Published Jul 25, 2015A coveted event by those in the know, the Just For Laughs Festival's Midnight Surprise showcase is exactly what it sounds like, a wild card event where anybody from young up-and-comers to comedy legends show up completely unannounced in a small but packed venue to test new material. This week's run, hosted by Todd Glass, has already played host to Jimmy Carr, Margaret Cho and most notably Dave Chappelle. The line-up Friday night was one of the strongest.
Todd Glass is an amazing host. Affable, open and utterly confident, Glass flew by the seat of his pants for the majority of the night. When not actively arguing with his sound technician over his hilariously erratic audio punctuation (i.e. the timeless "wah-wah" of a trombone, five-second musical themes after punch lines, etc.) he kept the audience on the verge of tears. His jokes were funny even when they bombed, and sometimes because they bombed. Even his good-natured taunting of audience members left them feeling like a million bucks every time.
Steve Byrne, best known for writing and starring in Sullivan & Son, was a solid first act. Resembling an Asian Kevin Spacey — his words — his penchant for visualising the awkward to the grotesque was strangely mesmerizing.
Josh Rabinowitz is an amazing storyteller. His railing on what he called the "gentrification of awkwardness" wherein being awkward has become commodified by popular, well-adjusted people in their 20s who do not understand the term, was received with furious applause comparable to a Soviet Party rally. He proceeded to tell the most awkward, riveting and hilarious tales about what happens when you come out of your shell and attempt to help 78-year-old meth addicts who keep their family members in cellars. A point in his set where at least ten people weren't clapping was a rare one.
Tone Bell was admittedly drunk — again, his words — but it didn't take him long to find his rhythm. He began his set with a non-judgemental but inquisitive look at Caitlyn Jenner's recent operation — a popular topic at Just For Laughs this year — which elicited one moan of complaint, but otherwise went over brilliantly. He then veered into less controversial territory, such as a particular L.A. bank not accepting cash, and the evil psyche of the Yes Man. Tone Bell proved himself one of the relatively few comedians for whom controversy does not become a crutch.
Headlining the bill was Shaun Majumder, whom many will know from the Canadian satirical news spoof This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Majumder was much more animated and a bit angrier than his appearances on television would imply. He wasn't on stage for more than two minutes before he dove headlong into the CBC's Ghomeshi scandal. His delivery was so quick that if indeed he crossed any lines, he was onto the next point and punch line before the audience seemed to notice. He spent a solid ten minutes on Ghomeshi's wholesale narcissism, Big Ears Teddy and other unsavoury details. The miniscule amount of resistance he received from his audience was surprising, given the content. Perhaps the audience was in a small amount of shock, expecting Majumder to come complete with his CBC veneer and corny Newfoundlander jokes. Nevertheless, it was inspiring to see someone as established as Shaun Majumder perform for an audience of under 100 people with as much veracity and vim as the younger comedians preceding him, for whom the stakes of each performance seem so much higher.