Review: New Faces Characters showcase at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2016
The New Faces Characters showcase, which is even billed in some of the Just For Laughs literature as an SNL audition of sorts: "Quickly! Before they're 'Live From New York..." the official program boasts, doesn't have a host.
Instead, JFL booker/programmer Nick Brazao greeted the audience and explained the format to them: Each performer would have about 5 minutes to perform his or her characters, and then stop to inform us at the end who they were. Interestingly, as much as the JFL Characters showcase wants to resemble a public SNL audition, Saturday Night Live has shown as much interest if not more in the past couple of years in the stand-up New Faces groups, casting Pete Davidson and Jon Rudnitsky out of them in successive seasons. And Montreal New Faces in the Characters groups have also gone on to star in the new MADtv reboot that launched this week on The CW, as well as the Party Over Here sketch show on FOX. At any rate.
What matters most is what this group of characters is capable of. Short answer: A lot.
Christine Bullen opened with a woman locked in the stockades for gossiping, and proved her guilt and then some. Her characters that hit even stronger relied on verbal tics and wordplay gymnastics, from an insecure woman named Betsy ordering a coffee, to a girl in Vegas who ends every sentence with the same sound, to Jeremy's mom who keeps getting interrupted on the phone.
A woman named Betsy:
Alan Starzinski opened with a scene in which he played a Ghostbuster answering a call he didn't want to take, then followed that up with Liam Neeson's Prank Phone Call Show, and included a look at J. Jonah Jameson getting a little too obsessed with pictures of Spider-Man. He also notably revised this sketch about "Hiro Takada," a white guy adopted by Japanese parents who learned English as a Second Language, into a completely self-aware bit about whitewashing.
Starzinski's act had the unfortunate consequence of making Nicole Sun's opening character, an Asian landlord, seem worse than it was -- considering she actually is partially of Chinese descent. If only she'd gone on before him. And yet. Sun rebounded with characters including a woman so jealous about a friend's outfit that she crafts increasingly complex ways she'd kill herself over how cute it was, a Walgreens pharmacist asking questions before handing out Plan B, and a simple but effective impersonation of Diane Keaton receiving information.
This is Sun's pharmacist character developed into a full sketch for The Groundlings.
Lily Sullivan opened with an online therapist who works from her bed, but stops much too frequently to talk to her cat, Binky. "She's so cute but she is so bad!" Her other characters included a restaurant owner named Francesca who has overly aggressive ideas for her new social media assistant, an ironic hipster girl in a thrift store, a female valet driver, and an Anthropologie cashier who just wants to know which salesperson helped the customer. Wish she had more videos for you to see those things in, so you'll just have to seek her out live for yourself!
Frank Garcia-Hejl makes sketch videos for Mas Mejor and just appeared on USA's First Impressions with Dana Carvey, so he's on the up and up. He got the crowd going in the beginning with a dad living out his rock 'n' roll fantasy through song and dance, and his son; portrayed an astronaut in a restaurant reminding his dining companion all the time about his space travels; a politician explaining his secret to successfully becoming our next dictator; a radio DJ who only plays the parts of songs he likes; and Jimmy Kimmel presenting "Mean Tweets," which he leveraged into several winning impersonations: Seth Rogen, Vince Vaughn, John C Reilly, George Lopez, Robert Downey Jr., Nick Offerman and Jon Hamm.
Natalie Palamides presented the most ambitious and most over-the-top outrageously offensive set of the night, opening with a woman trapped in a sleeping bag -- er, wait, scratch that, she was a worm sliding across the floor! Her worm convinced an audience member to help feed her water, although she died, except she killed. You get it. She used that to segue out of the bag as an orphan waking up; specifically Lucy, orphan #376, who blacks out when she's nervous into demonic possession Still, more audience participation. Palamides then segued into a guy late for work as a freelance security guard who somehow forgot to zip up his pants. Yes. It's a graphic set. In your face, even. But she committed fearlessly to it all.
Colin O'Brien had the unenviable task of following Palamides. So he began by speaking in French, as a music teacher explaining grunge via posters about Nirvana. O'Brien followed that with a sales pitch from Mitch the big dead dog removal specialist, played an office guy upset that the free break room donuts are gone already, and had his most memorable moment playing a dumped guy who keeps repeating the same part of the song, "When Will I Be Loved."
Ego Nwodim's opening sketch, imagining Harriet Tubman as a $20 bill trying to get used at Soup Plantation, was the only weak link in her chain of characters (and only because it went on too long). Nwodim followed that up with winning impersonations of Maya Angelou proving she's fun by telling Yo Momma jokes, and Kerry Washington auditioning for the role of "Hot Girl #3" in the Entourage movie. Her closer? A YouTuber explaining exactly which "black ass lives don't matter!"
Joanna Bradley opened simply with: "Hi! This is a British person" reporting the news whilst devolving from serious to silly according to the headline she was conveying. She also played a haughty Soho woman placing a series of phone calls between a restaurant and her husband (or boyfriend), but her closing character, an agent calling a potential client while negging her throughout the entire conversation/invitation for a general meeting, was so meta and on point that it naturally brought the house of industry folk into hysterics. Here's her latest character and TV reel for you agents to ponder:
Richie Moriarty opened with a dad explaining the rules about his twins to a babysitter, played a dumb guy whose brother just hired him to work at his ad agency, impersonated Jim Parsons auditioning for True Detective, and showed us a son at his mother's grave, vowing war against the cemetery chipmunks. You've likely seen his closing bit already. His impersonation medley singing the theme to the Tony-winning musical Hamilton was a viral hit just recently.