Canada wry

The Brits show Montreal what they can do

The 21st Montreal's Just For Laughs comedy festival has opened its doors, and even here, in the heart of Francophile Quebec, the showcase of British comedy talent is a sell-out smash.

From the acts on offer, though, any Canadian unfamiliar with the British Isles might be forgiven for assuming it to be populated soley by middle class mid-thirties white men from the Home Counties. Playing up to national stereotype, the British performers' mostly favour tailored suits, perfectly parted hair and a calmly-paced delivery drier than a James Bond martini.

Host Sean Meo set the tone with a masterclass in the understated delivery and condescension the North American's seem to crave.

Precocious Daily Telegraph winner Mark Watson had a difficult job with his Welsh-based material ­ considering the only Wales this audience knew were those swimming off the coast.

In contrast to Watson's bumbling student persona, slick Ian Moore was a bit more in keeping with the audience's idea of an Englishman. His keenly-observed stories of fatherhood and marriage had some inspired moments.

Jimmy Carr's cold and heartless persona mines the same vein as Meo's but his unflappable pacing and ingenious wordplay kept the audience on their toes. It seems everyone loves being talked down to.Carr is certainly generating the most industry buzz - they really do love him out here, one paper calling him the 'unhinged Brit wit'.

The second half had a warmer feel, with musical act Ronnie Golden livening up the audience and the sly surrealism of Milton Jones, who had the confidence to give the audience enough time to catch up with each offbeat punchline.

Final act of the night was Lee Mack (pictured), now best known for his work on The Sketch Show. With some beautiful crafted physical comedy and a loose style of delivery he reminded the audience that a performance can be more than just finely crafted wordplay, and deservedly received the best response of the night.

To the assembled industry movers and shakers, British comedy is clearly being marketed as a style that's at once suave, scathing and touchingly surreal.

Published: 18 Jul 2003

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