First impressions: New Faces of Comedy at Just For Laughs Montreal 2017

First things first: The best performances from Wednesday night’s debut New Faces showcases in Montreal came from Taylor Tomlinson, Martin Urbano, Preacher Lawson, Sam Jay and James Austin Johnson.

Secondly: The early showcase Wednesday (Group 1) was otherwise solid from top to bottom, despite a lackluster opening by host Sugar Sammy, who didn’t quite warm up the crowd with enthusiastic material and also botched the intro for first comic Jared Fried. Tomlinson, Urbano and Lawson all crushed their sets (you’ve seen Tomlinson on Last Comic Standing and currently hosting Laughs on FOX, and Lawson is this summer’s breakout comedian on America’s Got Talent). The late showcase (Group 2) delivered a staggeringly different response, despite a great job by host Dan Soder, as the comedians were all over the place in terms of quality and style. Which made Jay stand out even more, as she woke up the crowd and then some midway through Group 2. Jay debuted on TV on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in March. My friends wondered who could follow her, and fortunately Johnson was more than up to the task, even overcoming a screwed-up sound cue to wow the crowd with his off-kilter impersonations and a sketch based on said sound cue.

More to come in this space later on all of the comedians…but I wanted to get this out now. Check back soon for more on all of the New Faces.

Group 1

Some initial thoughts for now…Jared Fried overcame that bad intro from Sugar Sammy to deliver a pretty strong POV about losing weight and having a gay trainer for extra motivation. Taylor Tomlinson‘s closer almost prompted a standing ovation after they saw her act out comparing men putting on condoms to boys forced to wear a rain jacket over their Halloween costumes. Martin Urbano kept the audience on its toes with a ton of misdirection, and great dark jokes that only someone like Anthony Jeselnik might try to pull off, but Urbano is so darned likeable and accessible without a cocky character that you’ll be laughing with much less guilt about it. Preacher Lawson has been a hit on AGT, and his animated act had the crowd rolling, even through his Cosby comparison. Blair Socci pulled off a drastic shift in pacing after that, slowing everything down and having the audience held in rapt attention to see where she was going with each joke, as she broke down the differences between fake character flaws and real ones, and this observation about feminism: “Being a girl is weird. You’re given a body you’re taught to hate, and then you have to stay in it til you die.” Yedoye Travis noted the moment right at the top: “Oh wow, I just felt the fear on my own face!” But he handled it well, remarking on his own look as Hipster Frederick Douglass and telling people to just be straightforward if they’re going to be racist. Charles Gould‘s therapist would approve of his opening joke, and Gould addressed his Jewish looks and displayed great writing in a closing bit about diving down a Facebook rabbit hole. Danny Jolles has been called a “beta male” on the street, while he has strongly held opinions about bros and hipsters, comparing them to dogs and cats and bringing the point home with a progressive message. Rae Sanni half-jokingly misses Monica Lewinsky and health care, and at least on the latter, she could fix that immediately. “I’m going to go to the ER every day ’til Saturday. I haven’t had a Pap smear in five years!” JR de Guzman won NBC’s Stand Up For Diversity competition this past year, and as the only musical comedian, naturally closed out the showcase with a few funny songs.

Group 2

So much looser and all over the map! But why? Because it was the later show? Because they saw the early showcase and figured they knew what to expect now? Because they wanted to throw out their prepared material and play directly to the audience? David Thomason started things off normally with a solid enough set. But Jake Nordwind called out CAA and talked to the industry, saying they were looking at him and wondering “What’s my show?” and pitching his sitcom. Christi Chiello should have gotten New Faces last year when she competed in Montreal for Comedy Central’s Roast Battle, so it felt weird seeing her in this group. Even if some in the audience had never heard her voice, or how it affects what she gets to audition for these days. Solomon Georgio kept reflecting on how fabulous he looks, and joked about the idea of choosing to be a gay black man from Africa. Norm Nixon Jr. showed off more dance moves than jokes, and addressed the fact of growing up as the son of an NBA player. The vibe in the room didn’t appreciate Jonathan Morvay’s cleverness as much as it could have, but perhaps they don’t know enough about avocados or need to read his jokes instead, while Michael Lenoci came off more funny awkward than funny ha-ha with his rants about dating women and sex. He did make a great point comparing love with debt, tho. Ramy Youssef has performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but he chose Wednesday night to dedicate a lot of his set talking about loving Canadian women, and specifically to a woman in the crowd he’d invited to the show earlier that day. If he’s lucky, he’ll end up fathering “an accident baby.” With his cousin? Calvin Evans will make you go back and watch Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” music video in a completely new light. But he followed that up with a suggestion that might be illegal if he joked about it in the United States. And in the middle of it all, Sam Jay made hilarious observations about her own gay marriage, stupid lesbian sex and possible divorce, while James Austin Johnson‘s visualizations of how NFL commentators have to plug their network’s primetime lineup was all too real, and his impersonations of Jay-Z, Bob Dylan and Louis CK were pleasant surprises.

Did I forget anything? If so, I’ll come back to this with further thoughts. And they’ll all have another chance to impress audiences and industry alike.

These two New Faces groups will showcase again Friday night at Katacombes, hosted by Lil Rel.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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