Howie Mandel Gala
Show type: Montreal 2007
While Howie Mandel has remained a constant force in show business for over 30 years, he has been thrust back in the spotlight as the host of what has become a North-American phenomenon: Deal Or No Deal
Howie Mandel hosts the US version of Deal Or No Deal – but judging from his performance at the first of the televised Just For Laughs galas, overseeing the opening of boxes is a huge waste of a talented comedian.
He’s no Noel Edmonds, that’s for sure, but a brilliantly quick wit, able to joke spontaneously and work a huge theatre as effectively as an intimate club. He races, but doesn’t rush, through his cheery material on the sort of topics many comics might tackle – the humilation of a rectal examination, say, or observations about how women try on clothes in shops – but gives it a lively, fresh spin, interacting with chosen audience members without breaking his stride.
Galas often subject their guest hosts to big set-piece routines which usually turn out cheesy. But this night proved that letting a skilled stand-up do what he does best, without gimmick, is the simplest way to build a good atmosphere.
Shame, then, that despite that welcoming ambiance, opening act Joe Matarese would quickly berate the audience for ‘not laughing much’. Well, whose fault is that, Joe?
He seemed too quick to concede defeat, put off by the tide of latecomers only admitted after Mandel’s intro, and struggled to get into his stride. The fact that his opening chunk of material - about how he’s intellectually intimidated by his wife’s superior PhD education – didn’t really contain much of interest didn’t help. He rallied to some extent with a nicely dismissive bit about attention-deficit disorder and, despite his protestations, did elicit some laughs, even though he didn’t make all that much of an impact.
Jimmy Carr had a much higher strike rate, though it took a couple of gags for the audience to find his wavelength. As usual, the sharp one-liners with bad-taste undercurrent are those that are best received, the rising swell of an offended ‘ooh’, breaking into a wave of laughter. Carr’s punchline-driven style well suits the North American audience, and he’s already got some profile here, so a solid set produced an equally solid response.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for Glenn Wool, who performed his provocative take on religion to mostly silence. On his day, he’s one of the best comics on the UK circuit, but here – and at a smaller club gig the previous night – he failed to get any sort of response. Perhaps the £50-a-head gala audience are to conservative to want challenging material, perhaps the brief sets afforded by the festival don’t suit his style. But either way, out of the context of a longer set, his cheeky potshots at the Christians, Muslims, Hindus and the Buddhists made no impression. Well, not a good one, anyway.
Tom Papa was more in keeping with the crowd’s expectations. A slick comic with much safer material and a more generic style, he hit home much more effectively. He has a nice take on the stress his wife and children induce in him, and the way alcohol is a much better way to cope with it than New Age massages. The potted re-enactments of various domestic scenes are particularly well-done – he clearly has a talent for that – but while he’s undoubtedly entertaining, the gags don’t particularly stick in the memory.
Men In Coats, too long absent from the British scene, were up next. This festival is surely made for them, with heavy emphasis on the sort of street performance and non-verbal comedy in which this talented duo excel. And their set looked even better on the video screens than it did on stage, where, if you don’t already know, they use a black-curtained booth to execute various bits of silly visual trickery. This performance contained many of their old standards, but also some new elements, including a levitation gag and a series of dance routines – from ballet to bodypopping – for their cute, tiny-bodied character. It’s childish and silly, but good old-fashioned fun.
Old-fashioned could also apply to John Mendoza, who sounds as if he belongs in a Catskills resort of the Fifties. He’s a perpetually kvetching comic with a bad attitude, dishing out wisecracks with brilliant timing and irresistible force. There’s not much to the material than low-grade insults, but they come so fast, powerful and pointed that resistance is useless. But aside from that hugely effective crowd-pleasing patter he has the best advice going about eating cheesy snacks.
Greg Fitzsimmons was the second comic tonight to die a slow death, his lame jokes about being a parent and how men are almost horny being greeted with nothing. But any review is redundant when he admits on stage: ‘This is the worst fucking gig I’ve had in my life. This is really shitting the bed.’
His first horrifically ill-judged attempt to resolve the situation misfired, too, telling the audience with strange sincerity about the weight of the decision to have children, without any obvious gags. Overrunning his time, his third attempt to win over the audience did succeed, although rather than getting his laughs then getting off, he did a sizeable routine. Slightly frustrating to watch, but at least he’ll have a useable set for the TV show.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 19, 2007