Nasty Show, Montreal 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

When you walk into a comedy night called The Nasty Show, you are tacitly entering a covenant not to take umbrage at any of the near-the-knuckle material you might be subjected to. Yet much of the graphic sexual descriptions and casual racism on this Just For Laughs cornerstone did offend me – on a comedic level, if not a moral one.

For the American acts on the bill, The Nasty Show might well have been called The Lazy Show, getting cheap laughs from gratuitous blow-job gags, miming porno scenes and tired ethnic stereotypes. Routines from these acts come from identical points of view and rely on the same received opinions, to such an extent that both the a veteran Jewish Vegas act and a loud in-your-face black woman can do the exact-same gag, despite their very different backgrounds.

Unedifyingly the joke – about black women not going out with Asian (ie far Eastern) men because they’re not interested in small dicks nor IT – got a deafening reaction even on its second airing.

In contrast, the audience were much more uncertain about Jimmy Carr’s taught but sick one-liners about paedophiles and rapists, even if they were considerably better written and frequently more surprising; an unexpected punchline being the very definition of good comedy. Eventually the strength of Carr’s writing won them round, and the laughs started to come, even if they were frequently followed by winces.

It seems the audience for the Nasty Show only like their comedians to be nasty within certain well-defined parameters. Pretend the microphone is a cock and then quip about Asians being bad drivers, good. Michael Jackson gags, bad.

But when acts fish from the same limited pool – as with what happened among the worst of the British ‘frilly-shirt’ acts of the Seventies – it shows that he artform is becoming creatively stagnant, in need of a vigorous shake-up. Judging from the acts on this bill, a certain level of US club acts are in desperate need of that revolution.

The venerable Bobby Slayton has been hosting this show for years – probably since these gags were new – and so sets the tone. He’s supremely slick, with a well-developed sense of timing, so even if his assumption that implying that two front-row punters are gay is inherently hilarious is hardly enlightening, it is shared by the rest of the audience. But although most of his shtick is predictable, when he breaks from the familiar even an jaded critic like me raises a laugh.

He also does his best to bond us under the a collective feeling that we’re in on something edgy, even though a lot of things are working against that premise. It’s in a mainstream venue, with the audience well-lit – presumably because tonight’s performance is being filmed for TV – and takes place at the decidedly pre-watershed hour of 7pm. Underground, this ain’t.

Thirtysomething Jewish act Ari Shaffir continued the theme, with a sequence of jokes about his own ethnicity, and particularly what he sees as the unattractiveness of Jewish women, before acting our porn scenes using the microphone phallically for the first – but by no means the last – time in the evening.

Carr was next, shifting the audience out of their comfort zones, before the ballsy Thea Vidale bombarded them with a torrent of re-enacted filth, again employing the mic for the purpose it wasn’t intended, as well as joking about Africans ‘stinking’ and passing comment on, yawn, airport security.

The great Italian-American stand-up Dom Irrera has a routine about a certain sort of black comedian who gets by on the cadence of their speech alone; and that’s very evident here. Even a conversational line about it being cold in Montreal (which, incidentally, it’s not at the moment), gets a laugh because she phrases it: ‘It’s colder than a motherfucker here.’

In that spirit, let’s sum up her act by saying ain’t no hardcode motherfucking comedy fan gonna laugh their monkey ass off at this goddamn lazy motherfucking shi-it.

But attitude she has by the shovelful, and this audience whoop, holler and applaud their way through its every minute, whatever I might think.

Kurt Metzger, a sometime writer for Dave Chapelle, started strong with a deliberately over-extended metaphor about losing his virginity – or his ‘first vagina’, as he put it – before segueing into a quirky bit about Gunther von Hagens’ Bodyworks exhibits. But just when he started to express a distinctive comedy voice, he crunched gears into – you guessed it – re-enactments of sex scenes and jokes about small Asian penises. It was almost as if he suddenly realised where he was and what was expected of him, so slipped into compliant conformity. Shame, as he seems as if he could be a lot better than this.

Rightfully headlining, Canadian Mike Wilmot shows exactly how filth should be done. Rather than going down predictable routes, he tells everything from his own point of view, as a frustrated, inadequate man. That personal touch, combined with a fabulous delivery and his undeniable descriptive expertise, bringing to vivid life images we’d probably prefer not want to envisage, brought the house down. And for once, I’m with the audience: for a man who professes to have no class, Wilmot is a class act.

Review date: 20 Jul 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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