Tag Archives: Montreal Comedy

Dave Chappelle at Just For Laughs – Wednesday July 24th 2013

Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle

It was a tad curious.

The DJ kept telling us not to interact with Mr. Chappelle. Three times at least.

Odd because interacting with the crowd often leads to some great moments in live comedy; as an example, interacting with the crowd made for some unexpectedly hilarious and heart warming moments during Aziz Ansari’s recent last-minute double show at the Comedy Works a little while back. But to be told specifically not to shout things out came as a surprise to me, particularly when we were warned we risked getting tossed should any of us break this golden rule.

It seems not everyone got the message.

Long story short, an enjoyable show – but I’m easy to please. I saw the 19h30 show last night and I think I got the better deal. My brother saw the 21h30 show (which didn’t actually start until 23h00) and felt he didn’t quite get his money’s worth.

But my brother made sure to point out it wasn’t Mr. Chappelle that ruined the show (for him), but rather the apparent fans in the audience.

Ah… Montreal ‘fans’, bane of performers everywhere.

Call it unbridled enthusiasm, I just thought it was rude. Those calling out towards the end of the performance seemed to know less than nothing about the performer – such as the fact that it was Charlie Murphy who interacted with Prince and Rick James. Call it the frat boy problem that dogs too many live performances in this city.

Mr. Chappelle hasn’t set foot on a Montreal stage in some thirteen years – the last time he performed Just for Laughs he was still two years away from the launch of the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed Chappelle’s Show; arguably he was still on his way up back then – young, fresh, daring, bold. Today he’s a married dad, a forty year old man. It shows. He’s patient and also highly selective, choosing when to engage his audience and more confident when ignoring the outbursts of over enthusiastic spectators ‘lookin’ fer laffs.’

From what my brother told me, the later show featured about twenty minutes of awkwardness so thick and cringeworthy the audience embarrassed him. I only had to contend with about five minutes’ worth of such nonsense as that.

This is an issue I’ve discussed many times before – Montreal audiences and ‘fans’ can be very difficult to deal with. Case in point, the infamous closing show of Pink Floyd’s 1977 Animals world tour, the show Roger Waters credits as laying the foundation for what would become The Wall. And this is saying nothing of the well documented poor attitudes of Montreal fans vis-a-vis the Habs. I wouldn’t wish a career playing hockey in Montreal to even the worst, most asinine of professional hockey players – Montreal fans can be brutal, unforgiving.

Last night, they were just fools.

I’ll tell myself Just for Laughs is a big international festival and it’s completely possible those causing trouble were from out of town, Torontonians or Bostonites most likely, but either way, it left a bad aftertaste. I honestly hope it doesn’t perturb Mr. Chappelle and make him think twice about what I’m assuming is some kind of a return to active touring and new material.

In any event, I’m getting ahead of myself.

First things first – Place des Arts and Just for Laughs need to figure out a more efficient method of handling ticket pick-ups prior to the show, especially when there are four or five shows going on simultaneously. I spoke with a PdA security guard who said the line-up to pick up tickets (which stretched all the way outside, up St-Urbain towards the new concert hall) was pretty much standard and it was fucking everything up. I asked him what he would’ve done differently, and without skipping a beat he smiled and said ‘four guichets for Monsieur Chappelle, one for everything else.’

Fortunately I didn’t have to stand in line (keep your electronic tickets on your phone, so the QR code can be scanned (a message for my older, Baby Boomer readers)) and was comfortably seated up in the balcony of Theatre Maisonneuve sometime just before eight. Opening act, delightfully, was Hannibal Buress, an excellent choice to warm up the audience. The bit about why rappers discussing their enjoyment of MDMA (otherwise known as Ecstasy or, perhaps more softly, Molly) as being antithetical to the stated aim of appearing hard was the highlight of his brief warm-up routine (“there I was, smiling, masturbating to the colour blue, mumbling something about being in a gang…”).

Chappelle hit the stage a little while later after a brief interlude by the DJ who reminded us, for the umpteenth time, not to heckle the talent or yell out for any reason. Lights went Christmastime red, vinyl spun silently in the background as the DJ seemingly disappeared under the stage, and Dave Chappelle, hero of my youth, waltzed out on stage puffing away on the first of many, many cigarettes.

So strike one – yes, I know he smokes, I smoke too, I fucking love smoking. And Mr. Chappelle enjoys smoking while doing stand-up, something JFL management and/or Place des Arts seemed okay with (you’ll remember Dave asked Crack Mayor Ford if he could smoke indoors at a show in Toronto about a year ago, a request which was denied by the worst mayor in Canadian history). But it’s not like we, the common people, can smoke in the venue, that’s strictly verboten. And while I can understand a comedian who enjoys smoking going to some length to acquire a special privilege for him or herself, this is Montreal, and we like tobacco more than South Carolina, so it’s a bit of a dick move. Maybe he argues that he’d be far too stressed out otherwise, but to be perfectly frank his chain smoking was giving me the urge. That he chain smoked through the set was a bit much, and I wonder if it didn’t set the best tone, even at a very subconscious level, and facilitated the kind of audience goonery which rendered my brother’s later show so unbearable. He’s flaunting the rules after all, so why should the audience behave?

