Montreal Just For Laughs 2011: One-Stop World Tour

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Seems like the Just For Laughs Festival is closing the door to immigrants this year. Where once there were separate showcases for the Brits, the Irish and the antipodeans, now there is only one ghetto for comedians originating from outside North America, the One-Stop World Tour.

But although they may have come far, they don’t share the US comic’s infuriating habit of asking the Montreal audience questions like ‘do you guys have Duane Reade here?’ every minute, as if too lazy too Google their references.

Indeed, compere Adam Hills knows what floats a Canadian’s boat… and that’s mention of an exchange rate. He plays up cross-border rivalry skilfully, with teasing reference to America’s economic woes, before flattering the audience by telling them they’re the most polite crowd he’s encountered… well, after the Dutch. He also highlights the aversion to boasting among this line-up of comics. Rather than be introduced with a list of TV shows they have been on, as is the American tradition, everyone tonight says they don’t care how they are brought on stage, they just want to do their jobs.

The different transatlantic sensibilities don’t always work in the comedian’s favour, though, with audiences weaned on slick, fast gags not always completely at ease with other styles. Case in point was the first act, the ever-kinetic Russell Kane, who struggled to square the circle of wanting to say meaningful things about how he rebelled against his tough, unemotive and racist dad by becoming all artsy, camp and liberal – while still cracking the punchlines demanded of a short set. Though the intent was noble, and some of the jokes sharp, the result seemed like a rush, even to English ears.

As a counter to that freneticism, was laid-back Rhys Darby, already possessing of star status thanks to Flight Of The Conchords. And he doesn’t move far from the earnest-but-useless persona he had in that show in his stand-up. There’s a nice line in underplayed silliness as he acts out an errant handshake, or describes how the Transformers movie should really have played out, but the best moments come from him being misunderstood by an automated voice recognition service on the phone. This is almost a hack topic, but by the simple act of repetition, Darby becomes a comically desperate figure in the story, giving it a punch a simple observational routine would lack.

Good though that was, it was down to Russell Howard to really energise the room, with a punchy, pacy routine that leapt with an irresistible sprightliness from semi-innocent childhood pranks to playful adult stories from the bedroom. Most Brits already know this fresh-faced comic is a blast of positive energy, with solid jokes and pin-sharp imagry underpinning the effusive spirit. The Canadians and Americans seemed suitably impressed, too.

Beardyman is an odd booking for a comedy festival. He’s a superlative beatboxer, but a terrible comedian, yet still gives it a go. Although he overcame an early microphone failure superbly, the stand-up, as we shall generously call it, which prefaced his real skills was as flat as the rawest open-mic act, begging the question of why, when Britain produces so many top-notch comics, it’s Beardyman who got the coveted invitation to Montreal. However, once he kicked into his impressive live looping session, producing impressive bursts of sound with versatile range in an instance, that question was definitively answered, even if this set-piece was frustratingly short. If he can integrate comedy with his unquestionable vocal skills –  without becoming a Reggie Watts clone – this would be the way ahead.

Next up, ventriloquist Nina Conti with her Scottish grandmother, in latex form. Her set was a real crowd-pleaser, as she brought up an audience volunteer for a spot of silly mindreading. Comedically, this isn’t all that clever, but Conti’s quick-witted and has endless reserves of self-deprecating charm; while a quick yet hilarious hypnosis skit at the end of her set shows off the more existential ideas she usually toys with.

More charm from Tom Gleeson, the only Australian on the bill, aside from Hills. His anecdotes are always well-told, although often too light in substance for my liking, especially over an hour show. Yet in this brisk set, he nailed it with a raucously entertaining yarn about a visit to a masseuse who turned out to be a masseur, in which he exploited a latent homophobia very skilfully.

But if it’s tales you want, Greg Davies is your man. Ignoring the witless yell of ‘clunge’ from one loud-mouthed Inbetweeners fan, he amusingly highlighted his own physical inadequacies before introducing the real star of his routine, his seventysomething father who’s embraced old age as an excuse to behave exactly as he pleases. That said, it will be the horrendous Christmas dinner exchange in which his sister introduced his mother to the concept of oral sex which will really stick in the mind, thanks to Davies’s superb storytelling abilities and masterful delivery.

Finally came David O’Doherty with his usual mix of rock-and-roll ambitions and modest means, banging out the duet he wrote for Shakira or his trademark Beefs 2011 on his child’s keyboard. He knows how ridiculous he is, as demonstrated by the story of the instrument’s demo mode accidentally being activated on a train’s sacred quiet carriage. But that awareness doesn’t quell his impotent rage at the largely mundane bugbears of his quirky lyrics, delivered with a skilful sense of timing.

Review date: 28 Jul 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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