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JFL – A chat with Ari Shaffir and other stuff

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JFL – A chat with Ari Shaffir – Comedian Ari Shaffir is no stranger to the Nasty Show, for he has appeared on the show a few times to share his unique brand of edgy humour. This year, he makes his return to the Nasty Show, only this time as host. He is following in the footsteps of Bobby Slayton, who has been the Nasty Show’s host the most number of times since 1994 (and was punctuated by some hosting duties from Nick DiPaolo and Jeffrey Ross), and is the sole comic who has always been associated with the show.

Nasty Show host Ari Shaffir

“It’s quite an honour for me to be chosen as host of the Nasty Show this year. This came off after my recent Netfix special. And in my heart, it’s almost as big,” said Shaffir during a brief interview shortly before the July 20 performance of the Nasty Show at Metropolis, where it continues its run until July 29. “And I wasn’t nervous about following Bobby Slayton. Actually, it got me thinking about how do I host this show?”

Born in New York City in 1974, Shaffir was raised as an Orthodox Jew, and actually studied in a seminary in Israel before deciding to make stand-up comedy his calling, and got his start doing practically every job imaginable at the legendary Comedy Store in L.A. He then built up a following thanks to the club circuit, a viral video series and appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

A regular at Just For Laughs, Shaffir is puzzled by why people like to be treated to healthy doses of edgy, controversial and profanity-laden comedy, which explains why the Nasty Show is one of Just For Laughs’ series of shows that always plays to sold out crowds for every year nearly 30 years.

“I don’t know why some people do like blue humour. For me, I like to hear the line and hear a joke that’s like the day after. Other people need two years and then they can hear it. I want my comedy right on the edge” he said.

Besides the Nasty Show, Shaffir will be doing two other appearances at Just For Laughs. First there’s “Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storytelling Show” at the MainLine Theatre on July 25 as part of the Off-JFL series; and on July 29, he will do a live taping of his podcast “Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank” at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The podcast, which has been on the air since 2011, is succinctly described by Shaffir as a show in which you “take a subject and really flush it out.” The subjects that are discussed on his podcast sometimes have a serious side to it, but are mostly what he labels as “jokey”.

“About 90% of the time I have comedians appear on the podcast. One time, Greg Fitzsimmons was on the show, and told me he used to be a golf caddy; so to me that’s an expert, so we talked about caddying. And Joe Rogan is a hunter now, so we talked about hunting. We also talk about other personal subjects such as losing your virginity and masturbation; and whenever we have a woman comic on the show, we talk about their periods,” he said.

Shaffir enjoys every opportunity he gets to come to Montreal to perform at Just For Laughs, and he is especially amazed at the fact that people come to Montreal from all over North America to watch comedy shows. “Just For Laughs not only gives you the chance to see friends that you never get to see on a regular basis,” he said. “But also, you get this vibe of excitement about stand-up comedy; it’s really fun.”

* * *

I have been to practically every Nasty Show since 1990, and while this wildly popular series of shows does live up to its nasty billing, sometimes the line-up can be hit or miss; however, I can strongly say that this year’s Nasty show line-up was indeed a solid hit.

Comedian Robert Kelly and Montreal Times Reporter Stuart Nulman

Host Ari Shaffir started off things with his unique interpretation of — of all things –the Bible, especially the story of Noah and the flood. Robert Kelly professed his passion for mint chocolate chip ice cream (which was the key to compatibility for his marriage), and why children lie about their poo when he potty trains his kids. Yamaneika Saunders, sporting a skin tight zebra pattern outfit, made her Nasty Show debut in a big way ranting about skinny women at fitness classes and being a godmother. Festival stalwart Jimmy Carr came prepared with his iPad filled with his trademark pointed one-liners that he spewed to perfection with his rather deadpan delivery (especially a series of zingers that were tailor-made for the Montreal audience). My favourite Carr line dealt with the fact about Canadian soldiers who burned down the White House during the War of 1812: “What would it take for you to do it again?” The always-entertaining Godfrey once again proved why he is such a festival favourite, especially his takes on Justin Trudeau, Donald Trump and Bill Cosby. And closer Big Jay Oakerson killed with his subtle, yet nasty set in which he tackled prison life and his relationship with his daughter; “If she decides to turn lesbian, that takes away 80% of stress for me,” he commented.

And special kudos to Shaffir and Carr, who like true consummate professionals, used their finely honed, yet razor sharp, brand of humour to destroy a couple of hecklers who thought they could out-joke the two, and deservedly got on the receiving end of the duo’s on-target barbs.

* * *

Another series of shows that never fails to fill every seat is the Midnight Surprise shows, which is part of OFF-JFL, and continues its run at the Monument National until July 29. I attended the first show at the Theatre Ste. Catherine, and the standing room only crowd were indeed surprised to discover that Montreal comic Sugar Sammy was its host for the night, as he shared with the audience his exploits during his recent tours in Europe and the U.S., not to mention some of the news and issues of the day (my favourite line of his was “In Canada, we don’t have a wall; we have winter.”).

What I like about Midnight Surprise is that you don’t know who is on that evening’s show line-up; and many of the scheduled comics use the show to test and practice material for upcoming solo shows or gala appearances in front of a live audience. On the first night, the audience was treated to performances by Big Jay Oakerson, Jessica Kirson, Yamaneika Saunders and Alonzo Bodden; needless to say, the audience certainly got their late night’s worth of laughs.

* * *

If you happen to be spending a warm summer evening at the Quartier des spectacles, or you are between shows, I highly recommend you drop by the Just For Laughs Stage, located on St. Catherine Street West between St. Urbain and St. Laurent (and directly across from the Bouffons Montreal site). Every night from now until July 30, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., highly manic and very genial Montreal comic Mike Paterson is your host, as he introduces five hours of live English language comedy, which is punctuated with hour-long video highlights of past Just For Laughs galas. From stand-up to improv to musical satire, it’s a fun, entertaining way to spend a couple (or five) hours and enjoy some comedy in a relaxed, intimate outdoor setting. I was there for three straight nights, in which I witnessed a couple of improv show downs, a full-fledged late night talk show hosted by Paterson (and his sidekick, former wrestler the “Green Phantom”), and a reunion performance of the lip-synch group “Never Surrender”, in which Paterson and fellow local comics Ryan Wilner and Tim Rabnett brought the house down with their highly charged lip-synch interpretations of several popular 80s and 90s heavy metal tunes.

And throughout all of this, I marveled at how Paterson’s energy and enthusiasm (not to mention his strong ability to interact with audience members of all ages) never wavered throughout these five-hour nightly stretches. And what is his secret to maintaining all that manic energy five hours a night for 15 straight nights? “I owe it all to kale smoothies,” was his straightforward reply.

* * *

Finally, another solo show recommendation (also part of the OFF-JFL series) is Arj Barker’s “Get in My Head”, which continues its run at the MainLine Theatre until July 30. Barker, best known for his role as “Dave” on the HBO series “Flight of the Conchords”, offers a 90-minute diatribe on a variety of topics that are of concern to him, whether it be technology in general, how to keep your face looking young, yoga, Uber, being gluten-free, or the odd connection between bread and cavemen. Very entertaining, and at times cerebral, Barker’s observations are quite entertaining and thought-provoking, which at times prompted me to conclude that it could also make quite an interesting TED Talk. And if you enjoy Arj’s show, I recommend purchasing his sticker pack on your way out. It’s a sheet that contains seven separate peel off stickers that contain samples of Arj’s rather snappy “Arjisms” (my favorite is the one that says “Get a deck of cards & deal with it!”)

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