It’s that time of year again. Mysterious gags start appearing across St. Laurent, tricking strangers into receiving faux electric zaps or witnessing fake bike accidents. The plush, green mascot, Alfred, appears in dollar store aisles and peeks out from the windows of Plateau boutiques. And, as Montrealers settle into their regular routines of summer jobs and cautious terrace brunches, a wave of comedians flood into the city, bringing with them an array of fresh, comedic talent we’ve been missing all year .
Just For Laughs 2021: Chuckling From a Distance
This year, COVID-19 added its own unique set of challenges to the usual lineup of events and performances. Vaccines are rolling out, and restrictions are slowly being lifted across the province. And, as Montrealers cautiously creep back into their regular routines, the Just For Laughs festival pivoted to a hybrid model for 2021. Some events, like the New Faces Comedy night, remained in person, albeit with adjustments such as socially distanced seating and a mask requirement for all audience members. Other shows, such as the Just For Laughs Awards Show, moved totally online, where the general public can stream the entire show for free from the comfort of their living rooms.
This hybrid model acted as a slow, organic return to the pleasures of live performances. Being able to see fresh talents perform in a physical space onstage after months of YouTube live-streaming was a breath of fresh air. What’s more, the ability to also stream performances from afar — should an audience member prefer to watch on their own time, or if they aren’t yet ready for the physical intensity of in-person events — was an equally welcome accommodation.
A Diversity of Perspectives During New Faces Canada
The Bull & Bear attended was New Faces: Canada, which featured ten up-and-coming Canadian comedians. Dave Merheje acted as host, revving the crowd up with his energetic presence and spot-on observational comedy. The show did an excellent job of highlighting the wide range of comedic talent this country has to offer.
Travis Lindsay started off the showcase and set the bar high for the rest of the night. His cleverly constructed jokes and self-referential humour was well balanced with his calm demeanor. “This is what a midlife crisis looks like,” said Al Val as they delved into their experiences as a genderfluid person. The second they walked onto the stage, they captivated the audience with her vibrant and charismatic personality. The casual way in which the comedian poked fun at themselves made it easy to laugh alongside their performance.
Meg Mackay’s flamboyant energy filled the room, and she had the audience hanging on to every single word. Through her enrapturing storytelling, she explored her queer and Indigenous identity in a way that expertly complemented with her physical comedy.
Harrison Weinreb utilized elements that are typically a sign of a bad comedian, such as long pauses and poorly conceived jokes, but he did so in a way that made it clear that it was purposeful. While not everyone has the talent to pull off his particular, self-aware style of comedy, Weinreb was smashingly successful.
The night finished strong with Salma Hindy, who uses comedy to help dismantle stereotypes about Muslim women. Her self-deprecating humour and scathing one-liners had the crowd in an uproar, as she discussed her experiences wearing a Hijab and being raised by immigrant parents. Overall, New Faces: Canada introduced audience members to a diverse selection of comedians to add to their entertainment roster.
A Jam-Packed Weekend of Spectacular Shows
Beyond the New Faces: Canada event, this year’s Just For Laughs festival featured perspectives that are underrepresented on our comedy stages. Kyle Brownrigg had audience members in stitches sharing anecdotes about his Irish boyfriend. His set covered the constantly expanding LGBTQ+ alphabet, as well as the pressures of being an out, gay man in the twenty-first century. Equally impressive was the follow-up act, Paul Rabliauskas, who discussed his experiences as a member of the Poplar First Nations with bold, audacious humour.
Arguably, no other comic of the festival stood out more than Canadian Comedy Award winner DeAnne Smith. Perhaps known best for their viral YouTube video “Straight Men, Step Your Game Up,” Smith’s set was a half-hour whirlwind of rapid-fire jokes about anxiety, therapy, and their several ex-girlfriends (who were allegedly among the audience members). Any audience member could relate to Smith’s stories of sexual frustration and painful codependence, and one could easily feel roped in by the comedian’s frenetic energy and sharp, sardonic wordplay.
The Comics of the Evening Keep Us Wanting More
There’s something rejuvenating about being in a physical space filled with laughter. Along with that energy is a sense of connection with those around you as everyone lets go of their worries for a brief moment. This year, Just For Laughs was able to bring some of that feeling back with their hybrid model. The festival also served as a reminder of the importance of supporting comedians from underrepresented backgrounds. There’s so much more out there than just the identities who one normally sees depicted on Netflix specials.
*A selection of the Just For Laughs shows are available for free on their website, hahaha.com, until August 31st.*