Although I don’t know with any certainty, I would swear Mr. Chappelle’s preparing for a new tour – ten shows in Montreal, after all, with brand new material from what I can tell. What’s tending me towards this line of thinking is that he’s doing something previously unheard of (i.e. performing ten shows at a single comedy festival, selling each out and grossing nearly a million dollars for Just for Laughs, proving he’s still a viable act even if his sets are largely experimental and basically turning his back on the television show that brought him such prominence).

There were times I thought I was looking at a re-imagined George Carlin, or a more relaxed Bill Hicks – not because the set was particularly political, but because the social commentary was striking, poignant first, with jokes placed strategically to prevent the subject matter from sinking the mood. Deftly placed humour to address some very serious issues. But it also seemed like he was wincing at the thought of being a political humorist, yet found himself caught in the story he was telling. As I said before, he’s got the world weariness young dads tend to develop – you change enough diapers nothing phases you anymore; at one moment he simply declared a joke dead and moved on – it demonstrated his objective detachment from his own material, yet also recalled the impish prankster demeanour that characterized his earlier material. Dave Chappelle has this quality where I feel I’m watching a man entertain himself first and foremost and I just happen to be in the same room. He has a way of playing the joke on the audience, steering them.

I understood the reason why they wanted to minimize shouting out; we were watching a rehearsal.

On the whole I’m immensely satisfied, but also a tad disappointed with the yahoos who couldn’t quite grasp a comedian beyond corporate comedy channel soundbites.

Put another way, I haven’t yelled ‘I’m Rick James bitch!’ in a bar in about ten years and I’m embarrassed that I once thought it was cool. I was young once…

But to the guy who imitated Chappelle imitating Lil John, I don’t think you came off as bringing comedy to dizzying new heights of metatude. Rather, as Dave put it “buddy, that’s not even me, that’s Lil John.”

And that’s probably going to be a problem for Mr. Chappelle for as long as he remains a touring comedian. I can imagine having to contend with legions of ostensibly adoring fans who shout out their (all too often pitifully) poor water-cooler impressions really nauseating, depressing.

But doing ten shows with Montreal audiences will give anyone a thick skin; like I said before, I really hope I saw a rehearsal yesterday. The world could use a lot more Dave Chappelle.


After some comments, tweets and emails I feel I should clarify a couple of points.

One – I like what I saw and enjoyed it despite the aforementioned problems.

Two – if what I saw was actually a ‘rehearsal’ for something more comprehensive (such as a new comedy special, world tour or album), then I’m beyond honoured as a Montrealer that Mr. Chappelle would choose to hone his skill here. It makes sense to me that this might be the case (though perhaps I’m too hopeful) given Mr. Chappelle’s connection to the festival, that there’d be a very sympathetic (and for the most part, supportive) audience and the opportunity to hang out with hundreds of other comedians. Am I crazy or is Just for Laughs a good place to get in some practice?

Three – I like comedy in the raw. The JFL galas tend to be very polished, relentless even. Guaranteed laughs for everyone so nobody leaves disappointed. This was different. I’m pretty well versed in Chappelle’s back catalogue so I had no interest in hearing the old bits rehashed, I wanted something new and different and I got precisely what I wanted. I would pay to see Mr. Chappelle under similar circumstances again without hesitation. He’s an excellent comedian, and that’s an understatement.

Four – I need to make this point really clear. I’m not overly concerned about the late starts. As I mentioned earlier, part of the problem lies in how tickets are distributed – this is a problem between JFL and PdA, not Dave Chappelle. Moreover, expecting a comedian who is doing 10 shows over a short period of time to be punctual is unrealistic (and another reason to choose the earlier show). He’s mobbed by fans before and after and if sets go well they go longer than expected. If he was late to my brother’s show, it’s only because he had a (generally) good time with us. Furthermore, unlike a Wu Tang Clan show I saw six years ago, there was an opening act and a competent DJ.

Five – My main concern is that the rambunctious and inconsiderate audience my brother had to contend with is more indicative of Montreal audiences in general, and if this is the rule rather than the exception, I worry whatever interest Mr. Chappelle may have in getting back in the game may dissipate, and if the case I’d be disappointed.

Six – Frankly, if I ever tried stand-up I’d want to chain smoke too, and would pursue every opportunity to do so. That said, I’d also encourage the audience to smoke to their heart’s content, pointing out the hypocrisy of festival and venue management.

