Nasty Show 2007

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Canadians have a national reputation for niceness. But if that’s true, why has the Nasty Show become such an important cornerstone of the Montreal festival?

It’s billed as a chance for comics to vent their vilest, most unpalatable material, in an environment where the audience know what to expect. Which, paradoxically, also means they can’t really take offence, having freely bought into the concept. As every comic who got a gasp before their laugh pointed out, ‘it’s called the Nasty Show, not the Show’.

Mind you, host Nick Di Paolo still managed to conclusively trample over everyone’s sensibilities, unleashing a savage, relentless tirade of unpleasantness, so setting the tone for a night of depravity. He held nothing back as he tore unforgivingly into targets ranging from the Pope to Hillary Clinton, deriding gnarly strippers in seedy titty bars and cracking unpalatable rape gags. The unremitting pace, and the fierceness of his brutal attacks proved impossible to resist. It may be wrong, but he did it right.

Robert Kelly aimed most of the unpleasantness at himself, with a strong line in self-deprecating fat gags, though the quality of material soon slumped, with rather mundane observations about battle-of-the-sexes arguments over toilet seats, bad sex and the etiquette of ordering desert in restaurants.

Mindful of the theme of the evening, he spiced things up with lots of swearing, and simply calling someone a ‘faggot’ elicited great laughs, but the bad language and slick, powerful delivery were only a disguise for weak observations. However, he eventually stepped things up a notch, starting with a much more skilful callback to that toilet-seat segment and building from there, suggesting he’s capable of better things.

Australian Jim Jeffries’s routine showed up the difference between the North American circuit and the British one where he now plies his trade. Every other act on the bill had impenetrable confidence and a breakneck pace, ensuring a punchline was never more than a few seconds away.

Jeffries, though, was immediately more relaxed, wanting more to tell his stories than get the quick laugh – and the audience were less sure of what to make of that. Still, he has more than enough depravity to go round, starting with the everyday tale of a misunderstanding when trying to score cocaine in a Cape Town gay bar and going via Holocaust references and a convincing argument for showing pornography to schoolchildren, to his more gynaecological observations.

His was probably the most disgusting material of the night, ignoring the tyranny of having to hit a certain number of gags a minute allowed him to paint more vividly unpleasant images so he could be thoroughly, thoroughly nasty. While the audience may have been unsure of his style, his sordid pay-offs appalled and entertained in equal measure. So job done.

After the interval, Dave Attell suffered slightly from the very format of the show. By linking comics of a similar bent together, as the marketing-savvy Just For Laughs festival is wont to do, often means whole line-ups of acts treading very similar ground. Attell’s clearly a sharp operator, but much of his gross material was in too similar a vein to what had gone before, and it’s easy to build up an immunity.

Tellingly, one of his best lines was a rather innocuous observation about pineapple juice, possibly because the innocence came as a surprise amid a tide of filth. That said, his brilliantly disgusting segment about what he does to hotel phones will make you think twice before ever phoning room service again.

Perhaps aware of the limitations of relentless nastiness, headliner Louis CK, pictured, started out with relatively inoffensive content, at least by comedy club standards. He gets wonderfully wound up by his five-year-old daughter, to whom he’s deliciously dismissive, recounts a tale of road rage, discusses his preference for women of his own age, 40, rather that twenty-something girls and even gripes about post office queues. It’s not especially warm and cuddly, but his material has a lot of charm, thanks mostly to the honesty at the core.

He didn’t completely ignore the theme of the evening, mind, and he pulled out an observational joke about rape and discussed his wife giving him a hand job so inept he considers it ‘America’s worst tragedy’, both to great effect.

Louis CK is an established US comedy star, with a cult-but-cancelled HBO sitcom to his name, and this was a set that proved exactly why. And he was only a little bit nasty…

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
July 17, 2007

Review date: 17 Jul 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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