One night, two very different solo stand-up gigs, laughs beyond counting. It’s a good time of year to be in Montreal.
First up: the Off-JFL show by American Al Madrigal, best known as a Daily Show with Jon Stewart correspondent, but also more recently as Andy on new sitcom About A Boy. Funny as he is on television, Madrigal is at his best live and in long form – the longer the better, because this guy is a born raconteur. His hour on stage was a seamless series of anecdotes that the audience absolutely lapped up, because he somehow pulled off that rare combination of hilarity and believability.
The stories appear to be genuine episodes from his life, starting with an extraordinary encounter with a Disney princess who likes asking men to show her their ‘package’ (not the word used, obviously) when off-duty. Comedy gold, which Madrigal vigorously mined in the moment, then polished to an irresistible shine on stage.
The anecdotes continued. A children’s party in LA, where the Latino kids and the coddled offspring of “hippy moms” fight an uneven battle over a copyright-evading “SpongeTom SquarePants” piñata. Madrigal taking cruel and unusual revenge on his daughter’s unaccommodating dance teacher, or him finding ingeniously indirect ways to complain to his neighbours.
Each revealed a little of the comedian’s background and personality: a third-generation American who speaks little Spanish (but is nevertheless booked as the Mexican comedian for ethnic shows), he sometimes can’t stop anger overwhelming his usual easy-going, if charmingly cynical, demeanour.
Madrigal’s cynicism was ablaze when he took a break from those compelling slices of life to read out, in a suitably whiny voice, a pompously negative Yelp bar review. This prompted a comment from a front-rower with whom Madrigal had already had some good-natured banter, but this time the comic’s response generated the biggest laughs of the night (which is saying something). A guy who can tell well-crafted, very funny stories, but also raise the roof on the fly? Oh, he’s good.
I then headed to the Jimmy Carr gig via Just for Laughs’ pedestrian-only precinct around Place des Arts, where performance artists mingled with the happy crowd: a nun toting a cigarette and hip flask; a dwarf’s take on New York’s Naked Cowboy; one of those horses that require the human at the rear to nuzzle their buddy’s butt. Sometimes it really does pay to be weird (or maybe some folks just take advantage of JFL to live out their fantasies).
Englishman Jimmy Carr is notorious for material that is crude, even obscene, but it’s delivered with such class that he keeps winning awards, performing for British royalty and getting invited back to Just for Laughs. His style of humour is all about seeing how far he can mess with his audience’s moral compass, particularly on matters sexual. So at opening night of his new hour-long show, Gagging Order, there seemed to be a couple of walk-outs, but many more people clearly knew and loved Carr’s approach.
The scandalous gags flowed at a furious pace, from a few sentences to one-liners so sharp and shocking that the audience sometimes took a moment to decide whether it was appropriate to laugh. For a brief period the jokes were accompanied by projected cartoon illustrations; this was probably just for variety’s sake, as Carr can create (disturbingly) vivid images in the mind with words alone.
The show works (at least for those who aren’t offended) because it’s a very carefully honed performance: no one else does filthy stand-up with so much poise and precision. It also works because Carr is a master of audience interaction. Numerous brave souls responded to the questions he put, both to individuals and the collective, even after it became clear that he would always draw blood.
There were also plenty of random comments shouted out, though nothing really qualified as heckling – even when Carr announced open season on heckling toward the end of the show. Why bother with a clever heckle when anything fired at him (**** the Queen! I love you! What stops you from getting an erection?) saw Carr’s brilliant, indecent mind uncoil, and either strike like a viper, or mesmerize with a more elaborate, but equally deadly put-down.
Jimmy Carr’s Gagging Order is definitely not a show for everyone. On opening night there may have been some individuals silently squirming or fuming, but everyone else got as comfortable as possible in this PC-free zone, and laughed loud and often.
Al Madrigal plays Cabaret Underworld until July 26. Jimmy Carr is at L’Astral on July 23 and Cinquième Salle, Place des Arts, on July 25. More information and tickets at www.hahaha.com.
Patricia Maunder is a Montreal-based writer, editor and comedy fiend
Photo care of AlMadrigal.com