Just for Laughs wrap-up
The massive annual festival invigorates and exhausts us with laughter.
Wed Aug 10 2011
Photograph: Courtesy Just For Laughs
With 158 shows across the span of a little more than three weeks, Montreal's Just for Laughs festival presents a mind-boggling number of the world's best stand-up comics, whose sensibilities and performances arrive in all shapes and sizes. In addition, the fest is an industry showcase and a bellwether of sorts—if this edition has anything to indicate about the coming year, it will have even more podcasting, storytelling and international comedy than the last. It's hard to communicate the silliness, merriment and sheer volume of laughs that transpire onstage and off during the week of the festival's English-speaking shows, from July 25 to 31, but here are some highlights:
Most joyous performer
Britain's Russell Howard positively charged through his set—and we don't think it was just the three Red Bulls he consumed. Reacting to a pal's braggadocio, he confessed, "I've never shagged anyone's brains out. The most I've done is made her forget a novel."
Most inspired choice of host
Who better to introduce acts ranging from Beardyman to Bo Burnham in the festival's annual late-night music show Amp'd than song-parody icon "Weird Al" Yankovic?
The time we laughed till we ached
Rhys Darby—Murray Hewitt from Flight of the Conchords—bemoaned his American bank's computerized customer-service system and its inability to understand his accent. As he toggled between the calm, Midwestern voice of an automated system and his own exasperated tenor becoming more manic, emotion trumped punch lines: "Say, 'account balance.' 'Ehcant behlence!' Say, 'account balance.' 'Ehcant behlence!!!'"
Best representatives of a minority genre
Though this year's JFL featured a minimum of sketch, it did well to pick the inventive, weird and theatrical Pajama Men and Canada's own violently absurd, energetic Picnicface as representatives of their comedy caste.
Most intriguing performers
Canadian DeAnne Smith, a comic who has made waves at comedy fests in Melbourne and Edinburgh, is a fascinating combination of chirpy, political, neurotic and silver-tongued. And the easy, laconic style of North Carolinian Jerrod Carmichael made his routine soar—especially during his bit about how he couldn't monetarily afford to rob a bank.
Most true truism
In lamenting the life of a comic in his midthirties, Ireland's Casio-philic David O'Doherty tried to comfort himself: "Age ain't nothing but a number," he said. "It's also a pretty accurate barometer of how old you are."
Most apropos ad-lib
As Paul F. Tompkins described the intensity of Daniel Day-Lewis on the set of There Will Be Blood, a phone loudly rang and rang behind the venue's bar. Tompkins, suspecting it was Day-Lewis, drawled not unlike Daniel Plainview: "My ears were burning..."
Best use of natural resources
This year, JFL did something it had never done before: host some of its raunchier fare in a local strip club. The stage fog and preshow '80s cock rock gave a little something extra to Ari Shaffir and Big Jay Oakerson's already rewarding storytelling shows.
Most inspired moment
In this year's keynote address, Marc Maron discussed the success of the WTF podcast, which he began recording following a period when he'd felt cast off by the comedy business, contemplating both quitting stand-up and suicide. "Doing the podcast and listening to comics was saving my life. You know what the industry had to do with that? Absolutely nothing," he said. "I am the future of show business. Not your show business, my show business."
Best news for homebound fans
Three popular podcasts, in addition to WTF, were recorded in small venues during the week of English programming. It's not only a testament to the medium's ever growing popularity, but a nice, immediate taste of the fest for anyone not in Montreal.
During one late night, Kumail Nanjiani's wife determined it was time to drag him from the hotel bar—which she did, literally, by his arm. Unfazed by the manhandling, Nanjiani magically reappeared, greeting and chatting with friends until she hauled him out again. This pattern repeated itself for 20 minutes.
Best hangover cure
After yet another day of watching shows until 2am and mingling at the bar until dawn, the only relief was to laugh oneself silly at 11am with comics and show producers at a dim sum restaurant in an unassuming indoor mall. For his part, Eugene Mirman stood beside the table, gazing across the floor like a captain at the bow of a ship, searching for signs of deep-fried crab claws.
Most telling metaphor about JFL
During her sets, Maria Bamford played both an impish, ghostly version of herself and a snotty kid who demanded she tell a joke. "How can you be a comedian and not have any jokes?" the kid asked, and, seemingly unable to justify herself appropriately, Bamford whispered, "Call my manager...it's a niche." When she played one of the big consumer showcases, the crowd gave her almost nothing. But she killed in an intimate venue with her show Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome. It was a perfect illustration of the tension underlying the joke.