For the second consecutive year, Montreal’s Just For Laughs expanded its New Faces concept to include separate showcases for sketch performers (New Faces Characters) and stand-up comedians who do not yet have agents or managers (New Faces Unrepped).

NEW FACES CHARACTERS

The New Faces Characters show has the feel of a Saturday Night Live audition — instead of performing onstage for Lorne Michaels and a few others, however, these New Faces sketch players faced a large theater audience at Places Des Arts. Well, on the first night, an audience that filled much of the theater save for the front couple of rows. Tough room?

Not for Greg Worswick (management: Odenkirk-Provissiero; agency: UTA), who went up first and won over many with his positive energy and takes on a boy who wants to become a man at his bar mitzvah with a Glee theme, a 17-year-old high-schooler taking out his frustrations through spoken word, and a sushi chef. Less effective were a guy getting over his romantic troubles via karaoke, and a spoof on James Bond that earned laughs solely through a silly seduction dance routine.

Tim Baltz (management: Roar; agency: ICM), meanwhile, never hit a false note due to the strength of the writing he put into each of his characters. From a mustache salesman with confidence despite his sad life, to a doctor delivering bad health news to Dracula, on through an English football play-by-play broadcaster with colorful metaphors and asides, and finally, a guy who cannot believe how hot his friend’s lady friend is. You definitely can see him playing the straight man as a writer/performer in a sketch series.

Rachel Bloom (management: 3 Arts; agency: UTA) went a different route from the rest of the performers in this showcase. Unlike the others, who tried to show off their range, Bloom chose to stick to one character; albeit one who is a “Triple Threat” (the title of her one-woman show that plays at the UCB Theatre in Hollywood). A character who previously appeared in a revival of “Annie” before being kidnapped for three years. Her musical industry showcase does prove she has a great singing voice, even if she now drinks water like a dog in between performances from such shows as “Crown Heights” and the unaired Disney production, “The Princess & The Necklace.”

Sam Richardson (management: Levity; agency: Innovative) will sneak up on you, despite the fact that his first character remained seated while eating from a bag of Cheetos. That’s just Uncle Charles dispensing wisdom and life lessons. Richardson also delivered surprising turns out of a “barktender” and a first time “actor” making his debut TV appearance, and showed how a 3-D movie can, in itself, surprise an African father of three at the cineplex.

Griffin Newman (management: One Entertainment; agency: ICM) made his biggest and best impact with his portrayal of a movie studio employee pitching a big-screen project with Michael Jordan and some equally famous animated characters. Yes. That big-screen project. He also tapped into his own youthfulness to play a student trying to convince his fellow students that he exists by delivering a presentation on planets. Not so sure about his turn as Liza Minelli, though. That impersonation already exists.

Tony Cavalero (management: Nicole Garcia; agency: Gersh) must have wanted to make sure you remembered him. Because remember him, you did. With the voice of “Werner Herzog” narrating and introducing each character, Cavalero emerged first in costume as dancing DJ Digital. This would not be his first use of dance and physicality, as he closed with an audition for dance movement by “Bradley Johnston” that goes horribly awry. In between, he did crowd work as a New York City pizza street vendor, impersonated Jesse Ventura, and portrayed a Confederate woman welcoming back the soldiers with open arms and other body parts. But you’ll likely remember his Juilliard dancing audition — and those tights juxtaposed with his upper body, splayed about the floor — more than anything else.

Lauren Lapkus (management: Odenkirk-Provissiero; agency: CAA), photographed above by Dan Dion, already should be a star, shouldn’t she? You may have seen her this spring on NBC’s Are You There, Chelsea? She was one of the few bright spots on this otherwise unwatchable midseason sitcom. Without that holding her back, Lapkus could shine onstage as a solo act as an apathetic stripper, venturing into the crowd to dance to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” She also shone as a woman trying to figure out which guy in the bar is her blind date, a bachelorette party attendee unloading her life’s woes on a stranger between shots, a girl who’s a pro on Dance Dance Revolution, and a mother performing an embarrassing stand-up routine in front of her kid and friends.

Brendan Jennings (management: Odenkirk-Provissiero) opened strong as one-half of a normal married couple who wants to make a “whoopie tape” but failing. His other best efforts involved the guy who wrote the “Monster Mash” trying to sell you on his other songs, and his playful proclamations for segueing from one character to the next. Oh, Jennings also wants you to know he can put a Lou Holtz impersonation into any situation. Range!

Natasha Rothwell (self-repped) performs around New York City at The PIT, Magnet Theater and the UCB. And she’s ready to sell you some “knickers” on QVC. Only the way her “Darlene Jordan” describes “knickers”…well…you’ll have to hear her tell it to believe it. Rothwell’s other characters included a TV meteorologist whose forecast becomes entangled with her love life, and an elderly lady whose sexual slang may or may not resonate with the kids these days. No matter how they feel about “knickers.”

