Midnight Surprise with Neal Brennan

Montreal Just For Laughs review by Steve Bennett

Starting at midnight as Tuesday becomes Wednesday, this two-hour, intermission-free show is probably one for the comedy die-hards only – but those with the stamina are justly rewarded.

Host Neal Brennan is a bona fide comedy genius. He’s best known for co-creating The Chappelle Show with its titular star, but his own stand-up is inventive, savvy and funny – which is established from the get-go when he turns the clichés of racial comedy on their head with a routine about how white people like him behave. The rest of the set continues in a similar vein with pin-sharp one-liners and astute commentary, especially a piece in which he gets inside women’s minds, perhaps rather too accurately for comfort.

First of his many friends to be introduced was Nick Vatterott, who starts off with some workaday material about people always on their phones, texting and Facebooking away. ‘I hate phones,’ he grumbles… then proceeds to dedicate his entire set to the topic in one way or another, slowly moving away from straightforward observations into quirkier areas, most notably how he responded to the ‘wrong number’ text he received. It turns out he has a wonderfully silly outlook, which combined with his malleable face that’s a gift for comedy and his efficient writing to make for a hugely enjoyable routine.

Fast-talking Mo Mandel picks up the mobile phone baton, but can’t match the same inventiveness. The Laugh Out Loud/Lots of Love confusion yields a nice enough LOL punchline, but not quite special enough. He also hits another couple of unfortunate old chestnuts by describing his hair as ‘rapey’ and talking about white people who ‘act black’ – as if ‘black’ is one amorphous group, all from the ghetto. Yet there are also some splendid lines peppering his hit-and-miss set, delivered with a jokily gruff attitude.

At an earlier gig tonight, Ian Edwards was introduced by Jeremy Hotz as ‘a small black man – but don’t be scared’. Bizarre. More accurate would be to describe him as a whip-smart comic who flirts with the offensive, but with more than enough charm, wit and originality to get away with it. That, at least, was the late-night set – the earlier, televised, one was cleaner, but not entirely declawed – resonating with relevance as he teasingly talked about stereotypes in the light of a recent trip to Israel.

Sebastian Maniscalco was more about the performance than the writing, acting out in deliberate detail the art of picking up girls in clubs – as well as the predatory men and women who do it with less subtlety than him. Further material about an ugly woman in Home Depot and a dim-witted woman in Subway establishes him as something of a mocker, with funny – if not too distinctive – material. Mind you, he has a great gag about Irish ‘cuisine’.

Sean Patton screams onto the small stage with an uber-camp persona… though it turns out that’s just attention-seeking. And it works, even if it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of his set, the cornerstone of which is a routine about the seven possible outcomes of a night of heavy drinking. This involves generic ideas almost anyone could relate, but it’s well-told and strikes an obvious cord with the crowd. However, Patton is also capable of more inventive thinking: anyone who can come up with the phrase ‘stick it in your soul vagina’ certainly has an ear for language.

Chelsea Peretti says she’s fed up of people asking her about being a woman in comedy – and has formulated a n hilarious response to them. Her set here exposes some tired male stand-up tropes and tries to expose the lie that all female comics do is talk about periods… though in doing so, she ends up bringing the subject up. It’s largely funny stuff, but feels a bit too much like comedy for insiders – which might be a reasonable judgement call as to who might be in the audience at an industry-friendly festival beyond 1.30am on a school night. However the more general material she offered a peak of also boasted a similar bitingly witty sarcasm.

Finally, John Mulaney linked back into Peretti’s set to show he wasn’t just reeling off a pre-prepared script. Though, of course, largely he was. Mulaney is an archetypal observational comic with an eye for the detail in shared experiences – as best displayed by his recollection of watching cartoons as a child in an analogue TV world. The routine about ordering Chinese food unfortunately seemed little more than an excuse to do the accent, but his description of old blues music was inspired.

Published: 25 Jul 2012

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