Just for Laughs
One week with the world’s best comics
By Jane Borden
A TAME AND SENSIBLE GUY Martin gets serious with his banjo.
Photograph: Eric Myre
Fueled by little sleep and a lot of beer, the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal has reached the end of its 28th annual gathering. A heavyweight tastemaker with both consumers and the entertainment industry, JFL invites bigwigs—including, this year, Lewis Black, Brad Garrett, Pamela Anderson, Cheech and Chong, and Steve Martin—to host televised galas while a slot in one of its smaller showcases is considered a necessary feather in the cap of any rising star. The bulk of the English-language programming happened between July 12 and 18. I was there for four nights, and covered as much as my feet and ears would allow. Forget the bad; here are my favorite moments.
After numerous invitations in past years, Steve Martin finally came through. He took the stage, played the banjo and introduced a highlight reel of his favorite moments with Just for Laughs over the years. The clips were of him taking the stage, playing the banjo and introducing a highlight reel.
Funniest side effect of national funding
During a panel discussion about the Canadian Broadcasting Company show Kenny vs. Spenny, which is currently crossing over to the States, the show’s cocreator Kenny Hotz said that he once had to procure and submit a receipt to the Canadian government for a “huge bag of weed.”
Funniest attack on hypocrisy
In his new solo show, You People Are All the Same, Bill Burr responds to people who brag about their pets, “She’s a rescue”: “Did you take out a couple of guards, crawling on your elbows? Did you jump in and pull her out of a river, with no concern for your own safety? Or did you just go down to the pound and get a free dog, you cheap fuck?”
Least helpful aid
British comedian/performance artist Kim Noble shared with audiences, in his solo show Kim Noble Will Die, documentation of his efforts to save Londoners’ time by replacing—in video stores and bookshops—copies of March of the Penguins with an 18-second animated version, and printings of Barack Obama’s autobiography with copies in which all pages but one have been removed.
Best crowd work
In the middle of his set, Canadian-but-L.A.-based Jon Dore asked, “Can I get a volunteer from the audience? Anyone. You, yes. Great, can you go get me a beer? [Pulls bill from wallet.] Get one for yourself too, and tip the lady.”
The art form has lost some purchase over the years, but Melissa Villasenor as Sarah Silverman, and fellow Los Angeleno James Adomian as Lewis Black reading a young girl’s diary, may be the comics to bring it back.
Best of the “New Faces”
Two of the top performers in this year’s annual young talent showcase were New York comics Andy Haynes and Mike Vecchione, and you should catch Denver’s Ben Roy and Austin’s Jesse Case—also hilarious—when they visit our city.
Best new annual show
As an eff-you to the festival last year, stand-up Doug Stanhope, who is known for telling truths, getting drunk and burning bridges, produced his own gig in Montreal at the same time. He topped his shenanigans this year by throwing an enormous, hugely successful and wholly unaffiliated party in a car wash across the street from the JFL headquarters.
Capping off his already ebullient performance at Amp’d—a night of musical comedy that was easily the best show at the festival—Australian piano phenom Tim Minchin improvised with British beat-boxing wunderkind Beardyman and surprise guest Reggie Watts. At first they only molested one another sonically, but then Minchin and Watts embraced for a literal rubdown.
Funniest after-hours admission
After Amp’d, at the hotel bar, Minchin and post-adolescent superstar piano comic Bo Burnham discussed another of the show’s improvisations, which had been sung, at Burnham’s backstage suggestion, to the Spiderman theme song. Minchin: “That was our first collaboration!” Burnham: “My act is our collaboration without your permission.”
During a talk show hosted by J.B. Smoove, in character as Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Leon Black, former Saturday Night Live star Finesse Mitchell told the audience that he wears a wife-beater, ’do-rag and flip-flops in order to look more thuggish while walking his wife’s miniature dogs.
Another of Leon Black’s guests was Chelsea Lately regular Whitney Cummings, who provided a hilariously candid female counterpoint to Black and Mitchell’s sexual fantasies. Imagine any hyperbolically aggressive porn scenario, followed by, “You’re into that, right?” Cummings: “Um, if it’s cool for me to just lie there.”
Best use of resources
When it was time for British mock-poet Tim Key to cross the stage without touching it, he used a cake as a stepping stone, rode halfway across it with his feet on toy trucks, and was carried the rest of the distance on the backs of two audience members.
Across the board, I most enjoyed T.J. Miller, Godfrey, Bill Burr, Kyle Kinane, Tig Notaro and, of course, Steve Martin, who is not only still hilarious, but also remains the adorable jerk. To wit, a bit of classic deadpan bullying: When he introduced London stand-up Tom Wrigglesworth, he told the theater that such a name is a gift to comedy writers, and that he couldn’t think of which would be a funnier way to bring him to the stage: “Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Wrigglesworth!” or “Please put your hands together for Tom Wrigglesworth!”
See more in Comedy
Time Out New York / Issue 774 : Jul 29–Aug 4, 2010