MONTREAL — Last night, the 20 New Faces of this year’s Just For Laughs showcased their wares. As is the case every year, it’s one of the highlights of the weeks-long event. Split into two groups, both shows were masterfully hosted by comedy veteran Alonzo Bodden, who was a New Face, himself, about 15 years ago. Extra respect goes to Bodden for successfully dealing with a nine-year-old in the front row during the first show. What? Exactly. Enough exposition. Let’s get to the first group of New Faces!
Brent Morin had the daunting task of kicking off the entire two-show night of New Faces. But he handled it beautifully, as he quickly won the crowd over with his fast-paced delivery and easy-to-digest bits about drinking and sex, which ended with a helpful tip about how to handle premature ejaculation. Hint: singing is involved and Morin has a pretty nice voice, and a handful of good, tidy jokes.
Taking advantage of the well-warmed crowd, UCB-LA regular Joe Wengert took the stage and slowed the pace (and relatively loud volume) Morin had set from the outset. This was not a bad thing. In fact, by the show’s end, Wengert’s set was a standout amongst the 10, in part because of his brilliant opening, wherein he asked the audience if they could identify with his mental state: “Who’s actively just trying to keep their shit together?” Wengert has a strong point of view, and commits beautifully to it, exposing his damaged mind, regularly referencing therapy sessions, highlighted with an especially hilarious/sad mac and cheese-themed social blunder.
San Francisco-bred Emily Heller – who describes her appearance as ‘sexy librarian’ without the sexy – took the stage next, delivering socially conscious material without the nasty righteousness that weighs down so many other comedians’ attempt at critical thought. In short, she’s consistently funny when addressing her role as a feminist, which is enveloped in constant self-admissions about her past and present severe awkwardness.
The human antithesis of Heller, Jermaine Fowler was up next. The New York based comic is part of the revamped, two-episode In Living Color cast (which, by the way, was supposed to air in May, but still has no premiere date). During his brief time onstage, the confident comic was able to blast through an extended gay joke – it seems gay dudes appreciate Fowler’s style and he rather enjoys it – the method his father would use to motivate young Jermaine to keep his grades up (the key is not to become a dick-sucking crackhead) and the way in which his youngest brother was perceived as mentally challenged; the story ends well, replete with brothers’ revenge and a good laugh.
And then there’s David Angelo, the only New Face who donned a suit- a really nice one. But what stood out more was the entire comedic package he gave to the Montreal crowd. Anchored in pristinely written one and few-liners, Angelo also seamlessly incorporates hilariously satisfying misdirections, deft word play and physical (yet tasteful) punctuations throughout. It’s amazing how effective, and memorable a set can become when simple, repeated purposely-awkward mannerisms are employed. In the end, Angelo was the highlight of the night.
James Davis took the stage next and anchored his set with a crowd-pleasing bit about his status in his white friends’ lives— that is, he’s won the “black friend lottery;” all of his white friends have one black friend, and he’s it. “I’m a mild negro,” he explains. “If black guys were sushi rolls, I’d be the California roll.” It’s the type of act that would seemingly fit into a multi-camera pilot for, say, CBS. Can an order be far off? We’ll see.
At this point in the show, jokes steeped in awkwardness (the natural stand-up disposition) hadn’t been seen for three sets. Josh Rabinowitz brought the awkward back, in the form of tales from his childhood – complete with a great piece about an orientation meeting gone horribly awry – and the pitfalls of being a small man with boyish features. “I’m more of a fetish, than a man,” he explains, adding that he’s accepted his sexual fate. “I don’t mind if you settle for me, but I shouldn’t be who you’re shooting for.” Lucky for him, he’s got a wicked sense of humor to make up for whatever real or imagined sexual shortfalls he has.
Pleasantly jarring Jamie Lee followed Rabinowitz, armed with jokes ready for the smallscreen expertly interspersed with darker-side-of-life one-liners, including a hilariously disturbing joke, which plays on the phrase “come from money.” We won’t spoil it; you’ll have to catch Lee live to experience it yourself. The most thematically diverse comic of the evening, Lee mines comedy from both underlining insecurity as well as empowering personal discovery. She’s come a long way since her days working in the press department of Comedy Central.
And speaking of Comedy Central, Lee was followed by Adam Lowitt, who’s the co-executive producer at the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. While competent throughout, his stand-up doesn’t exactly take the chances the groundbreaking show takes. Nonetheless, his observational approach – commonplace themes like being single and all – adds up to super fun, easy-listening comedy.
Los Angeles-based Ron Babcock closed the show—and closed it memorably. It was memorable because, well, he was the only comedian onstage that night to wow the audience via devil stick shenanigans— with multiple displays, even. Why, you ask? It was all part of the common theme of the night—awkwardness. To explain all too clearly the biggest reason he was relegated to the uncool club as a youngster, he just had to show and not tell. And yeah, he is a pretty badass devil-sticksman. Though I would’ve liked to see less props and more jokes – like his hilarious and even touching story about a chance meeting on the subway with a pretty gal – the crowd embraced shtick and jokes just the same.