MONTREAL — Maybe I’m sick and twisted or just simply near laugh-impenetrable because of the sheer number of live comedy shows, albums, specials, books and DVDs I consume throughout the year, but a well-written suicide joke delivered at the start of your set at the start of a showcase event in a room full of industry will likely always endear me to a comic. Such is the case with Canadian-bred, Los Angeles-based Will Weldon, who kicked off the late showing of New Faces Wednesday night. Spanning topics of racism, transgendered folks, human interaction – Americans are “just the friendliest bunch of pricks on the planet” – Weldon kept the pace quick and the energy high without succumbing to shtick. And despite his opening placement on the show, he was a clear highlight even after nine other comics slung jokes.
So that means Adam Cayton-Holland had some work to do. The comic had another challenge: he needed to live up to the hype. For the last year or so Cayton-Holland has been building a name for himself, becoming one of a few burgeoning acts from a rapidly increasing Denver comedy scene, not to mention Esquire just included him on a list of comics to watch. By set’s end, it was clear Cayton-Holland deserves the recognition he’s gotten. From chatting about his Southern upbringing (he was raised half racist) likening Dunkin Donuts coffee to “a cup of adult onset diabetes” to deconstructing some of the worst (and best) marketing ploys to relating a short story about a gypsy woman who wished death upon him, Cayton-Holland’s perfectly-paced, expertly-written set was a clear highlight of this New Faces group.
New York comic Thomas Dale followed, and immediately cranked up the energy level from the stage. Sounding a lot like Snagglepuss (not necessarily a bad thing), the Italian-American Dale offered some thankfully refreshingly novel observations about his culture—no jokes about Jersey Shore or mobsters, but rather some great stuff about his family’s superstitions. For instance, did you know that some old-school Italians don’t kill moths in their house because they believe they’re dead relatives reincarnated? I’m Italian, and didn’t know it. Dale, who says he knew he was gay by the time he was nine, also offers parents a quick lesson on how tell if their kids are gay at a young age. Educational and fun all around.
The New Faces showcase obviously is a big deal for the comics involved, seeing as the audience is teeming with industry. But what’s more important than trying to gain the respect of producers and network executives, is already having the respect of comedians. And Mike Drucker, who took the stage next, has that in Patton Oswalt, for whom he regularly opens. And it’s clear why. Drucker has the ability to combine so many pieces of him while still maintaining continuity. He’s simultaneously a nerd, an excellent thinker and really mean in the best possible way. He won me over immediately when he told the crowd that when young, he once drew a picture of a jellyfish because if you have no nervous system, you can’t be sad.
The incredibly likable Calise Hawkins followed up, offering the crowd some well-worn observations on dating— especially as a young mom to a 5-year-old. Her shining moment, however, was a story about an ex boyfriend who called her a whore, which she explains is a word that was created to scare women, the same way “boogie man” was an invention to scare children into behaving properly. “Everyone’s a whore,” she says. “Everyone is fucking.”
Chicago comic Sean Flannery, who I got to see at Gilda’s Laughfest in Grand Rapids earlier this year, followed Hawkins well. Flannery (along with fellow New Face’rs Jared Logan and Mike Burns) was part of the famed Blerds comedy collective, who helped push the likes of T.J. Miller, Kumail Nanjiani and Kyle Kinane into the spotlight). His delivery is that of a guy on his second or third pint—that is, still pretty sober but aggressively telling you jokes (really good ones). And it makes sense, since most of his set revolved around drinking, which was anchored by an extended piece about his belief that beer commercials are some of the greatest works of fiction you’ll ever see. To prove his point, he gifted the audience with a hilarious story about he and his longtime friend getting hammered and ending up in a fist fight over whether cats were all about romance or if they just fucked. Well done.
Dominic Dierkes was up next, bringing with him an impressive pedigree, as one third of Derrick Comedy, the NYU video sketch group, of which Community star Donald Glover was also a member. By the end of his set, he proved he’s a competent stand-up, consistently pulling laughs from the audience on topics as varied as the Constitution, useless road signs (Falling Rocks!?), horrible robot ideas and more.
North Carolina-bred, New York-based The Lucas Brothers (Keith and Kenny), an identical twin comedy team who appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in April, followed up Dierkes. They introduced novelty to the showcase not only by being twins, but also by delivering their jokes at a pace reserved for instructing a 3-year-old and at a volume reserved for the library. These guys make Todd Barry look like Dane Cook. Delivery aside, the few jokes they did tell were well written and fairly funny. During a few jokes, it seemed like they weren’t sure who was supposed to talk next. And they also sound exactly the same, but that hasn’t hurt the Sklar Brothers’ tremendous success. Maybe there’s an identical twins tour in the future.
The aforementioned Mike Burns followed up the decidedly low, low-key brothers with a high energy set filled with personal reflections about his life (some time was spent talking about his teacher parents who only made $12,000 a year) as well as some absurdist comedy, highlighted by a reading of his OkCupid profile, which has become a staple in his act. The over-macho character he creates on his dating profile is eerily similar and just as hilarious as the Twitter feed @DadBoner (nearly 100,000 followers), which is believed to be Burns’ creation.
And, finally, the daunting task of closing out the show was commissioned to the also aforementioned Jared Logan, who is exactly the person you want closing out a show. Raised in West Virginia, comedy bred in Chicago and based in New York, Logan has the ability to harness his impossibly high-energy routine without falling into the ugly hands of hackdom. Logan’s set covered everything from his native state’s horrible take on the English language (Y’uns? Ugh.), how is dad works at Wal-Mart (and fuck you if you don’t like it) and how it seems the more poor you are, the more God punishes you and then you love God even more. Logan also spent time explaining how veterinarians have turned their backs on humans; there was a lot of vitriol there. Logan left the audience happy, and presumably filled with a little bit of his energy.
Check out our review of the first New Faces group here.