For the past couple of decades, Montreal’s “New Faces of Comedy” has represented a watershed moment in the careers of stand-up comedians.
Getting invited to Montreal for New Faces meant you had made it. Or maybe you hadn’t made it just yet, but this represented your big break, your chance to “make it” in comedy and show business. To move beyond the independent bars and back rooms of stand-up and graduate to the mainstream comedy clubs, the road circuit, and perhaps even more. All eyes of the industry would be upon you. Agents, managers, casting agencies, network executives, the media. Everyone wanting to discover…you.
Usually this opportunity presented itself to you in less-than-ideal circumstances: A big, dark, sweaty bar filled with French-Canadian locals drunk off their arses, who might not even understand some of the American references in your stand-up material. Then again, is that really less-than-ideal when compared to an even larger cavern of a room, a sanitary auditorium within the bowels of Place Des Arts where there’d be no drinks; ergo, no drunks?
We found that out Wednesday as the two groups of traditional “New Faces” took to the stage at Cinquieme Salle. Alonzo Bodden, a stand-up veteran who appeared in the early seasons of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, hosted both groups on Wednesday, and played up the significance of the night while also pointing out that he had come to Montreal about 15 years ago as a New Face himself.
Bodden turned the tables on the Group 1 audience by announcing his rules for the “New Faces of Industry” in the crowd, which made them laugh. Would it put the comedians at ease, though? And would it help or hurt that a 9-year-old boy sat front row center for their show?
Regardless, there’d be no bad apples in this bunch on Wednesday night. Trying to sort them out may be a personal preference. For my money, Jermaine Fowler (managed by 3 Arts, repped by APA) and Emily Heller (self-repped) separated themselves from the pack on this night. Fowler (who also has been opening for Hannibal Buress during JFL) killed with material about his incarcerated identical twin brother, Jerome, and the unique trait of his other brother, Jamal. Heller explained what it means these days to be a feminist, making light of her own life and how the rich often act as passive-aggressive bullies. Josh Rabinowitz (management: 3 Arts) had the audience on his side from the get-go, allowing them to fill in the blanks and make their own jokes about his boyish looks, and later earning an applause break after a bit about an elementary school exercise concerning time travel. David Angelo (agency: WME) was the only New Face to dress up for the occasion, his suit combined with his mannerisms and repeated call-out to the “beautiful crowd” showcasing himself as a throwback to an old-school lounge act.
Brent Morin (management: 3 Arts) made more use of the large stage than the other comedians while describing the differences between how white men drink and how black men drink, and also sang in his closer. Joe Wengert (management: Mosaic; agency: CAA) joked about how we’re all just trying to keep our shit together, and he, even more so — he wonders about sharing TMI with friends, wearing a wig to therapy (hint: don’t), and airs his grievances. James Davis (management: Mosaic; agency: CAA) portrays himself as the “quintessential token black friend,” but spins it into a positive. Unless you “cheat” on him. Jamie Lee (management: Avalon; agency: Gersh) has a saucy side to her material, a graduate of the school of Silverman with clever one-liners such as…”My body is a temple, because sometimes my rabbi is inside it,” and “I don’t come from money, unless I sit on an upright stack of quarters.” Adam Lowitt (management: Brillstein; agency: CAA) pointed out that most pranks and practical jokes, once you hit your 30s, aren’t so elaborate anymore. They’re “couch-based” shenanigans. Lowitt’s also at an age in which he can catch the guy who robbed him, but cannot make as persuasive a case to get a woman to come home with him. And Ron Babcock (management: Generate) certainly presented the most distinctive set, because who else builds a stand-up performance around a demonstration of devil sticks?!?
Group 1 of New Faces performs again at 11:59 tonight at Underworld, 1403 Rue Sainte Elizabeth, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Bodden returned to host the second group. No kids in the front row this time. In fact, nobody in the front row. What gives, Montreal?
The second New Faces group was strong from top to bottom, although it was strongest at its bookends. Will Weldon (management: Principato-Young) didn’t bite the bullet. He chewed it up, spit it out and presented to the crowd as a trophy. Well, not literally. But Weldon, a Canadian living in America, opened by revealing the flaw in suicide prevention that argues it’s “the easy way out,” explained how Americans are “the friendliest assholes,” and explored his racial sensitivity by recounting how a racial slur, when directed at him, is actually a great thing. Adam Cayton-Holland (management: 3 Arts) similarly wanted to share the joy of Southern sayings with a larger audience; his joy of Dunkin’ Donuts, not so much. Thomas Dale (management: One Entertainment; agency: APA) had the industry sitting all around me howling with laughter, not just because he can dip into a cartoony voice, but also because his openness about homosexuality is refreshing without being cliche. Mike Drucker (management: Generate) displayed the strong quality of his comedic writing with bits about how the Hulk is writing ad copy for the U.S. Army and how his “dirty talk” with his girlfriend isn’t all that successful. Calise Hawkins (management: Generate) rightly pointed out how all relationships end in miserable break-ups, and found laughs with her attempt to demonstrate a phone sex blow job. Chicago-based Sean Flannery (self-repped) warned us about how we’ve become a spoon-fed generation thanks to technology, although it’d be even worse if we took advantage of a 30-beers-for-$2 special. Flannery has an answer for that latter issue with his own ideas for honest beer commercials. Dominic Dierkes (management: 3 Arts; agency: CAA), one of the members of Derrick Comedy (coming up the ranks with Donald Glover) explained how he judges strangers based on their T-shirt slogans, compared Facebook stalking with old-school, real-life stalking, and reminded us to beware of the robots. Fair warning! The Lucas Brothers (management: 3 Arts; agency: APA) recently made their TV debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon — also booked by JFL booker Jeff Singer — and mined their status as identical twins for laughs. It helps that they’ve established an easy-going banter, and that they can share experiences such as going out on a double-date with another set of identical twins. I’d get confused! Mike Burns (management: Avalon; agency: CAA) , meanwhile, has to stay out of trouble, lest he get stabbed in the back again. And he means it. He also means what he says in his OKCupid profile. For better or worse. Closing out the group, Jared Logan (management: Bleecker Street Entertainment) skillfully played off of Burns’ set to ease into his own routines, killing with tales about growing up in West Virginia, having a father who works at Wal-Mart, and how his relatives didn’t get the message that God was sending with last year’s hurricane.
Group 2 performs again at 8:30 tonight at Underworld, 1403 Rue Sainte Elisabeth, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.