The 36th edition of the Just For Laughs 2018 festival is about to enter its third and final week. And this is the week that is the meat of the festival, in which Just For Laughs will experience its greatest number of comics performing its greatest number of shows. So far, I have seen a total of eight shows (with many more to catch before this week is out, whether they be galas, solo shows or within the framework of the ComedyPro conference). Here are capsule reviews of six of those shows.
This year’s edition of the Nasty Show certainly provided its share of eyebrow-raising, blush-inducing material from the line-up of edgy comics (Montreal’s own Derek Seguin, Mike Britt, Ms. Paul, Nikki Glaser and Brad Williams), in which most of their routines cannot be reprinted or quoted here (the best I can do at this point is Ms. Pat’s series of jokes about a certain “dust” that is applied to the male genitalia). The show was helmed by Nasty Show alumnus Robert Kelly, who proved he has the chops to be the ideal Nasty Show host, and follow in the footsteps of memorable past hosts Bobby Slayton and Nick DiPoalo.
Ever since I caught it for the first time about five years ago, the Midnight Surprise show – which is now a staple of the OFF-JFL series – is probably one of the best and funniest showcases around, mainly because of the unpredictability of who appears on the line-up and the material that is being uttered. Somehow, the Midnight Surprise gives the comics who are part of this line-up the chance to let their hair down and deliver their respective sets on any “anything goes” basis. This was true about the first night of the series that I had the good fortune to catch. That night’s host Godfrey was nothing short of fantastic, and proved that he can – and should — host any JFL show that he damned well pleases. That night’s line-up included a mix of comics from both Ethnic and Nasty shows, but it was closer Tim Dillon who stole the show with his hilarious routine in which he slammed practically every name brand of ice cream, from Ben & Jerry’s to Baskin Robbins.
One of my “discoveries” of this year’s Just For Laughs is Neal Brennan, whose solo show “Here We Go” is a definite must-see. A writer for a number of well-known stand-ups such as Dave Chappelle, Brennan proves that he can deliver the lines as well as he can write them, with an hour of some of the most well thought-out and finely crafted stand-up comedy material, from “light” Donald Trump jokes, to Confederate statues, to deconstructing porn. He is the Jerry Seinfeld of this generation.
Another solo show that is a definite must-see this year is that of Brad Williams, who is my “triple threat” of Just For Laughs 2018, as he leaves his audiences in hysterics at the Nasty Show, Midnight Surprise and his own solo show. When he energetically rants on what it’s like to be a midget, emotional support pets on airplanes (even turkeys), having a 70-pound pitbull for a pet, stupid people or how his wife applied her black belt martial arts prowess on an obnoxious patron at a whiskey bar in Vegas, and you see the veins in his forehead start to bulge and his face turn red, you are in for one of the most laugh-filled, brutally honest solo comedy performances around today. Don’t miss him!
British comic Jimmy Carr has been performing at Just For Laughs off and on for the past 15 years. Known for his series of sharp, terse and mainly sarcastic observational jokes (which are occasionally punctuated with his trademark guffaws), Carr’s latest offering to Just For Laughs is the Montreal leg of his “The Best of Ultimate Gold Greatest Hits Tour”. This is basically a showcase of some of his best material of the past 15 years, and it certainly lives up to its superlative-laden title. Although many of the jokes he uttered I was familiar with from past performances, Carr was at his most edgiest, with an hour plus of sharp, pointed jokes, one-liners and snarky comments. But what made Carr’s show so enjoyable was the opportunity he had to interact with certain members of the audience (which I never saw him do during previous festivals), which he so effectively managed to connect with his preset material. A greatest hits package that is pure comedy gold (but cannot be purchased in stores).
What I like about the OFF-JFL series is that it gives many local comics a chance to shine with their own unique brand of comedy shows. This was the case with “Life Lessons”, a comedy talk show which played to a sold out crowd for one night only (July 19) at the MainLine Theatre. A staple of the Montreal Fringe Festival over the past five years, “Life Lessons” staged its third edition at Just For Laughs, in which host Keith Waterfield chatted with three comedians (in this case, Dan Ramos, Janelle James and Deanne Smith) who shared a certain story from their life and the lessons they “learned” from that story (Smith’s story about how she created a string of text messages that weren’t originally meant for her was a gem of storytelling). Waterfield, a local comic and familiar face at the fringe festival, proves that he has what it takes to be a genial, well-informed and articulate talk show host; and accompanied by the music of Leighland Beckman and his band (the rapport between the two of them is strongly reminiscent of Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon), I am not surprised if future editions of “Life Lessons” go the YouTube or podcast route. And by the way, the free mini whisky samples that were offered at the show’s halfway point did not complement – or take away from – the sheer enjoyment of watching a comedian sharing their respective life lessons.
For more information – or to purchase tickets – to any Just For Laughs show, go to www.hahaha.com.