Now that the Charter of Values’ divisiveness seems to be behind us, it’s time for the great multicultural city of Montreal to relax and have a chuckle about our differences. The return of Just for Laughs’ Ethnic Show is a good forum for such comic relief, if you don’t mind the fact that all the comics are American (with the exception of a Montrealer now based in Los Angeles).
That minor disappointment aside, The Ethnic Show: Ethnical Difficulties is a hoot. A two-hour hoot (with 15-minute intermission) that feels a whole lot shorter – time flies when you’re having fun.
Iranian-American Maz Jobrani returns as host. On opening night he quickly had the audience in a positive mood thanks to his energy and good-natured jokes about various nations, as he riffed on the World Cup and sought out different nationalities in the audience.
The first of five stand-ups on the program was Paul Varghese, whose parents are from India. Coming across like a sharply dressed, very at-ease nerd, he focused on how the same scenario is perceived differently depending on whether the protagonist is white, brown or black. That old saying that comedy is funniest when it’s true certainly applied here. A white person adopts a baby of a different race: that’s interpreted as rescue, said Varghese. If he adopts a white baby, that’s abduction. A classy, understated set that was hilariously powered by truth.
Next up: the night’s expat Canadian, Angelo Tsarouchas. Growing up Greek in Montreal was only part of his routine. Most of it was stand-up’s meat and potatoes (sex, and the opposite sex), presented in that angry-white-guy style that often works well because it feels real but non-threatening. Tsarouchas’ biggest laugh, however, was about this ‘innocent’ Canadian finding himself in a dangerous LA neighbourhood. His exit strategy? Aggressively talking up how he was from Park Ex. The show’s only taste of Montreal, and the audience lapped it up.
Italian-American Mike Marino’s set was not so much a series of gags about his ethnicity as a spoof of it. His accent, gestures, the very masculine, mobster-ish material all roared ‘Jersey boy,’ and the audience roared with laughter in response. The routine entered a Starbucks, where this wiseguy’s masculinity was threatened. Suddenly, Marino was transformed into an effeminate man, nailing the character with the first word: latte. This schtick was so good it had me wondering how real the Jersey boy thing was. (Sure enough, he started out as an actor, and is not nearly such a mobster type in real life.) If The Sopranos ever gets re-booted, someone please call Marino about playing Paulie.
After the interval, Jobrani returned with some quality laugh-bait about getting older, and raising young kids, then introduced Erik Griffin (Montez on Comedy Central’s Workaholics). Except for a brief jab at African-American women working in retail, he avoided the night’s minorities theme (and his apparently mixed-race background remains a mystery). Instead, with an easy swagger, and neat characterizations, he identified the kinds of people he would like to bump off if the film The Purge were real (all crime is legal for a 12-hour period each year). So mean, but oh-so-funny.
The final act was Elon Gold, who delivered a well-polished routine about being Jewish. Maybe too well polished, as he was so at ease that it sometimes felt like Gold was on auto-pilot. Conversely, his Woody Allen impersonation took a little of that shine away: for all its perfectly realized ticks, the tone of voice was never right. The Woody schtick appeared at length in an amusing take on Abraham’s covenant with God, in which God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice his member is “Jewed down” to just the foreskin. It would have been even funnier if, instead of announcing he was going to play Abraham as Woody Allen, Gold had just launched into it. While this set’s execution was slightly flawed, the material – including a pro-Semitic TV campaign that makes a virtue out of racism – was laugh-a-minute.
A great show with heart, class and a lot of laughs. Just a little more emphasis on Canada’s (ideally Montreal‘s) multicultural comic talent next year, please.
Just for Laughs’ The Ethnic Show: Ethnical Difficulties continues at Métropolis on July 18-20 and 22-23. More information and tickets at hahaha.com.
Patricia Maunder is a Montreal-based writer, editor and comedy fiend.
Photo courtesy of Just for Laughs