Anyways, hope that makes this exceptionally long revue a little clearer.

Review: C’est Moi, C’est Chocolat!

Andrew Searles

Passed by Theatre Sainte Catherine to catch the opening night of Andrew Searles‘ headline show C’est moi! C’est Chocolat! after a long and trying week at work; I was in need of some comic relief and Andrew certainly did not disappoint.

I’ve known Andrew at least since 2000 as we went to the same high school in Pierrefonds; if I recall correctly we became friends during the production of Riverdale High School’s rendition of West Side Story – I was a Jet and he was a Shark and I think we shared all of a dozen words of dialogue in the entire show.

Andrew was a naturally-gifted comic all those years ago, keeping us in stitches behind the scenes as we dealt with the overbearing drama queen extraordinaire who directed the show.

A few years later I found myself regularly attending open mic nights at diverse local comedy clubs as he was just breaking out onto the local scene. Andrew was also a regular at the insular country club in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue where we found ourselves attending CEGEP, opening for the many local comedians who would come perform at the Agora for all those students so eagerly skipping class.

It’s curious now looking back, John Abbott has always been a preferred local filming location as either a typical American high school or rural college setting – I wonder if the sight of all those trailers didn’t subconsciously encourage students there to perform – as a school it’s turned out a lot of local artistic talent. In any event, hard to believe that was all ten years ago.

Ten years of dedicated work has its payoffs – the show was sold out and packed with fans, not bad for a guy from Pierrefonds. Here’s a bit of Andrew performing in Ottawa a couple years back.

Opening acts included Guido Cocomello and Rodney Ramsay, with host Franco Taddeo. I had a bit of fun with the host when he asked if there were any Francophones in the room, to which I responded with a bien niaiseux Ouay! As he had immediately prior been ribbing some guy in the front row whose name was Martin (who I suppose had strong enough French Canadian features so as to compel the host to label him token Francophone in an otherwise culturally diverse though predominantly Anglophone audience), when he asked my name I responded with a properly regional pronunciation of Martin. Got a good laugh, but as always, you had to be there.

Politics, society, culture, race, religion – everything pertinent was discussed. It’s good fodder for comedians, as there’s just so much absurdity, contradiction and idiocy to report on. Sometimes I feel the service best rendered by comedians is to simply report all the crazy, ridiculous shit we deal with on a daily basis. All four comedians did just that, rather expertly too, last night.

Theatre Sainte Catherine is located just west of Saint-Denis along one of several stretches of Sainte Catherine’s Street where the various linear poles of attraction and gentrification have yet to meet and interface, and as such retains some of the character we once associated with The Main. Close as it is to Berri-UQAM, speaking openly in English, to my surprise, elicited the attention of those walking past – no words exchanged but glances nonetheless. That said, during intermission as I was enjoying a puff outside, the biggest, scariest looking bouncer I’ve ever seen walked right up to me and politely asked my for directions (in English) to a club just down the block. He was a close-talker with a Christian Bale-era Batman voice. He nodded casually at two prostitutes who walked by.

Earlier, as I exited the public-transit Ellis Island Métro hub up the block I remarked on the fascinating juxtaposition unfolding before me, of well-dressed red-squared UQAM students passing down the corridors lined with well-appointed shop windows, buskers tuning acoustic guitars and a pants-less, underwear-less homeless man pulling his knees under an extra-wide shirt, babbling incoherently to himself.

It occurred to me – we haven’t lost our red light district at all – it just moved East. Our city’s two-fisted-rialto survives unscathed.

What can I say – it’s a good spot for a comedy show. I saw Sugar Sammy at Olympia a little while back in the same neck-of-the-woods (and on that note, Olympia is an excellent venue – highly recommended). An exciting part of town, but one where you keep your guard up. Not a place to stop and gawk.

The small venue was filled with transplanted suburbanites, friends and acquaintances from high school, now grown-up, modern Montrealers, mixed, mulatto, Métis – a racial, linguistic and cultural gray-scale of integration that permitted comedians who, despite vastly different backgrounds, could entertain an equally diverse audience with satire and parody that easily, deftly, transcended the barriers largely being erased within our own community. The Montreal brand of racial humour seems to have more to do with pointing out (even if obliquely) our similarities rather than differences, or at least reminding us of how differences are truly no more than skin deep, and that making a big deal about how different you are, why you and your people might deserve special treatment, simply isn’t cool.

As you might imagine, Pauline Marois was the public enemy number one of the night.

It quickly became apparent this theatre was filled with ardent federalists and committed Anglo-Québécois, a new generation that learned French and knows where their home is.

