Can we talk about last night’s one and only official showcase for the “Unrepped” New Faces of Comedy for the 2016 Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal?
I don’t know, can we?
Did you even stay for the whole show, dear agent and/or manager? I’m guessing no based on the half-empty house at the beginning of the show, and the handful of people who began leaving after every comedian. Several sources told me afterward that they’d been told the Unrepped showcase was sold out, and even turned away people (from regular comedy fans to industry executives) at the door beforehand, which makes no sense logically since JFL programmers asked those in the back rows of the audience to move to the front to fill the front rows before starting the showcase well past 11. None of what people claimed to me afterward made sense, actually, because the Unrepped show is the only event in the entire festival lineup designed with the specific intent of luring industry members from Hollywood and New York City to Montreal. By having only one official showcase, it should have been even more packed. But scheduling it at 11 p.m., up against some other great comedy events (including Comedy Central’s Roast Battle taping), presented a dilemma for some. Fun not-well-known-fact: All of the JFL New Faces stand-ups do or did have a second showcase, but it wasn’t billed as New Faces; rather, they’re all contractually obligated to perform on the tapings for Kevin Hart’s new LOL website. You have to pay close attention to the schedule to figure that out, though.
New Faces Unrepped also was the only of the four New Faces groups not to make the move from the “5th Room” in Place Des Arts over to the Monument National theater, so they were operating at an aesthetic disadvantage, too. Not to mention their host, legendary stand-up and self-described “old face” George Wallace, who decided to several minutes of crowd work at the top of the show. “I’m so old I remember when people got mad at work, they went home, and then came back and only shot one person!” Wallace said, before later introducing the first comedian by saying, “I don’t know who he is but he’s funny. Because you have to be funny to be on this show.” All of it made for a too-late show with too-weird energy.
How did the comedians fare, for those who stuck around to watch them?
JP McDade kicked things off on a promising note, by literally noticing one on the stool next to the microphone. “He left this note. Can I do your stuff?” McDade focused on his own identity, specifically his nickname of a first name, and having to explain it on a daily basis — and more broadly on his Irish heritage and what he had to look forward to, or not. As he said he jokingly learned from his family: “Alcoholism is a disease you get from not praying hard enough.” He held Banksy in much lower regard, though, and joked that Australians should get free healthcare, just because of having to hear bad news from a doctor in their own accent. McDade was mild-mannered but also assured, and steady. Made you optimistic for the rest of the night.
Especially when Ismael Loutfi followed. Loutfi, based in Atlanta now, had the stand-out set of the night, and not because he announced at the top that “I’m a cutie patootie.” Rather, ’twas because he filled us in on how he grew up a devout Muslim in Florida — not ethnic enough to scare your parents, but instead just enough to be a model for a college brochure. He also got married at 17, to satisfy his religion’s requirements about abstaining from pre-marital sex. Which made his prom story much more unique. He may not still be married, but he has a quick enough wit to capitalize when a guy slipped in the aisle trying to leave the venue. “You OK dude? See? We care!” Loutfi was one of the good ones. New Faces or whatever you were thinking!
Neko White raised in Spanish Harlem, started strong with observations from his neighborhood, wondering why the Dominicans don’t acknowledge their own blackness, and painting a vivid picture for the audience. He began to lose the half-filled room, though, when he went even darker with material about separating himself from his criminal neighbors, and how he doesn’t want his ex to be happy, for good reason. I’m sure White is a hit back in New York City, or even in L.A., but this French vanilla crowd was not on board, for whatever reason.
They were more amenable to Casey Crawford, a bearded white guy from South Dakota who walked onstage wearing a Montreal Expos shirt under his sport jacket. Crawford was full of absurd one-liners. Among them: “One year for Halloween I went as the guy whose wallet I found.” Reminded me quite a bit of a Jack Handey, dispensing his “Deep Thoughts” only live and in person. I’m sure someone in the industry will know what to do with him.
Similarly, and yet quite differently, Molly Ruben-Long, who was based in New Orleans until about a week ago (she’s moving back to NYC — you’ll have to ask her for the full story), joked about being underemployed before this, and yet having some funny feminist business ideas. Ruben-Long is pretty charming, pretty funny and just plain pretty, so it’s easy to see someone convincing her to go out for Pilot Season next winter, in addition to building her stand-up even more.
Raul Sanchez, like White, also has jokes about how some of his neighborhood friends have gone to jail and prison. My heart always goes out to New Faces who have to go on later in the lineup who have similar premises with another New Face the industry has just seen. Then again, Sanchez, from San Antonio, also joked about having to learn to live with people stealing your things and dreams. So his set was even more poignantly on the nose last night.
Brendan Lynch, standing 6-foot-6, joked that he’s tall enough to know when his friends go bald before they do, and while he might not notify them of such, he has written plenty of bald jokes. And beard jokes about the types of facial hair bald men grow to compensate for the lack of follicles on top. Lynch isn’t a fan of skinny beards, or balloon animals — and after last night, the microphone. He withstood two separate mic malfunctions.
J.B. Ball, from Tampa, told us he’d just gotten a dog, and while reading up on how to take care of his pet, has learned that dogs can detect if a human has cancer. Which is crazy. Ball, meanwhile, would like to have a superpower of his own, and joked about how far we’ve come just in the few years since Donald Glover wanted to play Spider-Man on the big screen. Ball also acted out a joke about a poster PSA about the difference between having sex with and without a condom. Just don’t try to make a wack argument with him about who’s the greatest athlete ever, if you’re not going to pick a human.
At this point, industry began filing out in small clusters after every performer. Which was a shame.
And not just because Geoffrey Asmus had an eccentrically unique act, bringing a stack of books onstage with him only to immediately jump into the front row to engage with audience members. Later, he challenged the audience to give him country names, after which he’d regale us with trivial facts about said country. “Do you think I saved up three months, to pay to come here and not know about the fifth most populated nation in the world?” The books did come into play for his closer, which had him solving children’s literacy.
I’ve seen Janelle James feature at Gotham in NYC, but as the crowd got smaller, her task became more difficult. She opened with a lengthy bit about TV and The Bachelor, noting: “White lady crying is my favorite show. It’s always on! It’s always on.” Her favorite thing in real life is going to Costco and pretending to have never tasted the samples before, while her least favorite thing about moving is having to find a new weed dealer. Perhaps her past job as a dominatrix could have come in handier in handling the Montreal crowd, if not also solving her weed dealer issues.
Danny Palumbo from Austin faced the even more daunting task of closing out the show. “C’mon! This is like a high-stakes job fair!” Palumbo noted. He joked about taking too much Vicodin, and going to therapy, and a night like last night might have provided a timely reminder of that. But as he also jokingly noted, “I got booed off of America’s Got Talent.”
No booing in this room on this night. Although the whole show could have used a lot more of that energy from the audience, for better or worse, just to breathe more life into it.