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Published on July 26th, 2013 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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Just For Laughs Dispatch #1: Talk of the Fest & Bo Burnham

Booze, poutine, and comedy: recipe for joyful Montreal debauchery. The 2013 edition of Just For Laughs is heading into its final – and biggest – weekend, and the ComedyPRO conference portion kicked off Thursday afternoon. This is what’s known as the “thick of it”.

The biggest buzz throughout the festival is Dave Chappelle‘s sold-out run of shows. Not a single comp is being given out for those shows, even for the exclusive “Express” or all-access laminate-holders. Reviews on the street (literally – it’s everyone’s favourite rue Ste-Catherine eavesdropping topic) have been mixed. Wednesday was a meandering mess, Thursday was great… or was it the other way around?

The Hyatt bar felt uncharacteristically packed Thursday night, maybe because Comedy Central was picking up the tab for the booze. Yup, $12 pints being groused about on Twitter? A distant memory, at least for a night. The bar was wide open until the wee hours (so we hear… *cough*), and at 10:00 a.m., the Hyatt hallways were still heavily decorated with festival-branded “do not disturb” signs.

Talk of the Fest

Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan and Taran Killam – both sporting hiatus beards – hosted this filmed-for-television show at Club Soda. The premise of their opening bit was that they’d filmed a trailer for the show, but the projector was “broken”. They could only narrate over the audio, and act out the over-the-top star-studded action sequences that they swore were included. It could have been shorter and tighter (and perhaps more rehearsed), but a few edits will make it perfectly tv-worthy. The duo was at their best, naturally, when they were able to improvise. Killam stumbled over a piece of teleprompter text, finally giving up and instructing the audience to turn around and say it along with him. Just as fun: him sheepishly returning to the stage and having to re-do it the proper way, because the producers were having none of it.

Moynihan’s Weekend Update character Anthony Crispino (the second-hand news guy) made an appearance to talk about how singer Anne Murray won the singles tournament at Wimbledon, and how they’re building a crack pipe from Alberta to Texas.

But the highlight was the live version of SNL’s recurring Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy tour trailer. Moynihan played Slappy Pappy throughout the bit, heightening the ridiculousness each time and culminating in a hilarious breakdancing attempt. Killam came on and off as different characters each time, such as Barry the Plumbing Gentleman, and Stewy “My Daughter’s A Dick” K.C. The most devastatingly funny were “Phil Bricks”, based on Bill Hicks; and an Andy Kindler clone with the catchphrase “worse than Hitler”. But with a $50 ticket, the show didn’t attract a lot of hardcore comedy nerds, so the final two went mostly unappreciated by the early show’s mainstream audience (hmm, that’s rather meta, no?).

One of last year’s New Faces, Josh Rabinowitz, had a great set about being awkward and how cool people are “gentrifying” the definition of the word. Almost to prove his premise, he didn’t seem entirely sure how to handle his multiple applause breaks, and left the stage after the one for his closer had died down (again, another easy editing fix for tv). The more suave Darrin Rose told some jaw-dropping stories about his surprisingly bad-ass mom (I’d definitely hang out with her). Fahim Anwar had success with the rather risky move of opening with material about Montreal’s bilingualism (really, we’ve all heard it), and followed with a hilarious premise about how the sperm’s journey would make a great reality show. Todd Barry shared the joys of Yelp reviews (“if you see the words ‘birthday party’, it’s gonna be a good one”), and Mark Normand wished relationships could be consolidated like television series DVD box sets (reads strange, but he’s definitely on to something). Charming New Zealand comic Cal Wilson called the natural beauty of her country “Canada’s greatest hits”, and covered an impressive amount of ground, from visiting India to bathing suit shopping. Brent Morin started slow with his own bilingualism bit (again, this is risky), but went on to have the strongest set of the night with his high-energy illustrations of socially awkward scenarios. Unlisted on the official schedule (someone please help me out with the name that looks like “Jason Collins” in my scribble) did well with tales of being a dad to two adult boys, and managed to keep the crowd on his side even with a borderline-uncomfortable bit about “gay accents”.

Bo Burnham: what.

This can’t be stressed enough: see this show if you can. Burnham is one those comics who many would say they “like”, but his new solo show will put fence-sitters firmly in the “fan” category. Heavily-produced (a good thing) with perfectly-time audio and lighting cues, Burnham doesn’t simply do an hour of material. He performs a one-man three-ring comedy circus, bouncing from songs, to poems, to stories, to odd little pre-recorded narrated bits that must be seen to be appreciated. The theme of show business and the artist’s struggle runs throughout (similar in tone to his popular Art is Dead song), and he twists and turns the format around at breakneck speed. It’s deeply meta, and even the meta gets meta. Total perfection. And the dude’s still just 22 (“what.” indeed).

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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.



One Response to Just For Laughs Dispatch #1: Talk of the Fest & Bo Burnham

  1. Mike Hurlbert says:

    Bang on about Burnham! He killed it at Amp’d in 2011 – I’d see him again in a flash! That’d be so worth it! Glad you liked him, and thanks for writing!!

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