“People should be going—going to everything. This is where Drew Carey got his start, where Tim Allen got his start, where Dave Chappelle got his start. Who knows who’s going to be the next Drew Carey, Tim Allen, Chappelle? You don’t know. You won’t know unless you go to everything.”
This is the advice Joey Elias gives anyone lucky enough to be in Montreal as it celebrates the 25th anniversary of Just for Laughs, the comedy festival that runs for two weeks and draws dozens of performers from around the world. Elias just got back from his second trip to Afghanistan, where he performed for Canadian soldiers there. Safely back in Montreal, the city he calls home, he seems ready to take on his eleventh Just for Laughs festivals, this year as host for Comedy Night in Canada.
“There’s so much to choose from,” Elias enthuses. “I mean, you look at the line-up and you’ve got Lewis Black, a modern master, performing in a venue like Kola Note, which only seats 400—and that’s an intimate400.” In addition to the usual suspects (Kids in the Hall, William Shatner…) and big names like Black, there are also some new folks coming to town. I had the chance to catch up with a few of them. Though they have yet to take the Canadian stage, these comedians seem to be getting a kick out of us already.
“Canadians are some darned funny people,” Krister Johnson tells me. He and his comedy partner Wilson Hall make up God’s Pottery. The New York-based duo perform as Jeremiah Smallchild and Gideon Lamb—Christian buddies who are positively high on God’s love. On July 12, at the Mainline Theatre, they will perform north of the border for the first time.
Krister and Wilson are looking forward to a Canadian audience. “The New York audiences have an ironic attitude toward patriotism and nationalism. They almost expect irony, which maybe makes them a bit jaded,” Krister says. The result is that the duo has had fun discovering foreign audiences who enjoy “taking the piss out of Americans with Americans.”
At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, God’s Pottery performed their “Concert for LaVert,” which involves Smallchild and Lamb singing their sweet hearts out to raise money for a sick boy in Harlem. British street magazine The Big Issue called it “the slow-burning sleeper hit of the Edinburgh Festival.”
Back in New York, God’s Pottery is now performing an expanded version of the concert, including a song about adoption, entitled “You’re Just as Special as a Normal Child,” and a ballad that warns against the dangers of addiction, entitled “We Get High on Rainbows.” Sadly, these new songs won’t appear in Montreal. Don’t worry though—we still get the pro-Eucharist pump-up song “Jesus I Need a Drink” and fan favourite “The Pants Go On When the Ring Comes Off.” You can preview the tunes on the God’s Pottery official website, which also features “A Brand New Start with Christ,” specially dedicated to all the Jews out there.
Krister and Wilson’s ideal audience is “people who have never heard of us before.” They hate the idea of people sitting down with the preconceived notion that their shtick is to bash religion. “We want to be edgy, thoughtful, and subversive, but never mean-spirited.” And God’s Pottery has been hitting the right notes so far. “We’re had incredibly responses from people who were raised with Christianity, but also from practicing Christians, and even practicing Muslims who come up to us after the show,” Krister says.
“This is character-based comedy. It’s more about the relationship between the two characters than religion.” The duo agree that every joke’s inclusion comes down to two questions: “Is it smart? Is it funny?”
Meanwhile, Stephen K. Amos, a comedian with a totally different repertoire and background, has just returned to London after performing in Melbourne. Before quizzing him on his expectations for Montreal, I asked him for his thoughts on Australian culture with regard to comedy. “It’s a growing, new culture,” he says. “It doesn’t have much diversity yet, to be honest. I don’t think they’ve seen a successful, British black comedian—ever.”
In a clip from the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala 2007, Amos plays with the audience and the fact that he is a successful, black, British comedian. “Hey Amos! Ain’t you that funny bloke?!” He belts this out with an Australian accent, imitating the immigration official at the Melbourne airport. “Hey Amos! You could stay here—You could be an Abo!” The joke, which basically chalks Australians up to racists who don’t know the different between blacks and Aboriginals, goes over amazingly well, sending the Australians into peels of laughter.
“This is my first time performing in Canada, ever,” he tells me, “and it’s a very important festival. I need to go BAM-BAM-BAM, you know? I have no preconceived notion about the Canadian sense of humour. I know that some of you speak French, and some of you don’t, and that there’s something funny about that.”
As for the kind of content you can expect from Amos here in Montreal, I can offer no hints, since the comedian wants to keep his jokes a surprise. He’ll be hosting Britcom, which is marketed as a gala featuring a quintessentially British group of comedians, though Amos is quick to explain that there is no such thing. “We each have our own thing going on. [John] Moloney is clever, very good with words…[Jimmy] Carr has very good one-liners…” Britcom appears from July 16 – 18 at Club Soda.
There are many other shows that come highly recommended this year—far too many to list here. Best heed Elias’ advice and just go to everything.