In a city where everyone has a friend who dabbles in comedy, it’s sometimes hard to tell the contenders from the pretenders. But as the 16th iteration of Joketown proved on Jan. 28, sometimes the best way to separate the wheat from the chaff is pure, unadulterated competition. As part of a sort of comedic battle of the bands, the night’s performers converted the small, hole-in-the-wall Theatre St Catherine into the kaleidoscopic village of Joketown—where the jokes are so fresh they’re sold in stores, and the only crime is being unfunny.
The rules were simple. Four teams were given a week to craft their own yuk-worthy little section of the town, guided by a series of unrelated themes provided by the organizers. This week’s typically non-sequiturial signposts were “the good old days,” “bees,” and “a very important telegram,” which provided plenty of absurd ammunition for the writers to work with. At the end of the show, the crowd would vote with their applause to determine who would win the coveted title of Mayor of Joketown.
With the title of Mayor on the line, the stakes were high. Thankfully, each troupe was on their A-game. Up first was defending champion Emory Fine, who swung for the fences by staging a highly postmodern “Joketown within Joketown”—a version of the entire evening’s entertainment condensed into a dizzying 20 minutes. It was dazzlingly high-concept for a local comedy show, if not a too little cute for its own good. Still, Fine deserves credit for crafting what was undoubtedly the most ambitious sketch of the night.
Continuing the meta trend was Lise Vigneault’s “Private Eye Ladies,” a deliriously surreal send up of ‘70s low-budget television, complete with foxy detectives, absurdist commercial breaks, and an evil beekeeper who just wants to play the maracas. However, the sketch’s most potent weapon was its characters’ delivery—a deadpan, robotic drone that constantly delivered laughs. They even had their own corny theme song.
Next up was Jason Grimmer, whose sketch recounted the harrowing tale of a man sent to Joketown prison for prop comedy. Though it showed promise, this sketch was probably the weakest in a very strong field, suffering from pacing issues and flubbed lines. It did feature a couple of barn burners, though; namely in the form of a morose, MILF-obsessed inmate imprisoned for being a poet—the least funny of all professions.
“Private Eye Ladies” seemed like the obvious winner before the last performance of the night brought the house down and cemented comedian Alex Brown’s coronation as Mayor. Centred around a local joke shop owner who is gradually turning into a bee, the sketch was a perfect mixture of meta humour and puke jokes. The sketch’s defining moment was when our hero, forced to decide whether to remain being human or to accept his newfound beedom, picks up a tiny skull and, after what seems like an eternity of comedic tension, finally takes the bait and says “to bee or not to bee.” In a spellbinding gamble, Brown staked the climax of her sketch around the success of a Hamlet bee pun. Amazingly, it worked. She was the deserved winner by a mile, capping a thoroughly chuckle-worthy night of some of Montreal’s best up-and-coming comics.
Joketown is put on at Theatre St Catherine every month of the year. The date of the next show will be announced on the venue’s website.