Festivals

Published on July 15th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson

8

Review: Danny Bhoy, Just For Laughs Toronto

I stood in the appointed photographer’s area near the back of the St. Lawrence Centre Tuesday night, pondering how I would describe Danny Bhoy’s audience interaction skills. I needn’t worry, as he would soon give me a custom-tailored example to write about.

photo by Sharilyn Johnson

photo by Sharilyn Johnson

Before I get to the juicy tale, a little bit about Danny: Hails from Scotland. Been doing standup for 11 years. One of those standups who actually makes money at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Got huge buzz at Just For Laughs Montreal in ’05, and had a sold-out run there in ’07. Is performing in Just For Laughs Toronto all this week with his one-man show, and will return to Just For Laughs Montreal next week.

So yes, the audience interaction.

Consider these factors:

-I was at the back shooting for the first 10 minutes.
-My seat was in the 4th row.
-The house lights were up enough for him to see everyone in the lower half.

I think you can see where this is going.

Most concert photographers wear all-black to be inconspicuous. Neither that, nor my attempt to be stealth-like, nor the camera around my neck, would save me from Danny’s attention as I moved towards my seat.

“Well, where have you been?”

Ah, crap.

“Shooting you,” was my response, eliciting a crack about firearms.

“Oh, with your camera. Are you allowed to do that?”

“I am from back there!”

Danny decided he wanted my camera. Any SLR users out there will understand why my first instinct was to pose the following question:

“Do you know how to use it?”

That got an unintentional laugh, and Danny pretended to be offended by my patronizing.

I nervously handed over my baby to a complete stranger, and what followed was 5 minutes of crowd-work-meets-camera-work. Struggling to get the lens cap off. Struggling still with my giant old 70-210mm f/4 lens. Verbally sparring with me. Further mocking my patronization. Taking the camera behind the curtain and threatening to take a picture of his penis. Me retorting that it’s a good thing the zoom is on it. Him not hearing me but having a fellow audience member try to pimp me into repeating it.

photo by Danny Bhoy

photo by Danny Bhoy

He finally focused the camera on the audience and took one photo, which upon examination he proclaimed to be “artistic”. I fully expected to find a solid square of black on my camera, but you can make out actual human beings in the shot. He managed to adjust the shutter speed to 1.6 secs to get enough light in there, which is either a happy accident, or evidence that he knows how to operate an SLR camera much better than he was letting us think.

I returned to the front to retrieve my camera, and stood bemused as he struggled to get the lens cap back on. He made me promise to send him the photos.

“I’ll Myspace you,” I said, a callback to his opening bit.

It was a great interaction, due much more to Danny’s ability to maneuver such a relationship than it was to my rapier wit. This guy has more performer/audience one-on-ones in a night than I’ve had in my lifetime.

Having survived this experience, I was free to sit and review the show… so long as he didn’t try to abscond with my notebook.

Yes, Danny had this “intimate” thing down pat. In the one-man show uniform of jeans, t-shirt, and lav mic, he roamed the stage while making direct eye contact with those in the first several rows. He had conversations with fellow Scotsmen, a publicist, and a woman belatedly celebrating her birthday.

Danny has also mastered the sense of openness so key to a performance like this. In passing, he admitted he can speak infront of hundreds, but that he finds it hard to spit out the line “hi, can I buy you a drink?” This isn’t the type of blatant self-deprecation we’re used to seeing, and it’s really not until watching Danny do it that you realize how contrived others’ shticks feel. If he’s ever compared to Craig Ferguson, it’s not because of they share geographic origins.

His story about meeting the Queen enraptured everyone, and came with a payoff justifying it as his closer. Incidentally, Her Majesty scores big points for supposedly being a big standup comedy fan, and telling Danny “it’s quite brave, what you do.”

With this, Danny positioned himself as an exception to my rule of disliking when comedians refer to themselves as comedians in their material. It rarely serves to improve joke, and takes the audience out of the moment. As ridiculous as it may sound, there is a faint suspension of disbelief among audiences that this is just some regular guy chatting with them, and I’ve often felt that the c-word (“comedian”) ruins that illusion. That wasn’t the case with Danny, pulling this off twice in his set, perhaps due to a lack of illusion to begin with.

