Bubbling With Laughter 5

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Bubbling With Laughter is one of Just For Laughs’ unthemed nights, an ever-popular gig in a biggest club venue. The fifth in this year’s season boasted a line-up of almost exclusively US and Canadian acts – the perfect primer for the North American circuit.

It was hosted by Greg Fitzsimmons in his trademark floppy cap that he’s surely too old to get away with wearing ironically. Just 24 hours after his car-crash set at the high-profile gala, the same material about his family, or about Americans being profligate with their water as the Third World stays parched, scored much better here. It’s not that great, to be frank, but he has the tone of voice and pattern of delivery of a stand-up who knows what he’s doing, and that makes it sound better than it is.

Mike MacDonald has been coming to this festival for 25 years – which is perhaps when his material about smoking pot and drinking too much to impress the girls might have been genuinely relevant to him. Now he’s in his late 40s, at best, shouldn’t he stop trying to relate, unconvincingly, to the kids? For that very reason, gags about living with his wife were so much better, because they actually rang true.

Urbane Greg Proops was up next, with satirical swipes at the expected topical targets – expertly done. The relentless punchlines and the driving power of his elaborately-constructed rants are both irresistibly impressive; like the best late night talk show monologue you’ll ever hear. Sarcastic, smart and acidic, his set sure zinged along.

At the opposite end of the social spectrum, Reno Collier played up the hillbilly side of his persona, yet it wasn’t that consistent, sometimes acting dumb, sometimes taking the higher status. It had the feel of a set only partially formed, but being well-paced and well delivered, still scored the laughs.

Youngster John Bewler offered a nice blend of daftness and knowingness, giving even the more straightforward gags a more appealing package. Overall his stories of playing back-of-beyond towns and of ineptly picking up women had a charm and distinctive feel.

Ricky Smiley immediately lost my interest by starting with the most formulaic generalisations: ‘white people do something like this, while black people do this…’ Though at least by steering the set around to the differences in funerals, he could play around with more mischievous material. The delivery was vibrant, engaging and powerful, and easily triumphed over the by-the-numbers writing.

The only overseas act on the bill, Fiona O’Loughlin, was much less slick – and so sounded more honest. Here tales from the frontline of a huge Irish-Catholic family, many of whom she happily admits to disliking, even her own children, is as hilarious as ever. Gloriously indiscreet, you immediately feel part of that extended clan, sharing clandestine gossip about some distance cousin. And she certainly had by far the best gag of the night, about smoking when pregnant.

One other noteworthy thing about her set: it was the first I’d seen from a female comic in five days at the festival. This is clearly still not an equal opportunities industry.

Jon Dore’s morals are also quite wrong – and, by extension, entertaining. Nice segments revolve around date-rape drugs and a sillier bit about tattoos. He’s got a guitar, too, though in his hands that’s nothing to be afraid of, and evokes, though it’s rather unlikely, the spirit of Joyce Grenfell with his monologue to an unseen child. Plus, he’s got a memorable visual finale to tie up the enjoyable set nicely.

Jebb Fink talked about his large family– which caused some feeling of déjà vu after O’Loughlin nailed the topic so conclusively. Apart from, or perhaps because of, this unfortunate bit of scheduling this 49-year-old grandfather-of-five’s set seemed patchy. But his line about marital ‘To Do’ lists stuck a hilarious nerve.

The second female set of the week, came in the same show. Deb DiGiovanni is overly pushy and excitable, but otherwise peddles an engaging line in self-deprecation bordering on the self-pity. She’s overweight, lonely and going slightly mad – all good fodder for a comedy routine. There’s probably more depth to be mined here, but in a brief set she hit punchlines and got the laughs, which is all you can hope to achieve.

Canadian favourite Jeremy Hotz closed the show, distinctive because of his delivery, one fist always hovering close to his mouth feebly attempting to stifle his own laughter. But he’s more than a presentational gimmick, and offers some original and witty observations on anything from pilgrims to tropical fish.

It was a relentless night of comedy, with many of the acts sharing the same style and rhythms; playing it safe but getting the laughs. Yet it’s telling that the best acts of the night: O’Laughlin, Hotz, Proops and Dore were the ones who varied from that pattern of slick delivery the most.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 20, 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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