Apatow For Destruction

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

This festival has been feting movie-maker Judd Apatow with a vengeance, first awarding him first Just For Laughs Comedy Person Of The Year accolade in a lacklustre cavalcade of sycophancy, then allowing him to present and curate his own showcase late-night gig, featuring some of the stars of his movies.

It was probably the hottest ticket in town, with around 2,300 crammed into the Montreal Metropolis to witness his return to stand-up after well over a decade. He walked on to a wall of appreciative sound that showed he’s not going to have to do much to hold their rapt attention.

Good job, too, because his penis-obsessed set would, frankly, shame an open mic newcomer, making it obvious why Apatow’s own stand-up career never took off. And if you can’t cut it talking about masturbation when you’re 20, it’s going to be even worse when you’re 40.

His material is more than a little creepy. He talks about the family’s penchant for walking around the house naked, which is especially uncomfortable when he’s discussing his 13-year-old daughter’s developing breasts or his five-year-old’s obsession with seeing penises (wonder where he got that from?) Apatow plays it matter-of-factly, and the payoff – which is little more than a reminder that he knows Adam Sandler – doesn’t justify the discomfort.

Fame is an odd thing, though, and Apatow gets a more-than decent reaction to this, but really, it shouldn’t be encouraged. When you’ve been a consultant producer on the Larry Sanders Shows and produced a raft of hit comedies including Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad, you really don’t have anything to prove. Apatow would probably be best advised to accept stand-up wasn’t his thing, and stick with what he is good at…

In contrast, fast-rising Hollywood star Seth Rogan proved surprisingly skilled in the live arena. His set might have strayed towards the laddish, with discussions of strip clubs and the annoying overuse of ‘rad!’ as an excitable adjective, but it was cleverly written and effortlessly performed.

The set twisted and turned, so that when he embarked on another masturbation routine, the result was hilariously unexpected. And the kudos this lively Canadian gave to Sir Ian McKellen, for all the wrong reasons, was masterful.

Rewind a little to the first act, Charlyne Yi, who was this week named as one of America’s 10 comics to watch. She started with an enjoyably subversive take on comedy conventions, and her sweet, upbeat and slightly unhinged personality charmed the audience… for a while. But her lack of clarity and substance gradually took a toll, and the set drifted away, as the audience bored of having too little to hold their attention. There were a smattering of enjoyable segments in the disappointing, fragmented whole, but she needs more focus.

Million Dollar Strong, on the other hand, have intense focus on their insanity, showing 100 per cent commitment to their brilliant, bonkers songs such as the sublime What’s It Gonna Be? It’s the passion that goes into such zany stupidity that makes this so appealing, not to mention the fact that you’ll have never seen or heard anything quite like this sleazy man and uncomprehending sidekick ever before. Apart from maybe on YouTube.

Saturday Night Live player, and new Apatow buddy, Bill Hader made a couple of quick appearances with his spot-on impressions, while the barnstorming Craig Robinson got the house rocking with his subversively funny musical set, full of rousing singalong moments. That Apatow came out to sing flatly, however, was probably another indulgence he shouldn’t really have been allowed – but, hey, this was his big Montreal day.

Russell Brand wrapped up the show in typically solid-but-flamboyant fashion. As he walked on, the guy next to me gasped in quiet incredulity: ‘That’s a dude?!’ But extravagant looks aside, Brand riffed confidently and winningly on the nature of fame and some of the stranger things that have happened in his life now that he has it. And since he seems to have done nothing in this crucial festival to interrupt his inexorable march towards global recognition, it surely won’t be long until he’ll have earned a self-indulgent showcase of his own…

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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