The lesson here: honesty doesn’t always mean admitting things onstage that should stay between you and your therapist. Honesty can mean simply embracing all the things that inform your perspective.

photo by Sharilyn Johnson

photo by Sharilyn Johnson

In a further endearing move, before leaving the stage he recited the setlist he’d written on his hand. For the record, the set was Tech, Hymns, Anthems, National Dish, “something that starts with K”… and Thank You. Nice touch.

His improvised moments were inspired. His written jokes were sharp. And the written jokes made to look like improvised moments were seamless and surely detectable only to the most jaded of comedy journalists.

There were a few lines or premises that I have seen variations of elsewhere. Parallel thinking, one always has to assume. One very unique punchline within his bit about unhealthy breakfast food shows up almost verbatim in his friend John Oliver’s Oreo Pizza bit. It happens, though they might want to hold custody negotiations over a pint someday.

Three great punchlines that had me smirking to myself on the subway home: “like an epileptic at an auction”, “I’ve never been kicked out of a restaurant for being too full”, and “they don’t pick 6 numbers, they eliminate 43”. You’ll have to see the show to collect the accompanying setups.

I left the venue wondering if I can make time to see his show again this week, which I think says it all. If you’re in Toronto, you can see Danny nightly through to Sunday, July 19 at the St. Lawrence Centre.

Tickets are available online here:
http://www.hahaha.com/en/show_detail/136/4328/

Full gallery from Tuesday’s show available here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sharilynj/sets/72157621479491462/

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



8 Responses to Review: Danny Bhoy, Just For Laughs Toronto

  1. Peter Cianfarani says:

    Comedians not dependent on character I encourage to step beyond the ‘fourth wall’. The few who can do it effectively (Carlin, Gaffigan (in a manner of speaking – pun intended)) are a real treat to watch. Much like you have said, Sharilyn, they make you feel like you are the only two in a room full of strangers without offending you when they remind you they are addressing everyone.

    I have been following your blog for a while now and, while your enthusiasm for comedy in general is obvious, rarely have I seen you this enamored with an individual comedian. Were we in a school yard, I’d be teasing you … Of course, now I have to re-work my schedule to catch this act before he goes away. Let me know what other gems you find so I can experience it myself, not just read about it here.

  2. David Kendall says:

    I think if the comedian is big enough (Peter’s examples qualify, and Danny Bhoy is getting there, I’ve come across his name a few times lately) he can get away with referring to himself as a comedian. I agree with the “suspension of disbelief” thing, but, really, there’s a difference expecting to hang out with Vanessa Hollingshead, say, as just a “regular gal talking about what’s on her mind” and, say, hanging out with George Carlin or Conan O’Brien, or Bill Cosby as an equal. They may still have the “regular folk” aura about them, but you also know that they can buy and sell your ass (at least the price you paid to see them reminds you … )

  3. David Kendall says:

    … wait a minute, did you say “Anthems”? Me, an anthematologist, missed a set on anthems? Argh!

  4. @Peter – thank you for your comment. Indeed, I am really blown away by Danny, perhaps in part to my relative lack of exposure to him prior to this show. I discovered today that he has a very dedicated fanbase, so clearly I was behind!

    @David – Vanessa reference for the win! I think even with fame, an audience still wants to slip into a world where this is simply a conversation. Logically, everyone is very well aware of the “you give me money – I tell jokes – you laugh – we all go home” transaction. But in the moment, we all imagine it to be more intimate and personal than that.

  5. Jason says:

    Do you remember roughly how long his performance was? I have tickets for Saturday but need to be somewhere after and don’t really want to miss his show. Thanks!

  6. @Jason – He started fairly promptly within a few minutes of 7pm, and was finished by 8:15. Enjoy the show!

  7. Jason says:

    Awesome! Thanks so much!

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