Janeane Garofalo Mainline Theatre, Montreal QC, July 25

Janeane Garofalo Mainline Theatre, Montreal QC, July 25
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"I'm not a strong joke writer," Janeane Garofalo warns us at the beginning of her 45-minute set at the first of five Just For Laughs shows. The venue is the Mainline Theatre, an intimate black-box theatre on Montreal's main drag, a setting Garofalo finds reassuring, as a theatre is perhaps more forgiving than the standup comic's brick wall.
 
The warning isn't just for show — she stays away from punch lines, choosing instead to amble through a series of meandering bits that hop from airline travel (a comedic cliche for which she apologizes profusely) to Spanx bodywear to Julius Caesar to Febreezing her boyfriend's shoes. She asks why we have pubic hair, but no dirty stuff — she doesn't work blue, she tells us. Is she joking? Yes and no.
 
Her nasal rasp is out in full force, and she brings the classic sardonic wit we're all expecting to a broad, if somewhat surface, range of topics, presented in a disjointed, rambling late-night-with-your-BFF fashion, giving her Montreal audience some love, and even shouting out local underground comix legend Julie Doucet. She avoids completing her setups, often trailing off at the end of her sentences, leaving the audience to fill in the punch line on our own. Whether you find this irritating or cleverly meta probably depends on your disposition.
 
She delivers some fairly par-for-the-course kids-these-days pokes at "modern life," kvetching about vocal fry, peanut allergies, and the gluten-intolerant.  It's clear she has a broad intellect, a sensitive radar for pop culture and its foibles, and a masterful knack for composing what could in other hands be humdrum observations of daily life. But it's hard not to wish for her to delve a little deeper, or stray a little further from what feels like stock schtick. Even her bit about quitting drinking and the hypocrisy and absurdity of interventions seemed a little by the book, and it was by far the darkest and most personal of her material.
 
All else aside, she has charm to spare. She's Janeane Garofalo, the woman you spent the '90s wanting to be. (Or wanting to date? A little bit of both, probably.) Her confidence and self-possession are great to watch, and, much as I love self-deprecating humour, it's fun to see a woman whose entire persona isn't dictated by it. "I don't say yes to life," she confesses at one point. "It's case by case."