sorry I’m gonna miss it.
Tim Key warns the audience fairly early on in his show that it will be more of a poetry recital than comedy show. If you have a low bent for experimental comedy than you might just characterize more as dicking around. But Key’s show constantly reframes what it is, bringing in, yes, poetry, but also odd short-films, list of animals, asides to the audience and a bit of child-like play (as opposed to childish play). TIm Key tells us early on that the title “Slutcracker” is a misnomer, but there isn’t a “nomer” for this. “Slutcracker” is as good as any.
A lot of Key’s poems are playing with perceptions, pulling back and delivering that last bit of information that reframes all that came before. (Key also challenges the characterization that they’re deliberately bad, stating “They’re not deliberate.”) A lot of it is engaged with the audience, poems being interrupted by Key’s own observation that a line is “quite lovely, idn’t it?”
Key also likes to play a man unaware of universal knowledge and customs, asking the Canadian audience if they have Shakespeare or kissing. Not seeing his Edinburgh performances, I can’t say it’s a new bit of business but it’s really fun bit of play. Key knows how to coax audience to go along with his nonsense, having once member being responsible for bringing him his beer when he wants it, rather than leaving next to him on the stage.
This audience engagement is best realized at the end, when he challenges audience members to help him go from just off stage to the top of the refrigerator on the opposite side, requiring stepping in a haphazardly-placed baked goods, a bit of pushing in places below the lower back and finally being carried by as many audience members as he can force on stage.
It’s all a bit of fun for Key, but he wants you to join in. And you should.
My first unfamiliar performer was Tom Wrigglesworth, whose show describes a true incident… no… skirmish… no… event that happened to him on the 10:15 train from Manchester to London Euston. The tale itself - Tom helping a old woman by collecting funds for her after a corpulent train manager penalizes her for being on the wrong train by no fault of her own - isn’t funny. But it’s the way Tom tells it, with the asides, the imagery and the indignation that makes for funny evening.
One of the things British performers have to overcome, even in a country like Canada which has the British monarchy on their money, is an info-dump on how some things work in the U.K. One of the marked differences - in a country with free government health care - is that the train system is all privatized with 25 different operators of the lines. Hence the letter Tom is writing when he opens his piece is to Richard Branson, billionaire owner of Virgin and operator of the Manchester/London Euston line. Or as Tom addreses him, “Dear Ricky B and the Virgins.”
Tom handles some of the information dump as he goes along, but once found himself having to explain a joke about British Health and Safety to the audience. If you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to catch most of the difference with the context clues. For example, the difference between performing a whip-around and begging.
Tom’s tale about how he and the other passengers overcome the train manager all ties together wonderfully from the set-up, even with Tom’s admission at the end of the show that part of it wasn’t true. But it’s to Tom’s credit that I was so engaged that I didn’t particularly question that part of the tale until after he mentions it.
Filed Under Just For Laughs
My plan for this year’s Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal is to put myself in the unfamiliar as possible. So heavy on name I don’t know already and have never seen. Some of this is simple logic, but I think it’ll also give me the funniest fest possible.
First, I live in New York City. And with Montreal so close, lots of the talent are New York people. I could see a lot of those NYC-based stand-ups live if I want to already, and probably have numerous times. I’ll go see quite a few still, but it seems a waste of an opportunity (and plane fare, etc.) to come here and have what would be the best night of New York City comedy I could find in another town. I want the best nights of World comedy.
And as I said, I think this strategy may give me the best laughs I could find. Surprise is such a key element of comedy… if you know where something is going, you’re probably not having a good time. I can still can be surprised by people I’ve seen before, but I love to see a show and have it be a revelation. In sports terms, the more I know a player’s moves to the basket, the harder it’s going to be for them to score on me. For this fest, I’d love to lose a lot of game by ridiculous margins.
This last point will come off a negation of any of my subsequent posts about the shows I see. I think too many of us do not let ourselves come in cold in a culture that’s littered with reviews, spoilers and, yes, blog posts. Some of the best artistic experiences I’ve had were when I had no idea what I was going to see. When I’ve walked by a movie theater and saw an art film because of the poster. When I’ve bought a book simply because of the title or first couple of sentences. When I’ve just tagged along to see a play because that’s what someone else wanted to do.
It’s a experience that you can easily replicate on your own. Why wait for the comedian to surprise you? Surprise yourself. See something you don’t know.
Filed Under Just For Laughs
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.
Filed Under Just For Laughs
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.