Since its founding in 1983, the annual Just for Laughs event throughout Montreal has been bringing in show-stopping comedians and joyfully tearful tourists from all over the globe. This year, the Tribune invaded the largest comedy festival in the world to observe and interview four of the comics featured.
Adrienne Truscott may be new to the world of stand-up comedy, but the performance artist is evidently familiar enough with the medium to make it the message of her show, “Asking For It”.
The show, featuring Truscott in just a shirt and shoes, was a pointed commentary about rape jokes in comedy, with critical barbs directed at several male comics who made rape jokes—including a particular rant aimed at TV personality Daniel Tosh, who made headlines in 2012 for his rape joke as a response to a heckler. Two main points to keep in mind throughout Truscott’s set: she is a performance artist through and through—every tense moment is designed to prove a point—and, as eloquently stated early on in the performance, “rape is rude”. With these two concepts noted, the show can be analyzed as what it is: not just a comedy show, but also a critique of the comedic landscape.
Despite the heavy subject matter and calculatedly awkward atmosphere, her comedic chops still shined through in spades. Truscott swiftly followed up every awkward silence with a self-referential joke, which sliced through the tension with a roar of laughter, and her projections of male faces superimposed on her bare vagina were incredibly creative. Most importantly, the show got the audience’s mental gears churning as to what was wrong with the current pop culture landscape, from the six male comics whose rape jokes served as lambasting fuel for Truscott’s performance to Flo Rida’s pop-rap hit “Whistle”, a thinly-veiled plea for oral sex.
By bringing these misogynist nuggets of pop culture into focus, Truscott really demonstrated how messed up the current landscape is—even before the show began, “Blurred Lines” was played as background music while audience members filed into the cabaret space. By the end of the night, the song was a reminder of how embedded invocations of rape or lack of consent are in society. Truscott’s performance used humour and over-the-top ironic embracing of the topic to deftly highlight a pervasive, difficult-to-discuss issue with a unique flair.
Paul F. Tompkins
Paul F. Tompkins, host of what Rolling Stone called the best “Comedy Podcast of the Moment” in 2011, was the emcee of “Paul F. Tompkins & Friends Real and Imagined”. This act featured stand-up from Tompkins as himself and two different characters, interspersed by sets from two up-and-comers. Tompkins’ set as himself found the tuxedo-clad comedian riffing heavily with the audience, and his charismatic performance was both charming and hilarious.
Prone to fits of spontaneous yelling, Tompkins brought his show to a great start before ushering to the stage Australian comedian Demi Lardner. Lardner’s delivery was muted and conversational but her stealthy punchlines caught the audience unaware several times, and the 20-year-old proved that while her comedy career was younger than Tompkins’, age was no issue with regard to humour on a professional scale.
Tompkins returned as a caricaturized Andrew Lloyd Webber, complete with cape and top hat. As a stereotypical British gentleman, jokes were made about Canada’s maintained observance of the British monarchy before giving way to a set about Webber’s musicals. While Tompkins stayed in character, the set felt drawn-out and even laughter from those who understood the jokes about musicals waned by the end of the set, which featured a hypothetical musical featuring several of Webber’s characters.
The second “real friend” of the night was Ontario’s Mark Forward, whose awkward, sparse mumbling earned numerous waves of laughter from the audience. Forward has a real talent for mining silences, but his best moments were when he abandoned his initial persona and actually began telling jokes. His observations about parenting in 2014 were smart and well-executed, and his punchlines landed well.
Tompkins finished the night as the Cake Boss, an imitation of television personality Buddy Valastro. While this initially came off as another trite impersonation, the bit really took off when he introduced the character’s quirk of being able to see into the future. Improvising outlandish scenarios based on audience suggestions, Tompkins finished the show off with a fresh take on what could have been another rehash of a specific celebrity niche.
