All-Star Gala [Montreal 2008]

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

The All-Star Gala is a relatively new addition to the Just For Laughs programme, a last-night, high-profile showcase of acts that otherwise hadn’t played the festival.

Danny Bhoy made an impressive start to the night, beginning with a strong topical reference to the hotel strike of which anyone staying in the city was all-too aware, which led seamlessly into his impressive observational routine about life on the road. His material is rock-solid, exaggerated just enough to get the laugh but still rooted in common experience, and the delivery faultless. He might laugh slightly at his own jokes, but it just helps create the impression that all these fine comments have just occurred to him. An exemplary set.

The same couldn’t be said of Paula Poundstone, who might have been big in the Eighties but has barely moved forward since. After a few lightweight comments about accessory dogs and her own slightly mean parenting, she appeared to run dry. She sparked up a conversation with one ticket-holder, a drama teacher, which seemed more suited to a cold room above a pub than a glitzy 2,000-seater auditorium. She kept this aimless banter going for half her set, only once, or possibly twice, landing a laugh. I’m fairly sure punters hadn’t paid up to to $175 (£85) to hear someone have a polite dinner-party conversation.

Ron James has a twitchy nervous energy that has him talking with an urgent, driving rhythm you just have to listen to. Often he speaks so fast you can barely make out where one word ends and the next begins, but his breathless pace and relentless vibrancy keeps you listening. His material isn’t half bad, either: accessible, mainstream comedy reminiscences about shitty childhood camping trips or mocks airy-fairy alternative medicine. The Robert De Niro impersonation we can probably do without, but he’s a compelling performer.

Grumpy old man George Wallace has the gravitas of a comic elder statesman sagely offering his counsel on the state of the world. Not all his observations have the insight to match, however, as he muses impotently on out-of-town superstores and Ikea. However, there’s an appealing intolerance to some modern trends, such as claiming badly-behaved children have some sort of condition, that might not be groundbreaking, but is nicely done. In a couple of gag-packed set pieces, he considers how things would be different if he were president of America – though you can sense the Canadian hackles rise every time he careless refers to it as ‘this country’ – and conducts a brisk run through of stupid things people say, which is a fine example of observational comedy.

Larry Miller seems to have turned up to the wrong gig, preaching a grindingly slow collection of trite aphorisms about how we should all be good to each other. His soporific set carries all the excitement of a university lecturer droning on about the digestive system of newts, and contains not many more jokes. Occasionally, he can be mildly witty, but if you didn’t know any better, you’d have this bore down as a mid-ranking executive in the human resources department, rather than an experienced, professional comedian.

Jeremy Hotz – who manages to be both perpetually miserable yet always on the verge of cracking up at his own sardonic jokes – was the one act on the bill who had been part of the festival, courtesy of his own solo show. Compressing the best bits into a 20-minute set did him the world of good, even if some of the pronouncements about Montreal’s traffic system still seemed generic and bland. But he mentioned the local town, and that ensured a good reaction, simply because this popular Canadian seemed to know where he was (are you taking notes, Mr Wallace?). Away from this, he can boast some much better lines that distil his wretchedness into deadpan comedy.

Closing the show was Ron White, one of the stalwarts of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour – a credit that suggests some of the broadest, dumbest, lowest-common denomination humour around. Sure enough, he’s a brusque, hard-drinking, thrice-married no-nonsense guy who calls a spade a shovel and a frenulum a part of his dick. But his material, though based on boozing and shagging, is better than the one-dimensional persona might originally suggest, hitting hard and on target nine times out of ten. Accepting his own Texan arrogance, he’s cheerily intolerant with a principled reluctance to take responsibility for his own actions that’s oddly appealing. This is how you do broad-appeal stand-up without compromise.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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