Just for Laughs: Montreal Festival Showcase 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s as if there are three simultaneous gigs being performed to three different audiences at the annual Just For Laughs Showcase at the London Comedy Store. First, there are the talent scouts from the Montreal festival to be impressed, then the crowd of comedy industry folk the show inevitably attracts, and finally the most important majority – the actual punters themselves.

As a comic, where do you pitch it? Strip away every parochial British reference to play to the Canadians in the hope of future place in the esteemed festival and a toehold in the North American market, or just play your strongest set to get the best reaction. Who knows where the answer lies?

Drawn to open by lottery, young Stefan Pop had an extra cross-border factor to contend with, given that he’s Dutch. Heaped on top of that was the tough job of warming the audience, as the first act on a bill with no compere. Understandably enough, he started shakily, with a couple of comments on the night and material about early starts that – perhaps ill-advisedly – took a lot of build-up before its nifty punchline. He hit his stride towards the end of his set, but in his second language it proved a little difficult to always express his smart ideas succinctly.

Earl Okin was next with his timeless ‘musical genius and sex symbol’ act. The gag, as always, is that he’s supposedly unaware that his lispingly seductive jazz-club voice is so at odds with his appearance; and here he went through two of his old standards – My Room and the ‘original’ bossa nova version of Wheatus’s Teenage Dirtbag. It’s one joke, but he executes it expertly.

Gina Yashere has already made some inroads into North America on the back of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, and has recently relocated to California. She has a bit of fun telling how she confounded American’ expectations by being black and English. But skin colour was the punchline for every joke, which wore thin even over seven minutes, for all her confident delivery.

At just 18, Daniel Sloss playfully mocks comedy’s middle-aged majority – deflating all their comic reminiscences with a dry, understated wit. Some of the topics verge on the hack, such as annoying TV adverts, but nine times out of ten he produces a good punchline to justify the formulaic set-up.

Another relative newbie next, with Daniel Rigby and his solid material nicely garnished by linguistically impressive writing – but he didn’t quite have enough to stand out on a crowded bill. He was followed by the ever-delightful Holly Walsh, though it took a minute or two for act and audience to get on the same wavelength. But it was still the quick-witted ad-libbing that made her set more than the fanciful material about temping or her encounter with a rather unforgettable flasher.

Walsh’s namesake Seann threw Caution to the Wind by devoting half of his splendidly off-kilter set to references to his home town of Brighton – though the tiny Canadian contingent would surely have picked up the idea pretty quickly. He purports to be a lazy man, but you can’t say the same of his inventive comedy, with its deft punchlines and appealing delivery.

Kevin Bridges used the harsh, quick rhythm of his Glasgow accent to good effect, with a punchy routine about terrible jobs, working-class kids and the terror attacks on his home city. Occasionally he’d follow a rather obvious train of thought, but a smattering of witty lines brought the routine up.

South Yorkshire is another good accent for comedy – albeit of a much softer style – just ask John Shuttleworth. It means Tom Wrigglesworth can talk about internet porn and ‘teabagging a Latino’ and it stills sound somehow charmingly quaint. The joy in his set is in the florid descriptions – his talk of having an argument with a computer printer is best evidence of that – which isn’t perhaps the style best suited to such short sets, but an engaging few minutes nonetheless.

With some acts on the bill, you could almost feel their lust for a place at Montreal. Lucy Porter, on the other hand, seems to coast insouciantly through her slot on little more than her usual delightful personality. But while her set is enveloped in loveliness, the comedy is low-impact. Andrew Lawrence is the complete opposite: a persona of creepy misanthropy hewn by disappointment and rejection, but with carefully crafted material to back it up. The relentless string of bitterness that spews from his bilious mouth is artful – and very funny, earning him the biggest applause break of the night.

The running order might have been drawn at random, but you probably couldn’t do better than have the increasingly impressive Micky Flanagan headline the show with his steadfastly funny material about the gulf between his working-class childhood and middle-class middle-age; not to mention the difference between going out and ‘out, out’. A fine end to a packed night.

Who, if anyone, will the Just For Laughers choose for a future festival? Their criteria are so inscrutable, it’s impossible to tell. But for the regular punters in the audience, this showcase proved a thoroughly entertaining taster of some of the best acts on the comedy circuit today.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett, March 2009

Review date: 1 Jan 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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