 

NEW FACES UNREPPED

New Faces Unrepped has become the must-see showcase for the industry because of what it represents, or doesn’t as the case may be. In recent years, the “traditional” New Faces of Comedy have arrived at Montreal not-quite-as-new to the industry — starring on primetime TV that very year, or at least already having an agent and/or manager guiding their careers. The “Unrepped” comedians, on the other hand, don’t have agents or managers. Which is just what all of the agents and managers who fly to Montreal from New York and Los Angeles want to see and hear. This is their chance to make some deals and go back to to their companies with new clients on their rosters.

By all accounts from the comedians themselves, their first of two nightly showcases was rough with capital letters ROUGH at Underworld. Don’t know if it was the venue. Don’t know if it was the audience. Don’t know, because I wasn’t there. I went to the second and final showcase for Unrepped, held the following night up the hill at the Mainline Theatre.

Annie Lederman (NYC) remained cool and calm in the face of the adversity of going up first. Her stage presence was impressive. Her jokes, self-deprecating, noting that no men showed up at her intervention as a slutty drunk, and that she’s “jealous of people with bipolar disorder, because at least they get to be happy sometimes.”

Tommy Pope (Philadelphia) proved that being book-smart usually loses out to street-smart, that taking Ambien has its good and bad side effects, and that an animated performance can earn you an applause break. Which he did on this night.

Ryan Dalton (Cleveland) had different dreams from most kids. When he grew up, he wanted to be…a stranger? “They always have candy.” Ah, OK. Dalton also demonstrated what can go wrong when you mishear “black guy” for “black eye,” and how having a bald spot on the back of your head leads to a different kind of Alzheimer’s altogether.

Aside: What’s with all of the rape jokes in 2012? I know comedians have made light of rape via misdirection and different perspectives, but still. Oy.

Brian Parise (Washington, D.C.) keenly observed that tofu fans must also like paper, as “tofu is like the napkin of food.” Parise also has figured out that rappers finally have run out of things to brag about. So, what now?

I first saw Dave Waite when I judged him and others in the Boston Comedy Festival a few years ago. Loved his stage and verbal mannerisms then; still cannot get enough of them now. Just really get a kick out of Waite, who has moved to NYC from Cincinnati. His set in Montreal included several bits he performed in May on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Joe List (NYC via Boston) followed Waite, and here’s a guy I’m surprised to learn was “unrepped” by the time he arrived in Montreal. List has toured the road for at least a few years now (he is/was a frequent middle act for Nick DiPaolo). For this set, List revealed that he sometimes is intimidated by a book as early as its opening quotes. He also explained why he loves being an uncle, but isn’t quite ready to be a father yet. And he had this line to open a bit: “I was over at my nephew’s house. (pause) That’s where my sister lives…Somebody write that down.” DONE.

Comedians told me to keep an eye on Junior Stopka (Chicago) when I attended Just For Laughs Chicago two summers ago. In Montreal, Stopka proved himself to be a big ol’ oddball, and oddly proud of it. Example: His take on comedy. “Oh, so you’re a comedian? Here’s your alcoholism, sadness and no God. Now go out there and make people happy!” Stopka will tell anyone how he feels about anything. No filter. That’s not to say he won’t take precautions, particularly with Craigslist. “Both parties think they’re about to be murdered,” he says of Craigslist ads, before acting out a potential transaction.

Anthony DeVito (NYC) could be overlooked as one of many young, bearded stand-up comedians in New York City circa 2012. But as DeVito points out, he’s been trying to be noticed for who he is for quite some time now — people think he’s Middle Eastern when he couldn’t be more Italian; his parents bought him bunk beds even though he was an only child; and he seemingly has as much hair, if not more, than he does skin. Please notice him.

Ahmed Bharoocha (Los Angeles via Boston) displayed clever wit and strong writing behind his material right from the outset, ad-libbing about show host Sean Patton that he “looked like a baby Andre the Giant.” Bharoocha has smart jokes about war, homosexuality, our distorted values on history, and even our mean mistreatment of cows. As he noted: “We eat their babies, and then eat their babies’ food, and then we put pictures of our missing kids on their food!” Duly noted.

Nick Mullen (Austin) actually returned to Austin after a brief stint living in Los Angeles, where he joked that he learned “to never follow your dreams!” Mullen’s act focused on one story about his time there when he got black-out drunk and encountered a gay man who hit on him.

Joe Machi (NYC) was the one comedian the other “unrepped” comedians said did well in their first night’s showcase. Machi killed in night two, too. His unique voice, delivery and material all kept the audience’s rapt attention and prompted laughter at appropriately regular intervals. You know what I mean. If you didn’t hear Joe Machi’s Hitler bit on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, then go watch and listen to it now.

You can see the actual faces of these 2012 New Faces on CollegeHumor.com, which sponsored the Montreal showcases.