MONTREAL – The New Faces of Comedy, a beloved Just For Laughs tradition, is perhaps one of the most highly anticipated showcases to grace the Montreal mega-comedy festival each and every year. More than giving under-the-radar comedians a chance to shine among more established peers, the New Faces lineup also affords fans of comedy the opportunity to make the acquaintance of stand-up performers they might otherwise never have encountered. Sure, most people attend JFL for the marquee headliners, but in my opinion, its the surprise favorites that make this fest so remarkable. And that’s where the New Faces come in. So, without further adieu, let’s meet this year’s breakout stars of group two of the New Faces. Stay tuned for a review of group one.
Group two kicked off with Hasan Minhaj, who already has some significant name recognition in his own right. Minhaj used most of his stage time to recount an unexpected brush with Michael Jordan. Minhaj set the scene expertly– here he was, clad head to toe in Jordan apparel, ready to confront his hero face to face. Audiences even got treated to a little rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly” – as you might expect, this is what was playing in his head while the air man strolled by. [Ed. note: We've been covering Hasan for years because we're awesome: Hasan interview from 2011; and one from 2009.]
Following Minhaj was Michelle Wolf, (pictured) who volleyed off of Minhaj’s Jordan worship with one hilariously ad-libbed line: “Michael Jordan has been on the Wheaties box eight times, which is more times than anyone has ever had Wheaties.” The rest of Wolf’s set hit every note just right, with quips on everything from the Kennedy assassination (“everybody remembers where they were, but nobody ever says ‘I was masturbating on the couch’”) to her lamentably single state. Bold, brassy, and hilarious, Wolf ended up being one of my favorites, and will certainly be a new face to watch closely.
Ryan O’Flanagan graced the stage third, and kept the evening’s momentum going strong with an affable, everyman charm. For his set, O’Flanagan riffed on the dangers of Mountain Dew (memo to guys: it may lower your sperm count), as well as his own sad pube situation (turns out, after getting his own place, his former roommates weren’t actually the ones clogging up the shower drain every morning.) Given the quality and caliber of his humor, it’s not hard to picture O’Flanagan as a future beleaguered dad on America’s next favorite sitcom.
Following O’Flanagan was Monroe Martin, who turned the tenor of the evening into something a bit more personal with material on his background as a foster kid. “The idea behind foster families is that you take a kid from a home with abuse, molestation, and neglect, and put them in another home with all the exact same stuff,” he quipped, to big laughs. Martin even veered off into blood familial territory by recounting how his mom used to make him shoplift things for her, as in, “We’re going to play a game called ‘Hold this.’” If you’ve been paying attention to the new season of Last Comic Standing, you’ll recognize Martin as one of the finalists. He was booted during last week’s episode but only after battling comedian Joe Machi in two unsecheduled rounds of joke slinging.
The next performer, Jesse Elias, gave arguably the most unusual, if downright weird set. Looking down at his feet the entire time, Elias perfectly affected the awkward, nerdcore comedic voice that so often resonates with fans of indie comedy. “My father always said, Jesse, you can be successful if you always make eye contact. You see how that’s working out,” he quipped, to uproarious laughter. Given the caliber of his mumbly but decidedly hilarious performance, we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Elias, even if he’s not returning the gaze.
As Justine Marino took the stage, the first words out of her mouth attuned the audience to her single status. Oh, and donuts. The girl loves her donuts. “If I’m going to be a stereotype, might as well go all the way with it,” she mused, before ending things on the evening’s only abortion joke. (Hey, it was bound to stray into controversial territory at some point, right?) Perhaps the best part of Marino’s set was her scrupulous honesty about her single status, and the stigma surrounding the presence of an unattached female who’s not afraid to talk about it. We’re betting she’ll be beating back offers in just a short amount of time.
Clad in a laser-eyed cat shirt (exactly as cool as it sounds, by the way), Jake Weisman took over mic duty next, and delivered a few cool lines about Michael Sam doing for the NFL what Jackie Robinson did for baseball – “now it’s mostly minority players. Maybe in a few years the NFL will be completely gay.” You mean all that butt slapping on the field has been purely accidental this whole time? Leave it to the guy in the laser-eyed cat shirt to call out the not-so-obvious and twist it into something hilarious and profound.
Whitmer Thomas was responsible for perhaps the night’s most unexpected moment – bringing Wanda Sykes into the New Faces show. Well, not exactly Miss Wanda, though a surprise appearance from her would have been pretty killer. Rather, Thomas professed his passion for creating characters and doing impersonations, and thusly obliged the intrigued audience by breaking into an impeccable impression of Sykes’ instantly recognizable drawl. Coupled with his Blink-182 sendup, millennials may just have found their man for the foreseeable comic future.
If you’ve ever found yourself fantasizing about restraining order sex – that is, sex with a person who has taken out legal grounds against you – then Drew Michael is the kind of comic who speaks your language. But even more than that, Michael’s performance on the New Faces stage pushed and challenged the audience with a long-form, meandering joke, in which Michael adopted the personality of a congressman waxing idiotic about infrastructure dismantling. The piece definitely pushed audience members to follow Michael along his unconventional train of thought, but ultimately proved worth it. Blessed be the comic who can deviate so easily from the setup-punch line formula to great effect. We also highly recommend you pick up Michael’s album Lovely.
Eliza Skinner brought a very strong energy to the stage, even as she was discussing encounters with her ex-fiance and the woes of the dating game. “As soon as I had that ring on, it was like no, fire,” she opined, drawing huge laughs. Also notable from Skinner’s set was her bit on talking with animals. For the record, it would be her preferred super power of choice, even if the conversations were likely to only revolve around getting fed. (But really, who wouldn’t want to discuss that at length?)
Last up was Matteo Lane, who opened with an operatic vocal warm up and easily segued into the embracing of his own proud gayness. Michael Jordan again popped into the evening’s festivities, as Lane noted, from a family home movie, “someone said, Michael Jordan rules, to which my older brother, then nine, responded, if anyone rules, it’s Janet Jackson.” Two gays in one family can be unusual, but one uproarious comedian is enough to leave any parents exceptionally proud. We hope to keep seeing more of Matteo, even if Starbucks baristas can’t manage to get his name just right. (It’s Matteo, not Potato.)