Timing really can be everything. With this year's crop of New Faces at Montreal's Just For Laughs, that was most certainly the case on Wednesday night (aka the second of three nights for the two groups of hopeful stand-ups, but really the first (and maybe only) night to impress the agents, managers and comedy bookers arriving from New York City, Los Angeles and points beyond the Canadian border). It's more than just the timing of your jokes that matter. What time is your show: 7 p.m. or 9:15 p.m? Did your show start on time? Did you time it right to hit the right shuttle, and not get lost and find yourselves looking at the city's skyline from across the bridge? Where are you in the lineup? How far along in your career are you when you're faced with being a New Face?
And if you've been riding along with me for this lifetime comedy joyride for more than a New York minute, then you know some of these faces are not exactly new to you or me. So let us take all of this into account when processing what went down Wednesday night for our two groups of New Faces in Montreal's Cabaret Juste Pour Rire. (Pictured at right: Nick Vatterott) They'll all have one more chance tonight at New Faces (some will also be featured in other themed showcases around the festival).
7 p.m. Wednesday
They dealt with a tight audience made tighter by the fact that the host, Michael Kosta, and some of the comedians showed up late after getting lost in the streets in and outside of Montreal. Kosta instructed some front-row audience members in the arts of fist pounding and exploding, and most of the rest of the room seemed to follow along quite well. So far, so good, right?
Fahim Anwar, he with the conventional opening line, referring to his hairdo as the "give me the Afghan Jerry Seinfeld," followed that up with a less-traditional set that involved both song and dance. He popped it. And he locked it. "I pop lock Montreal," Anwar acknowledged. His stage presence and triple-threat versatility reminded me a bit of Baron Vaughn, and in all of the right ways. Anwar joked in his set about auditioning for American Idol once. I'd like to have seen that audition.
Jesse Case, from Nashville but newly relocated to Los Angeles, opened strong with the suggestion that he almost didn't make it to the show tonight, since his mom was on the pill. Case also hit home with points about how going crazy is merely going public (putting a new light on how we view the homeless), spun the choice of getting a pro-life license plates into some well-written jokes about Jesus Christ, and closed with a visual description of how you never want to talk about how many sexual partners you've had.
Ms. Pat spoke for all proud big, black women by announcing she was in the first stage of her diet plan. Trust me, she said, it's all mental. Unless you want a visual, in which case, she makes a strong case against wearing animal prints. Pat also shared her reservations about sending her "retarded" son out to the store for errands, and whether her daughter really can be gay if all of her girlfriends look like boys.
James Adomian is currently seen on your TV sets as a finalist on NBC's Last Comic Standing, and if you've seen him there, then perhaps you've seen his impersonation of Lewis Black reading from the diary of a teen girl. His other voices of the evening included Danny DeVito at the script reading for "Hoffa," and Jesse "the Body" Ventura proving why conspiracy theories are usually not taken credibly by the public. As for his stand-up, it's a bit more hit and miss. He hits with the sad reality of playing the Beatles Rock Band, and by wondering why most comic villains are portrayed as gay. Alas, I'm not sure we needed another comedian to explain why the Trojan condom idea is tragically flawed.
Mike Vecchione did well, but if you've read my site or seen him perform these past few weeks on either Last Comic Standing or Comedy Central's new Russell Simmons showcase (Vecchione was on Sunday's second episode), then you've seen the evidence for yourself. If you need to know more, click on my Mike Vecchione file.
Adrien Mesa was a new face to me. Mesa says he is a Miami Cuban, but told the audience that people often mistake him for other races and ethnicities. What he really hopes to be, however, is a superhero called Bilingual Man? No, really. That's what he said. Mesa does have a good penchant for setting scenes — such as a bodega in which the Italian employee has difficulty with a Spanish woman's sandwich order — but it takes awhile for these scenes to pay off.
Josh Wade says a girl accused him of being immature, but with a young boy's name like Josh, he says he cannot be blamed for this. His jokes about Catholic school do not revolve around pedophile priests or promiscuous girls so much as they do green plaid outfits. Wade does make a good point, though, about how dumb some people are in harassing a skinny guy like himself, because their insults end up being compliments.
Adrienne Iapalucci was one of several comedians on this season's Last Comic Standing who are here at New Faces but, judging on the consensus of my readers and my conscience, did not get enough air time on the show since their run is already completed (see also: Vecchione, Fortune Feimster, Jason Weems). It took a while for the audience to get on board with Iapalucci's dark sense of humor, even when she wryly noted that Buy Buy Baby "sounds like a great place to have an abortion." Sounds like it, doesn't it? The audience did turn in her favor in a more audible sense by the time she closed with the notion that kids are too annoying for anyone to be a pedophile.
Karl Hess was the first of two consecutive stand-ups in this group (spoiler alert!) to open with a bit about trying to piece together the mystery following a night of blackout drinking, which (for both him and Ben Roy) wouldn't be quite as unfortunate if I and other comedy fans weren't already aware of John Mulaney. Or, say, Dave Attell? Anyhow. I shouldn't be so hard on Hess by typing this in his paragraph, should I? After all, he has a funny bit about a family who owns a boat called Knot 4 Sail. I'm sure his bit on the Founding Fathers being alive today works better for an American audience, and he does have some insight into the lyrics of the 1970 song, "In The Summertime."
