Alternative Comedy Show: Montreal 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Most comics play it safe at Just For Laughs. Perceiving the stakes to be high, it’s all about honing the perfect routine to showcase at the gala and in front of the gathered industry bigwigs.

But Andy Kindler’s Alternative Comedy Show – this year sidelined into the new Zoofest strand – is often the one place where comedians can mess about. Not exactly full-on Late-N-Live-in-its-heyday anarchy, but at least a place to try something different.

Kindler himself is a good conduit for this. The long-running joke is that he has no career to lose, so can rock up to Montreal every July and in his State Of The Industry address, throw a few well-aimed brickbats at the Hollywood machines, rather like the court jester allowed to mock the monarch, only to reinforce his standing. This year’s talk largely misfired – but then, that’s partly the point, given that most of his comedy comes from the running commentary of how badly his act is going down, and his desperate attempts to redress that.

That’s how he comperes this midnight gig, too, making any review almost redundant, given that he’s already told the audience which bits need work, need shortening, or revolve around ‘a half-baked premise which refuse to work on backstage’. ‘That got a laugh because I delivered it real hard,’ he says of one otherwise mediocre joke. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

The self-critical shtick teeters between compelling and annoying, but does burrow into your conscience, and largely goes appreciated by this savvy crowd.

Continuing this spirit of deconstruction, Reggie Watts and Jon Dore open the show by performing their sets simultaneously. Both are incomprehensible, of course, but it a game of chicken with the audience they continue it well beyond the point that the initial joke has worn off, continuing full-circle until their audacity becomes funny in itself.

Josh Fadem begins with a hugely elaborate slapstick routine, becoming unfeasibly entangled in mic cables and repeatedly crashing the stands, and himself, to the floor. Such stunts always seem contrived, but the floppy-bodied Fadem has a hapless energy and an unforced physicality that makes this stunt work with devastating effectiveness. The stupidly exaggerated stand-up that follows once he’s sorted himself out is less memorable, but still effected with style.

Given the nature of the night, it’s unclear whether Aubrey Plaza is a parody of a sweet-natured but nervously hesitant comic, or the real deal. But her uninspired material about Facebook or the aggressive boastfulness of rap lyrics didn’t work on either level. She had a nice line about the trash blowing around New York streets, but it was very lonely.

Matt Besser was more clearly in character as Jason Yellow, pretending to be a deaf, blind and armless comedian. Applying the rule is if it’s funny, it can’t be offensive, this was hugely offensive, with a tide of predictable jokes about his assumed disabilities. There are genuinely deaf and blind – and presumably armless – comics with better gags than this, so what’s the point in pretending?

Nick Kroll’s gratingly enthusiastic ‘Wassup, Montreal!’ patter turns out to be a spoof, thankfully, although there are certainly comics who’ve built a career on less. Thank you Def Comedy Jam. But even as himself he has a compelling verve. His impression of a Latin American radio station is great – especially if you haven’t seen The Fast Show’s Channel 9 News, to which it is stylistically very similar – as is his recreating of dumb people having sex. But why the stolen gag ‘What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple? Aids’ got into his set is a mystery.

Finally, Marc Maron, who’d been on tour with both Eugene Mirman and Andy Kindler and clearly picked up some of the latter’s overanalytical traits, as well as a brilliant impression of the three Jews on tour, only through incomprehensible sound. A quip about terrorists seemed ordinary, but largely his thoughtful, observational set, calmly delivered, proved a hit.

Review date: 27 Jul 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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