MONTREAL — If the Just For Laughs comedy festival is an international hub for the transcendent language of laughter, then Eddie Izzard could well be its regional traffic director, pointing French and English and Malaysian and Moroccan comedians and comedy fans toward a place of universal hilarity. As this year’s host to the festival’s staple United Nations of Comedy Gala, the redoubtable legend of scintillating stand-up (and eye makeup) ushered in an impressive slew of globe-trotting comics, while still making time for his own gut-punching hijinks.
Izzard’s material has always been the place where comedy nerds and history nerds (like yours truly) meet in the middle, and thus Eddie happily obliged the adoring public Thursday night with a solid chunk of Magna Carta and English medieval king-oriented jokes. And there were, of course, a significant number of God-communicating-with-humans bits, which allowed the deft Izzard to slip in a jab at recently deceased British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. (Hint: if there is an afterlife, she’s nowhere near heaven.)
Following Izzard’s reliably hilarious opening were representatives of comedy kingdoms from across the globe, including Jean Paul, a Trinidadian native who, despite his name, doesn’t speak French (and finds it disorienting to be in a city where his name is spoken better by strangers than by him); Ronny Chieng, a Malaysian by-way-of Australia who wants you to remember that his people invented paper; Rove McManus, a slight Australian with more of a Los Angeles style than a down-under thunder ‘tude; Gad Elmaleh, a multi-lingual Moroccan who, this very evening, performed his first ever stand-up gig in English (and killed!). You can learn more about him, as he appeared on the new season of Jerry Seinfeld’s online series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Also performing was Sabrina Jalees, a Canadian lesbian with Muslim parentage, who likened America and Canada to Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez (just try and guess which is which). Look to the right’ that’s a photo she took of her and Izzard at the Gala.
Then there was Trevor Noah, a South African who might have gone to school with Izzard if that whole apartheid unpleasantness hadn’t got in the way (not really, but it was a cute human tragedy joke.) To give you a sense of just how huge Noah is in South Africa, he’s been on the cover of Rolling Stone there. You can listen to Laughspin editor Dylan Gadino interview Noah on this episode of The Laughspin Podcast. Last to perform was JFL keynote speaker Colin Quinn, who repped the United States in typical gruff, abrupt, angry New Yahwker fashion.
Overall, the gala proved a veritable multi-cultural collective of sharp minds and smart mouths. I would be eager to continue following the careers of any of the performers on this bill less familiar to American audiences – particularly Chieng, whose show-stopping bit about helping his mom fix her computer over the phone brought ticket-holders to their feet in a premature ovation. If this is what comedy on an international platform feels like, perhaps I should be getting my passport stamped more often.