Last up in this group that evening was Ben Roy, who started off by telling us he was only eight weeks sober. "This is an awful place to do it," Roy said. Indeed. Comedy festivals are full of debauchery. After opening nevertheless with his own take on the case of the blackout drunk mystery, acknowledging that Hess had done so already, Roy got quick laughs from his energy and stage presence. He kept the energy up with an act-out of how he hates summertime based on "douchebags on crotch-rockets," and closed with an awkward yet animated story about a hand job at a strip club in Vegas. He sure sold it.
9:15 p.m. Wednesday
This group was solid from top to bottom, helped additionally by a hot crowd and the jovial hosting of Sean Patton, who used one silly analogy after another between each comedian.
As Josh Wade demonstrated to the early show that insults might not always be insults, Fortune Feimster, going first in the late show, proved that the opposite can also be true. Is comparing Feimster to Richard Simmons a compliment? Exactly. She came out first and was an immediate hit with the crowd, and kept that going through her stories of not knowing she was a lesbian, coming out, and closing by comparing her mom to a panda rather than a cougar. How did Feimster not make it through to the finals on Last Comic Standing, again?
Joe Mande, as seen previously on this site on multiple occasions, had the crowd on his side throughout with his routines exploring the downsides of threesomes, the inanity of calling yourself a foodie, and the awkwardness that must have been the first person to drink milk.
Mike Lawrence wowed the crowd as well. One highlight for me that I didn't recall from my previous times enjoying Lawrence's act back in New York was this premise-builder: "For those of you who don't know, Susan Boyle is a woman, parentheses, question mark?"
Colin Jost was comfortable enough to go off-script — most New Faces are told repeatedly to do the set that got them New Faces and fear ad-libbing — and opened by apologizing for the Cabaret set. His bits on the outlandish amounts of money people spend on weddings, his grandmother's review of Brokeback Mountain, and the realization that we don't actually know how the things we use in our daily lives actually work — those all worked well. Not sure why his joke about Facebook cheaters had to involve a different voice that also sounded like Pete Holmes. But I'm sure Jost will be able to find a good job and representation out of this. Oh, wait. What's that? He's an Emmy-nominated writer for Saturday Night Live! I think Jost will do just fine. He did tell me afterward that he only has been doing stand-up for two years, and he's still in his 20s, so he is new in those regards.
Jack Whitehall also is one of Variety's "10 Comics to Watch" this year, and they compared him to Russell Brand. Maybe Russell Brand in mannerisms, but only if he got a haircut and had less self-esteem and ego because he still lives with his parents. Give Whitehall bonus points for localizing his bit on misleading portion sizes by referencing Tim Horton's.
Justin Schlegel expects to see gentlemen in gentleman's clubs, and is not exactly a fan of bachelorette parties. Schlegel also walked us, nay, ran us, through Sarah McLachlan's sad pet ads on the TV. He's got some fun energy and that translates with the audience.
Andy Haynes disproved the idea that the rain in Seattle would make anyone want to kill himself or herself, then outlined his plans A, B and C for dealing with birth control. Take that, pro-lifers. He's got both sides covered. Haynes also is a fan of smoking pot, apparently, enough to become terrified and hungry, and the very idea of a drug-sniffing dog becomes his best friend. Haynes had something for the French Canadians, too, with his routine about a floating midget at Cirque du Soleil.
Jason Weems ribbed host Patton by asking the audience: "How about a hand for the shittiest intro?" Weems opened with his as-seen-on-LCS bit about teaching students in Baltimore and getting caught eating a banana, with horrendous consequences for both him and the student. Weems had a new bit based on the BP oil spill, thanks to a bad radio ad that proclaimed the station "can't stop the jams," and used that to offer a modified impersonation of President Barack Obama. Weems also had a problem with Magic Johnson's speech at Michael Jackson's funeral, and wonders what good comes from a gun buyback that accepts muskets.
I had seen Melissa Villasenor last summer when her manager, Barry Katz, brought her by the Comedy Cellar for a drop-in set to prepare for her audition for Saturday Night Live. She didn't get cast last year, but she did prove this year in Montreal that she has a great arsenal of impersonations. Last night she pulled off: Dora the Explorer, Paris Hilton giving advice to Miley Cyrus, Owen Wilson, Drew Barrymore as a killer, Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin, Wanda Sykes, Christina Aguilera, Judy Garland and Britney Spears. The audience gave her the most applause for her comedian impersonations, which makes sense at a comedy festival, right?
Nick Vatterott had the honors last night of closing out the group, and he slowly builds a complex set, starting with an opener about people who put on accents when they say foreign words. Vatterott likes to create awkward moments that lead to even more awkward moments, and uses his improv and acting skills to really sell it, with a big payoff at the end.