As host Franco Taddeo put it, “this show features two Blacks and two Italians, throw in a Jew and the OQLF would shut this down in a heartbeat.”

Though contemporary Québec politics and society were the favoured topics of the night, the show was ultimately wide-ranging, with reflections on the oddball demands of significant others, snotty children and their oblivious parents and why the Pope has the most boss funeral.

One of Andrew’s fortes as a comedian is spot-on impressions of the various peoples of the Caribbean (he himself is of joint Barbadian-Jamaican ancestry); his Caribbean Space Agency skit made my facial muscles hurt, his bit about how unintended sexual innuendo as a result of his mother’s broken English was one of the highlights of the night; quite nearly brought the house down.

Also of note Rodney Ramsay, another Riverdale alum, closed his opening set with a ditty where he read Craigslist casual encounters personals. Gut bustingly funny, though I really hope he was embellishing. Rodney also got on the anti-OQLF bandwagon with a series on ‘language cops’, which you can see here:

He’s also collaborated with local comic Mike Paterson on the Anglo video, which you can watch here:

All told – highly recommended, a lot of talent in a fascinating, exciting part of town. Shows tonight and tomorrow, see it if you can and buy tickets online as these shows are anticipated to sell out very quickly.

Sugar Sammy has the Pulse of the City

Saw Sugar Sammy’s Le Show Franglais at l’Olympia on Friday night. Wow. Simply excellent.

I know I’m late to the party, but the tickets were purchased over a month ago by my mom – a birthday gift, and a testament to the enduring popularity of Sammy’s unique show. My understanding is that it was initially supposed to have only a limited run and that there was a lot of speculation it wouldn’t go over terribly well. That was three months ago. My mother was astounded she couldn’t get anything before last Friday, but took it as a good sign that everything else was sold out. I’ll cut right to the chase, you should see this show at any cost. It was immediately apparent the show was running like a well-oiled machine; everything from the choice of venue, to the MC, the opening acts and the flow of the main performance was indicative of someone exhibiting a well-honed craft. Sugar Sammy, and this show in particular, may very well spear-head a revolution in this city of the Juste pour rire. If we can laugh together, there won’t be much left to keep us apart, and a whole new brand of comedy may very well come into existence. Thus, I feel there are many comedians who will rise in his wake; it’s more than just the novelty of bilingual comedy, it’s that the model allows for a relaxed and open discussion of culture. This innovation is fascinating to me, because ‘cultural comedy’ has largely seemed to be of an exclusionary nature, or pejorative. Perhaps until now.

It was smooth, it was relentless. It was unforgiving, unyielding – at the end I saw a vast group of Montréalais gently massaging their Joker-esque perma-grins as they stumbled out into the cold and chaos in the direction of Place Emilie-Gamelin. As I strode out with them, listening to the on-going laughter as those attending reminisced about their favourite moments, it contrasted sharply with the apparent seriousness of the reality beyond the well appointed Vaudeville-styled theatre (and by the way – I can’t believe I hadn’t seen a show there previously – a very nice retro theatre and local landmark). And yet the show was our reality too. I wouldn’t pigeon-hole the show as being ‘cultural comedy’ – it was so much more than that chiefly because it was about all of us, our shared society. The somewhat lackadaisical NDP slogan from the last federal election, ‘travaillons ensemble’ was often repeated throughout. Though it’s insufferably Canadian in its modesty, it fits what I feel is a growing general sentiment in this city, this province and country – put aside your differences and get to work. Besides, you might discover you enjoy ‘les autres’, or maybe even les maudits anglais.

While I feel the implications of a show like this might be significant, I don’t want it to detract from what is first and foremost an excellent comedy show by anyone’s definition. There was a fair bit of improvisation and lots of interaction with the crowd, hallmarks of any good entertainer. What made the show great was the incisive wit, the rhythm, the equilibrium. It was evenly French and English, evenly contrasted moments of electric, unrelenting cheeky rejoinders contrasted with slower, constructed anecdotes. His social commentary is wide-reaching but takes on a particularly funny perspective when understood in the context of this show, with the city and it’s unique cultural identity serving to throw misperceptions and prejudices a curveball. Plus he’s a devout trouble-maker and smart-ass, which plays well with Montrealers regardless of cultural or linguistic backgrounds. I think his story about how he trolled his hardcore separatist history teacher the day after the 1995 Referendum was the joke that brought the house down – a collective ‘oh snap’ of nervous laughter boomed out of more than a thousand people after several bear-baiter jokes concerning the Referendum which had set the mood. It was explosive. It was awesome.

Also – my date for the evening comes from a small town in the Pacific Northwest. She had never been to a comedy show before. She was really impressed. I’m really glad this was her introduction to the world of Montreal comedy.

So what can I say – go do whatever you can to see this show. You won’t be disappointed.