Ari Shaffir ft. Greg Proops, Bright Okpocha, and TJ Miller
Ari Shaffir’s webseries-turned-Comedy Central show “This is Not Happening” features comics telling personal anecdotes based on a common theme, and the night’s theme was family and youth. Shaffir kicked the night off with a story about his once-wealthy family’s fall from financial grace, juxtaposing his father’s incarceration with eight-year-old Shaffir’s selfish desire for a video game to success in the form of raucous audience laughter.
The rest of the comics didn’t disappoint: Greg Proops, the self-proclaimed “Smartest Man in the World” waxed poetic about the drug-addled world of pizza delivery in the 1970s, and his verbose turns of phrase were hilarious and helped to propagate his moniker.
Nigerian-born Bright Okpocha, also known as Basketmouth, delivered a set about growing up in Nigeria in a hilarious deadpan that garnered tons of laughs while also carrying an undercurrent of seriousness regarding the trivialities of the other comics’ life experiences. Equal parts hysterical and thought-provoking, Basketmouth delivered a great set to keep the show rolling.
TJ Miller, fresh off the success of the first season of HBO comedy Silicon Valley, brought his simultaneously wild yet laid-back persona out as he rifled through several stories from his youth, including a charismatic and entertaining story about his first time drinking. Finishing off the night was Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal, who recounted a tale centred on family from the perspective of being a parent. Detailing his attempt to watch his daughter’s dance recital dress rehearsal, Madrigal’s exasperated delivery and creative story closed the show out on a high note.
The Just for Laughs festival picked an interesting stage for Nikki Glaser to perform on last week. On one hand, the Katacombes venue is known for its underground Goth, punk, and metal scenes. Contrast this with Nikki Glaser’s wide-smiling, happy-go-lucky stand-up, and you’d have felt like Hades invited a female Dionysus for a soirée.
“This guy held the door for me […] and he was like, ‘stay beautiful’. And then […] he just left,” she noted. “I was like—is that a threat?”
And cue the laughter. Her quirky, ridiculous humour had her audience wrapped around her finger. The show played on the “I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN!” branch of humour, but regularly took one of Glaser’s signature turns for the unexpected.
“It’s hard to babysit, because it’s like you’re their mother—but you don’t love them!” she continued.
Online dating, eating Subway (“because I’m a foodie”), and at one point, explaining why high school pregnancy frees up more time following university, the material continued to entertain.
Glaser is in her figurative 20s, hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, and has starred in programs such as Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show, CONAN, Last Comic Standing, and the MTV programs that she hosted, Nikki & Sara LIVE and the You Had to be There podcasts.
There were a few slowed pauses in her performance when she seemed to be searching for her next topic, but it would consistently return to her familiar rhythm as if nothing had slowed her down at all. With consistency, Glaser’s unique interpretations and everyday observations commanded the audience’s full allegiance throughout the show.
What was exciting was Glaser’s refreshingly unique stage presence. Her persona of “innocent, classy liberal arts graduate” made all the raunchy things she was saying that much funnier.
Her style jumped from story to story, intermingled with her characteristic one-liner quips that transcended the knee-slapper:
“I’ve been single forever—I was born that way,” she joked.
But following her show, she opened up about her time at MTV and how she moved on from there.
“[Working at MTV was] a lot of work,” she said. “It was so fun because I was working with my friends and we were having a great time [….However,] it was more important for MTV for us to look pretty and perfect than for us to be funny […,] It wasn’t my sense of humour, like I had to censor myself a lot, so I felt a little stifled in that sense.”
Stifled? Stifled no more. There was not a trace of that in her performance on stage, nothing “holding her back” from telling you, the audience, every thought that runs through her mind—such as how her Match.com profile read “I support puppy mills” because men don’t pay much attention to women’s online descriptions anyways.
Glaser’s show kept striking on-beat. She punched unique style and taste into every bit of raunch that few other comics get away with.
Most of us cannot see the world in the same way as her, which is why fans go see her show. She’s funny, and charming enough to get away with it all.