Being named one of Just for Laugh’s Montreal’s New Faces of Comedy means a developing talent has arrived. After years of hard work they’re welcomed into the professional-standup family. There’s no question that they will receive attention, offers of work and more than a few drinks bought for them at the Hyatt bar. The achievement is solidified before they even take the stage at the Place des Arts complex’s Cinquième Salle. The only thing left for them to do is deliver a memorable performance for the 350 industry members in attendance.
“Memorable” is the key word there. A New Face can get laughs in all the right places, have a solid set, and still not stand out from the herd. That’s just what happens when there are 22 contenders divided into two shows, which equals approximately three solid hours of concentrated analysis. But if they can set themselves apart as unique, they are now not merely official comedians; they take the active lead in determining exactly where they’ll be going from here.
Among the evening’s highlights:
- Despite an awful introduction by host Neal Brennan asking, “You guys ready for a lady?”, Aparna Nancherla took a slow, steady, smart route that emphasized both external minimalism and economy of words. Seeing a pile of dog poop topped with a used condom inspired her to invent a new game called “Too Much Information…Or Not Enough?” before proving she’s as clever with one-liners (“Any pizza can be a personal one if you cry when you eat it,”) as she is inventing entirely new genres of material, in this particular case that of “fruit jokes.”
- In a single career-making set, Rick Glassman let any pretense of joke-making drop in favor of absurdism, character work and dizzying wordplay. As a performance piece, it fell somewhere between Moshe Kasher and Brent Weinbach on the scale of out-there genius. And if it sounds difficult to describe, it’s even harder to forget the experience.
- Workhorse Sam Morril provided a prime example of taking age-old concepts and adding a modern, highly personal touch, dropping hints regarding his own Jewishness to fellow members of a hypothetical hate group and suggesting gays need their “own food” as a stepping stone to wider acceptance. (“Want to order in some gay?” “That stuff tears my ass apart.”) He even related the real-life incident in which he was accused of perpetuating “rape culture,” proving a focused, fully-formed comedic personality such as his can turn even the most sobering personal event into accessible entertainment.
- Based on his sample set, Byron Bowers spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about two particular things: the notion of achieving “greatness,” and what would happen when the few black students attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry took to flying on their broomsticks. Far more than urban comedy with a spin, this is a versatile comic who runs the gamut from pensive to goofy with magnetism and ease.
- The highly castable Ian Karmel began by taking umbrage with both his name and girth, suggesting that perhaps “Shlomo Puddingtits” or the concise, enigmatic “Ham Hock” might better suffice. High energy, impressive theatricality and an idiosyncratic eye meant even as out-there a bit as H. P. Lovecraft describing a Juicy Lucy cheeseburger can seem surprisingly normal.
- Bronx native Gina Brillon came across as the most genuine of the New Faces, ultimately engaging the audience beyond simple vocal reaction to actually lean in and listen to her experiences, fully absorbing the picture she painted of her particular corner of the world. Never resorting to over-the top parody or outright condemnation, Brillion is the writer Anjelah Johnson only wishes she could be.
- Responding to Esther Povitsky’s train wreck of a set proving that self-deprecation and vanity aren’t mutually exclusive, a cool, calm and collected Mark Normand quipped “I have to stop hitting on her,” before ruing Google’s knack for enabling targeted Facebook advertising. Thus, he now types in “Spicy Latinas…for a friend.” Moreover, he managed to seamlessly integrate highly original gay, racial and “slut” material as an overall message of positivity and empowerment.