Alternative Show: Montreal Just For Laughs 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s a Midnight Show in grimy rock venue featuring a totem poll of fake skulls and a dodgy PA system, but this Alternative Show was probably the best start-to-finish show of the festival – and all without Muppets.

Curated and compered, as always, by cult anti-comedian Andy Kindler, this featured an eclectic, eccentric line-up of comics ploughing their own furrow, and not a dud among them, despite their peculiar sensibilities.

Kindler was as awkward and angsty as always, over-explaining his gags but under-preparing them, too – while passing scathingly critical comment on both his own shaky performance and the audience’s inability to join the dots some of the more ill-formed jokes. This can, on a bad day, be self-indulgent, but here he gave just enough measure to be quirkily endearing – especially to the comedy nerds filling this room – and the fact shouldn’t be overlooked that there are some real jokes amid all the meta-analysis.

First up was a real treat, a headliner in any other situation. Patton Oswalt, fresh from his own show, gave an intimate version of the slightly bleak routines that wowed in the bigger venue, while making cheeky wisecracks about this club and brilliantly mimicking Kindler’s distinctive delivery.

He was followed by Kurt Braunholer, sometime performing partner of Kristen Schaal, with a deliciously offbeat routine whether it be imagining a hand of God that might stop him making bad decisions in life or describing random acts of oddness he purports to engage in. These include making his own apartment seem like a serial killer’s lair or ‘improving’ greetings cards then returning to the store. Inventive, silly and funny the lot of them.

Pete Holmes, by his own admission, looks like some over-zealous Christian youth leader with his toothy smile – which he flashes so freely, since he’s apparently having so much fun on stage. His delivery is upbeat and relentless, nimbly pirouetting form one playfully stupid idea to the next, never wasting a word but seeming fresh and unrehearsed. He’s said to be tipped for his own late-night network talk show – and you could see how his electric bonhomie would translate perfectly to screen. But it’s not just about the warmth of his star performance, the originality of his writing more than matches it.

New Yorker Todd Barry is, let us say, just a tad more downbeat – and it’s a morose image he revels in. ‘I’m going to do something different tonight,’ he intones in his dry monotone. ‘Don’t worry, I’m still going to kill.’ It sounds like false optimism but he turns out true to his word as he unemotively reads the gushing prose of an Esquire article entitled How To Feel Good To A Woman, undermining the vacuous ideas with his calm-headed logic. The effect is brilliant.

Next up, Jerry Minor – a short-term Saturday Night Live cast member a decade or so ago and Louis CK’s neighbour in the also short-lived HBO show Lucky Louie. He opened with a soulful song about not being picked up at the airport as he’d been promised, which didn’t really go anywhere. But then he was joined by two sidekicks for a preposterous, repetitive dance to the refrain ‘I wish I lived in medieval times’ in tights and jester’s hat brought the house down through sheer commitment to this physically ridiculous scene, made funnier by repetition.

DeAnne Smith was not one to let that energy escape as she introduced the audience to her ballsy new catchphrase. She may be all bookish hipster-vegan chic with off-kilter material, but the educated liberal outlook doesn’t mean she has to be all meek and amateurish – a fact many other alt.comics might want to get wise to, since this was a barnstorming set.

But nothing could prepare the room for the onslaught of madness that was Australian Sam Simmons – a maelstrom of batshit crazy one-liners, absurdist drawings and surreal outbursts, from the game-show in his mind to hurling bread at the audience, all to a backing tape that keeps the madness driving forward at a manic pace. Resistance to this remarkable cavalcade of oddness is futile, and the audacity of his insanity has the room howling with well-deserved laughter.

If this unfettered hilarity is alternative, why would anyone want mainstream?

Review date: 28 Jul 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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