It was weird I knew no one on my train from Toronto to Montreal but when I caught myself scanning the line in search of someone, I knew I was ready to be there. Just for laughs is the largest comedy festival in the world running from July 10th to 28th the peak of excitement is from Wednesday to Saturday when the industry gathers to watch showcases and socialize. I arrived on Tuesday night.
The cool Montreal air was a welcome reprieve from the sweltering Ontario heat. Carnival music an outdoor stage and crackling French exclamations rang out as the hotel came into view. A smile of excitement broke out over my face and a feeling it was good to be back. I wondered who would be the first person I recognized I quickly got my answer shortly after exiting the elevator I saw my friend and host of this year’s Just for Laughs digital content Jackie Pirico. She warmly greeted me I told her I was official media this year and a goal have been working towards for several now she invited me to do an interview with her the following day to talk about new faces. The hotel is home base at Just for Laughs a grand bar sight-lines perfect for scanning and little place to hide. Festival employees and a few vacationers circulated the room truly the Calm before the storm.
Getting my pass made it seem real actually seeing my name I was here I felt a flicker of anticipation flow up my spine as I thanked the welcome desk volunteer I said I’m here let’s do this.
LIZA TREYGER AT CAFE CLEOPATRA
I chose Liza Treyger solo show as my first of the festival partly because I am a legit fan of Liza and partly because I wanted to walk to the venue the iconic Cafe Cleopatra via the main artery of the festival, Ste Catherine Street. Cafe Cleopatra is a strip club in the basement and a stage on the main floor kitschy, cozy, edgy the audience sits on three sides of the stage and thee is a disco ball. Liza was already into her act when I arrived. It was a small crowd and Treyger relished the opportunity to make the performance intimate. Liza’s comedy is one that is steeped in such truth about the inequality of women in a different mood it can make me emotional and apathetic but not tonight, tonight is the first night of Just for Laughs. Liza’s comedy seems to be evolving into a place of even more sincere cunning truth. Even at a few points where her performance became nonlinear to the point of hyper-specific survivor references she always won the crowd back sentiments of deep self actualization vulnerability were poignant parts in her show my “Russian immigrant parents humiliated me con that’s why I’m into gangbangs now.” At a JFL where I am aspiring to truth of experience it was a great start.
SHE THE PEOPLE AT THE CENTAUR
I decided to catch the end of She the people. The first all-female second City show has a run at the festival and features one of the strongest players in Canadian sketch comedy Ann Pornel. I was excited to see the show– it was in a venue I was not familiar with. A beautiful theater with Greek style columns plushie ranked seeds and tasty cold water from a fountain; the dark doesn’t seem so daunting when you enter it to the sound of laughter I settled into an aisle seat.
I had seen the show when it opened almost a year ago. It made me so happy that all the work of the cast had brought them here. Sketch needs time to solidify and that’s exactly what had happened– She the People is a highly political satire show that sets up a scenario and builds an analogy. A sketch about a child in a schoolyard learning the realities of accusing a boy of pushing her skillfully delivers harsh realities. The jewel of the show is a sketch about brunch; a balletic force of ridicule on the dynamics of adult female friendship. She the People was a good sketch show the first time I saw it. It is a show that makes the audience considere difficult parts of the female experience. The show has evolved into a team of dynamically talented women performing with precise trust and certainty in one another.
I woke up the next day and confirmed my appearance with Jackie on a live stream on the Just for Laughs Instagram at 5 p.m. I spent my afternoon watching clips of the new faces showcase to be ready for the interview I arrived at the hotel bar around 4 p.m. People were buzzing and socializing hugging and welcoming one another and of course laughing. I saw my fellow Interrobang writers Sara Dahms and Jeffrey Gurian. Gurian is amazing to talk to he is so genuine and truly a master at his craft; it was just the inspiration I needed to go slay my interview. Jackie and I are from the same part of the same city. It was evident in our interview we had so much affinity and chemistry together. After the segment was done I immediately watched it and thought about how I had grown up watching behind the scenes Just for Laughs all access segments it was a full circle moment.
NEW FACES GROUP ONE.
I headed off to New Faces stand up the first night of hands down the buzziest showcase of the festival. They seat the industry on the large balcony of the Monument National Theater — a very tall historic balcony. I dig seeing comedy in grand places. New faces is a long show of short sets that are some of the most polished you will see. There are many acts I enjoyed. Shapel Lacey’s candid account of angers place in his life is the self-actualized humour that requires a great deal of contemplation and confidence to extract comedy from. Logan Guntzelman had a relaxed energy and a clarity of material that was the raw ingredients of a truly unique comic voice. Agitated and totally calm it was a performance that reflected her own reality and left me so interested to see what comes next for her. Shane Gillis was the type of comic I just don’t get to see enough of in Canada; his Philly swag was unshakable. He wore a shirt that depicted one of his buddies. He made a large theater feel like a small Club. Speaking of unshakable swag Punkie Johnson is a force who clearly put in the work their set had the sort of timing that can only be earned not taught I have been a fan of theirs for a while and it was cool to see them live.
Now I.B readers we need to talk about Dan Licata!
I see a lot of stand-up and I pride myself on being able to describe it. Watching Licata’s set I was uncertain about what I was seeing only sure that he was doing extremely well. He was a truly new talent utilizing parts of humor from many different genres character-heavy but not to the point of goofy or hack; a hyper storm of unbridled manic hilarity and pop culture references. There is a trashy drastic danger to Dan Licata’s comedy and I’m here for it.
THE NASTY SHOW
The second part of New Faces was sold out. The hype had gotten suffocating the din of all the business posturing in a Californian twang beckoned me to more familiar waters.
I sought refuge in an unsafe place dead center in the middle of the nasty show a club show. Large crowd big beautiful stage Cabaret seats and jokes I cannot repeat in this article wickedly executed set by Jessica Peluso, that is, the type of Comedy about female sexuality that is rare and necessary. Then the audience came face-to-face with a killer Andrew Schulz had a set that reminded me just exactly what comedy is capable of- polished material and confidence cannot be faked when venturing into dark humour. The job of a comedian is to essentially write a permission slip to the audience for them to laugh Schultz came on the stage took that permission slip lit it on fire and threatened to burn the whole place down . Abortion, Michael Jackson, God, New York and what the f*** we are all doing here. His set was mileage and murdering. Big Jay Oakerson closed out the show and was the cigarette after sex we all needed. I left that show so excited the comedy this caliber existed whether you agree with dark humor or not there’s an undeniable art to it and this was a show of masters. Night one was finished and as I walked back up St Catherine street I said to my self we’re just getting started.