Alternative Show

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Despite its status as one of the world’s most prestigious comedy festivals, Just For Laughs still includes a lot of generic, unoriginal acts. But not at the Alternative Show, one of the few line-ups where you’re almost guaranteed that every comic will have a fresh approach.

As always, it’s proudly compered by Andy Kindler, who’s in his element with this savvy late-night crowd. He hasn’t so much got a set as a knowing commentary on his non-existent material, parodying dying comedians trying to make half-cocked catchphrases stick, or desperately pleading to make themselves understood in a foreign land: ‘Do you have roads here? Do you have that here? Do you have jokes here? Do you?’

The appealing shtick is fuelled by a frustration at his middling career, bitching about the industry parasites in the room and unable to conceal years of pent-up resentment that he’s not a huge star. Of the few jokes he gets out, some aren’t half bad – but that’s not the point. He needs to fail to succeed, and he fails like no other.

Having set the scene for a night of originality, Kindler brings up Greg Behrendt, a slow-burn storytelling comic. He playfully mocks fellow festival performer Russell Brand, before embarking on a whinge about the new generation of aloof street magicians. The set-up doesn’t really catch alight, but it builds to a splendid conclusion. Likewise the gym showdown with his imagined nemesis pootles along amiably, but serves to prime the audience for the payoff, where a brilliantly-timed pregnant pause releases a gale of laughter.

John Mulaney is everything a comic should be: fresh, razor-sharp and opinionated, with an eloquent way of putting his point across. He takes issue with drag queens and idiots who like Scarface, and prods and pokes his targets with relentless precision. He’s a smart youngster with a winning way, and greater things surely await.

Brent Weinbach had a nicely quirk set, presenting silly ideas perfectly deadpan, so you’re never sure when the sly punchlines will pounce. He has a deserved faith in his faintly ridiculous material, and isn’t afraid to let his slick veneer shatter and reveal the fool beneath, whether its in trying to impress the staff of a Chinese restaurant in speaking their language, or reconstructing modern dance routines. And his brillian Russian A-Z proves that when he’s got an idea, he’s got the conviction to run with it to its ultimate conclusion.

The quietly offbeat Arj Barker manages to make his hilariously preposterous points of view sound entirely plausible, thanks to his assured, measured delivery. He suggests a new approach to the problem of global warming and has a deeply political message to spread: the cost of paying coin-operated video games in Montreal arcades is far too steep. He dropped the ball a bit with a weak closer about a power plant, but his dogged, misplaced faith in the idea – like a stoner suddenly imagining he’s seen a universal truth no one else had ever noticed – still sold it well.

David O’Doherty kept the relaxed vibe going, with the same entertaining laid-back routine we’ve reviewed twice this week. As always, it’s the Beefs 2008 song on his tiny keyboard that’s the witty highlight of the set, truly sticking it to society.

Headliner Paul F Tompkins was the only disappointment of the night, with a loose, meandering routine about the various times he got high. Alternative for the Seventies, maybe, but just as tedious as any other dope-smoker telling you their dreary reefer tales. A second story, about inappropriate things to say at a wake, was marginally better, but the delivery was painfully show, with too few punchlines to mark the route. It was an unexciting end to two hours of otherwise inventive, top-notch comedy.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Montreal, July 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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