On a day that found so much attention devoted to speeches, industry panels and podcast recordings, it was easy to overlook the actual stand up occurring at Just for Laughs in Montreal. After all, Andy Kindler’s State of the Industry speech and the star-studded awards show, which feted the work of Amy Poehler, Arrested Development honcho Mitch Hurwitz, Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright and others, were unique, newsworthy events. Or at least entertaining diversions and click-bait for comedy websites.
But the core of the fest is the dozens of live shows happening across the city, and the larger, more L.A.-saturated crowds were evident from the start. A 7 p.m. TV recording of the Talk of the Fest show at Club Soda offered a much-improved version from the night before, which had featured Saturday Night Live cast members Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan guiding a raft of mostly mediocre comics in a generic, rah-rah TV atmosphere. Friday’s version, helmed by Comedy Central Roastmaster Jeffrey Ross, was looser, weirder and more varied in tone—and better for it.
It wasn’t all good. After a warm-up set by Nick Turner, whom the crowd seemed to loathe, and a goofy intro by Ross, Toronto comic Rob Pue brought the audience’s IQ down about 20 points while savoring the joys of hitting children. Mercifully, that was followed by fellow Canuck Steve Dylan‘s unadorned observations on boxed wine and middle age. Sharp Denver comic and Grawlix co-creator Adam Cayton-Holland got the medium-warm audience to lean into his bits on smoking weed with father and his grandmother’s gently racist senility. Joe DeRosa‘s intense love of KFC and Australian Steve Hughes‘s uneven quips on political correctness were no match for Jon Steinberg‘s brilliantly laid-back set, which rivaled Cayton-Holland’s for originality and economy. And let’s not even bother with the stale Jewish stereotype duo of Ronna and Beverly.
The 9 p.m. Moshe Kasher show at Theatre Sainte Catherine got a head start from Aparna Nancherla‘s short, sweet jokes, establishing a smart and good-natured tone that Kasher ran with for the next hour or so. His zig-zag thought process was manifested in loose-limbed Elvis poses and myriad kinetic tangents—although he still managed to enthrall the crowd with tales of growing up crazy in Oakland. Bonus points for his hipster Bond-villain outfit, which included cuffed jeans and a white, high-collared “Canadian” jacket.
The Midnight Surprise show at the same theater sported a raunchy and overwhelmingly aggro vibe with host Anthony Cumia of the Opie and Anthony Show. He happily brought up buddies Colin Quinn and Robert Kelly to reinforce the constant (if obviously self-conscious) fuck-yous to the audience. Judah Friedlander‘s essentially “I Am Chuck Norris” act and a fit-looking Jim Norton helped bring it back from the brink of misogynistic collapse. British comic Jimmy Carr offered a razor-edged juxtaposition of buttoned-up Englishness and pedophile jokes, while Marc Maron finished off the adoring crowd with his ruffled neurosis, which included an endearing bit about the mellifluous French-Canadian pronunciation of his name. It was a microcosm of the festival’s breadth and chumminess, as well as its tendency to showcase an embarrassing amount of comics at the top of their game.