MONTREAL – Now in its 31st yeah, Montreal’s world famous Just For Laughs comedy festival is itself more a seasoned veteran than a fresh new face, but that doesn’t exclude a hopeful new crop of untested comic talents from the fest’s decidedly robust lineup. Each and every year, the “New Faces” show injects a bit of unfamiliar variance into a roster of the already established comedy elite, and while casual stand-up fans may not yet be acquainted with these new names (or, indeed, faces), the show always adds an alluring element of the unknown to an already exciting week.
So who are 2013’s New Faces, and what should we expect to see from them? Perhaps emcee Neal Brennan put it most succinctly at the end of the first round: “Nobody bombed, and everyone was cast-able.” More than likely, you can safely expect the co-creator of Chappelle’s Show to know a thing or two about “castability.” (New faces deserve new vocabularies, after all.)
Now let’s talk fresh stand-up.
Kicking off the business of busting guts in the opening set was Sean Donnelly, a schlubby-but-charming trucker type who seems to have found the previously undiscovered balance between Larry the Cable Guy’s physique and Gilbert Gottfried’s vocals. (Minus the annoyance factor, on the latter comparison.) A New Yorker who “looks like a sports guy” but really isn’t, Donnelly cracked wise on his appearance, his marriage, and his sex life. Ladies, take note: don’t expect any Christian Grey-type shenanigans from Donnelly between the sheets, but he is well adept at “Angela’s Ashes” sex.
Following Donnelly was Andrew Santino, a copper-topped Chicagoan whose baseball-capped head made for a hilarious opening defense mechanism bit. “This is the hair god decided to give me,” Santino lamented. “You see why I have to wear this hat.” He went on to expound the merits of explaining to strangers (old lady strangers, in specific) that no, in fact, he didn’t choose to dye his coif the color of an overripe carrot. In Santino’s own words, there’s no “never get pussy-orange” selection in the hair dye aisle. (Might prove a popular cosmetic with the abstinence only crowd, though.) You’ll be able to see more of Santino on ABC’s new series Mixology.
My first real belly-laugh of the evening came courtesy of Aparna Nancherla, whose delicate, sweet appearance belied nothing of her savage wit and snark. Sporting something of a Sarah Vowell-esque speaking style, Nancherla waxed hysterical on the concept of a personal pizza (“Any pizza can be personal if you cry while eating it”), the time she witnessed a black guy with a mohawk complimenting a white guy with a mohawk on the street (she made a wish after the fact), and finding a used condom on top of a pile of dog shit. This phenomenon is something Nancherla likes to call “too much information, or perhaps not enough.” Comedy nerds may recognize Nancherla from Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, on which she’s a staff writer and stellar onscreen asset.
Brooklyn-based Pete Davidson — a self-described white kid who looks “kind of miscellaneous” — took the stage next – In his easy, conversational style, Davidson, a recent college drop-out, intimated that he felt compelled to vote for Obama in the last election because he suspected Mitt Romney of wanting to topple Gotham City. And get this: unless he was being shrewdly hyperbolic, he couldn’t vote in the 2008 election on account of his being in the eighth grade at the time. How’s that for a brand spankin’ new face?
The nerdy exterior and fast-paced one-liners of Kevin Christy graced the mic after Davidson, and here the audience was taken into a world of hunting rich people for food and MC Hammer-brand hammers. What is the hammer all about, anyway? According to Christy, it’s not a very exciting product… so why not make things a bit more interesting by adding some pouffy pants patented marketing? In fact, the rapper that was and the superstar comedian who will be might have more in common than household appliances; throughout the course of his set, Christy put me in mind of an angry preacher, whose quick and caustic cadence certainly didn’t lack for high-energy appeal.
By far the most bizarre set of the evening belonged to Rick Glassman, a stream-of-consciousness comedian who, perhaps more than anyone else, challenged the audience by pushing them outside the normal bounds of the setup-punch line formula. With a harried delivery and tendency toward inconsistent topic-hopping, Glassman is no doubt a niche comedian, but likely one who would never leave fans in want of comedy eccentricities. Indeed, while his offbeat performance may not sate the desires of more traditional comedy fans, Glassman certainly inserted some delightful curiosity to the mix, and I would expect him to embark on a Kaufman-like career. (Though hopefully without the cancer part.)
If any ticket holders were holding out hope, in addition to tickets, of being temporarily transported into the world of strip club DJs, Josh Adam Meyers stepped onstage just in the nick of time. A relentless and talented beat boxer, Meyers has the self-admitted voice of a gentleman’s club announcer, and an even more pronounced gift for mimicking outlandish musical styles with nothing but a microphone and his vocal chords. “What music do Canadians have sex to? Nickelback?” Meyers posited, before launching into a throaty rendition of some ungodly megamix of the aforementioned sludge rock Canucks. Who cares what the real lyrics are: give me Meyers’ mumbly but enthusiastic take on those terrible tunes any day of the week.
Brooks Wheelan took hold of the mic immediately after Meyers, and successfully managed to jar audience members into attentiveness in under 15 seconds. How? Well, his dad once killed a possum with a hammer. And that’s why Wheelan became a comedian– to share that story someday. I mean, wouldn’t you? No word on whether the hammer in question was an MC Hammer-hammer, but perhaps Wheelan and Kevin Christy will get the chance to rap (ahem) between sets about this revolutionary marketing-cum-pest control product idea.
She may have not made the cut for a commercial audition with Joe Pesci (but at least Pesci knows who she is now!) but Alice Wetterlund is probably going to be a comedy force to be reckoned with, if fate plays things fairly. Her quip about pink breast cancer awareness insignias among professional football players had more than a few attendees in stitches (hint: Wetterlund finds it curious that so many rapists might care about the plight of breast cancer victims), and her assessment of a three-way with her husband readily brought us into the logistical nightmare of her menage-marital bedroom adventures. You can catch Wetterlund on MTV’s hit series Girl Code.
Any Facebook hate group moderators out there might have a snarky mole in the form of Sam Morril, a Jew who aspires to join said hate group on the premise of dropping subtle hints about his ethnic identity throughout the course of his membership. “You know what these burning torches we’re carrying remind me of? The candles on the Menorah,” Morril quipped. And while we’re on the subject of beating bigots at their own game, Morril also thinks that gays should have their own cuisine. Because, really, what could break down the irrational barriers of hatred more efficiently than the presence of minority-sponsored food? Just look at what this strategy has done for the Italians.
Closing out the first round of newbies was the striking Derek Gaines, a 28-year-old black man who has managed to father zero children – and for this accomplishment, Gaines says, he should be awarded his own float in a parade. But it’s not all fun and games for Gaines’s sex life (in this instance, games = pulling out): for example, have you ever tried having sex on a rapidly deflating air mattress? Well, fortunately, Gaines has tested out this method of fornication, and it does not come recommended. Just in case you were ever the slightest bit tempted to try.