Jimmy Fallon Gala

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Saturday Night Live star Jimmy Fallon got his gala off to a brisk start, running through a couple of dozen impressions of some of the comedy stars to have come through the festival in the past quarter-century. As their faces popped up on screen – just in case you weren’t sure who he was meant to be impersonating – he rattled through the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Willams, Lewis Black, Bill Cosby and Mitch Hedberg, rarely settling on one for more than a sentence.

And with that, we were under way. If only the real acts on the bill of this mostly prosaic gala could have been dispatched with so quickly…

Opener Sebastian Maniscalo went through the etiquette of a first date, describing with little flourish the male desire to impress, while wanting to keep a lid on the costs, which he contrasted with the less guarded experience of eating out a few months into the relationship. It was as straightforward as that, but depressingly effective.

Cathy Ladman was introduced as being a ‘top three finalist in Nick At Nite’s Funniest Mom’ competition, which seemed a very flimsy accolade of which to boast. Her set, covering her perceived unsexy New York accent and unusual family composition, was fragmented and struggled to build momentum. A few sharp, edgy lines shone out like lasers, suggesting a potential yet to be fulfilled, because as it is, she still hasn’t enough good material to stop eight short minutes from flagging.

Derek Edwards’s credits were more impressive, having been named best male stand-up at the Canadian comedy awards. But the result was no more distinguished. Parochial mentions of llamas in Saskatchewan or the French language in Quebec were well-received by the home crowd, but in the bigger picture, his inoffensive, gently sarcastic take on everyday situations from hotel chambermaids to megastores wouldn’t really stand out.

A variety turn came at the halfway point with Charlypop, a supremely gifted beat-boxer. In fact, he’s so good that you might suspect his complicated, multi-layered tunes were on tape. They’re not, but some of the impressive effect of his prodigious talent is lost in a theatre so big you can’t only hear, and not see, what he’s doing.

Moz Jobriani is an Iranian member of the Axis Of Evil comedy team that tours America, and was obviously keen to project a friendly, everyman persona that wouldn’t scare the rednecks any more than merely seeing a brown-skinned foreigner might do. The result was a largely fluffy set, getting no more contentious than hoping George Bush wouldn’t confuse Iran with Iraq. The silly Indian accent, and reliance on the stereotype that everyone from the subcontinent works in IT support, showed he could be as narrow-minded as anyone, but he rescued some credibility with an inventive take on the story of the Arabic translators sacked by the US Navy for being gay.

Jimmy Fallon then reminded us he was still in the building with a spoof country song about someone who spits when they talk. A one-gag number, for sure, but nicely executed.

After that came Billy Gardell, a old-school comic who seemed to be channelling the spirit of Rodney Dangerfield, hitting home with a succession of downbeat one-liners about how put-upon he is. He’s something of an oafish, working-class husband and father, but proud of the family background of perpetual barracking that gave him a comically sharp tongue, and an impish penchant for practical jokes. The pace and punchiness of the set made him the hit of the night.

Quirky David O’Doherty then gave a tongue-in-cheek lesson in Irish history, described a couple of childish pranks, pondered aloud about text-messaging and smileys, before getting a few gripes off his chest in his low-fi Beefs 2008 song. Among all the slick acts here, O’Doherty never seems to tell the same joke in quite the same way twice, and witnessing several sets in a few short days, it’s easy to see how the change in rhythm or wording of a joke can have a substantial effect on the outcome. But also quite frustrating, as if he picked the best combination every time, his witty and unconventional set would be consistently stronger for it. In this gala situation, he got a good smattering of laughs, but built up no head of hilarity, even though he is more than capable of such things.

The best was saved to last, with Greg Behrendt spinning a yarn about the ‘free pass’ agreement that allowed his wife to sleep with one named celebrity without jeopardising their relationship – and how it led to a one-sided showdown in a New York gym. The set starts very slowly, with flabby construction, but the tale builds nicely to its hilarious climax, firmly showing his credentials as a skilful storyteller.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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