Angelo Tsarouchas

Angelo Tsarouchas

© Adam Ethan Crow

Montreal Just For Laughs 2011: The Ethnic Show

Review by Steve Bennett

The one thing you need for a ethnic joke is a stereotype. If you start questioning the premise that an entire nationality doesn’t behave with one generic trait, the gags don’t work.

‘Us Italians,’ comic Sebastian Maniscalo tells this Montreal crowd. ‘We’re generally not doctors.’ Big laugh. Just don’t ask who all those people working in Rome’s hospitals are.

But such jokes provide a shared identity, binding minority communities. Of course the Ethnic Show audience is largely ethnic itself, and just love to be reminded of their characteristics, just as they love being told what the Lebanese/Jews/Russians at the next table are like. Despite the slightly saccharine sentiment, there’s something in what Iranian-American compere Maz Jobrani, pictured, says about such comedy bringing people together, even if it doesn’t exactly encourage imaginative writing.

Jobrani himself seems to have a reasonably witty comment on every group he can find in the audience … though he must have been glad he didn’t draw the response a later comic got to the usual ‘Where you from?’ question: Luxembourg. Jobrani’s a personable comic, full of welcoming spirit, and has mastered all the techniques of delivery. His material is fairly middle-of-the road, but done with immense style.

The oldest ethic jokes in stand-up are surely Jewish ones, so New Yorker Modi was following in a fine tradition. ‘Don’t think that it’s everywhere that I can come on stage and be a big Jew and everyone’s fine with it,’ he said. But here he’s in put-upon heaven as he kvetched about ‘piece of misery’ Jewish princesses. We could have done without some of the less enlightened racialism, especially the suggestion that anyone who looks a bit ‘Mohammedy’ is a terrorist – but he’s a strong personality with a pleasingly negative attitude.

In a pattern that was repeated across the night, a good proportion of Modi’s set had nothing to do with ethnic tropes, but just the universal observational comedy that plays well at a mainstream festival such as this. His best routine was only tangentially linked to his background, revolving more about how parents impose discipline on huge families.

Next up, Maniscalo trotted across some well-trodden ground with material about being too old for today’s nightclubs, with their loud music and sexual aggression. But the set really took off when he mentioned his technophobic dad, whose computer illiteracy generated some memorably hilarious moments.

Lively Haitian Wil Syvince was probably the weakest act on the bill, though the audience liked his huge range of racial clichés, such as mimicking the way Jamaicans talk. He has material about mishearing Michael Jackson lyrics, which is a moderately amusing misunderstanding spun out way too long and a by-the-numbers ‘what’s the deal with windchill factor’ bit. His main contribution is getting a genuinely funny new joke out of airline travel, thanks to his brief experience of flying first class, but too often he plays things too obvious.

Home-town hero Angelo Tsarouchas closed the show, with his take on the Greek debt crisis. The bulk of his routine was about his newlywed status, which combined over-familiar ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ observations with personal stories that revealed a surprisingly romantic side. Little here is likely to rock your world, but Tsarouchas’s nice-guy act is inherently endearing, whatever your ethnicity.

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Published: 25 Jul 2011

Past Shows

Montreal 2009

Ethnic Heroes of Comedy


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