Published Jul 29, 2016Nathan Lane's Showstopper Gala was a non-stop pageant of surprises. The evening featured Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood of Whose Line Is It Anyway fame, host of BBC's Chatty Man Alan Carr, Australian TV host and standup comic Adam Hills, last year's JFL Homegrown Comic Competition winner Sean Emeny, Just For Laughs veteran comic Kathleen Madigan, magician/comedian Piff the Magic Dragon, British comic Mark Watson and Filipino-Canadian funnyman Ron Josol.
Lane as a host was the consummate professional. As expected, the award-winning actor popular for his roles in The Producers and The Lion King launched into song pretty early on, with a rootsy showtune number called "Canada, You're Gay," a funny celebration of Canada's early adoption of gay marriage chock full of double entendres.
At times Lane was a little more glued to the teleprompter than would have been ideal, but he made up for it by performing a scene he alleged had been cut from the recent television series American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, in which he plays attorney F. Lee Bailey. He plucked two members of the audience up onto the stage to fill the supporting roles and Lane turned out to be a hilariously ruthless director. His patter throughout the show was consistently funny, but unsurprisingly, it was during his O.J. scene where he really came into his element. Watching him slip from his role as the director of two incredibly nervous audience members to his role as a hard-boiled attorney at law was as funny as it was impressive.
With nine acts on the bill, it was hard to judge the true highlights of the show by the audience's reactions, with the energy slowly fading about 20 minutes before the end. It must be said that Sean Emeny, the youngest comic on the bill, had the best set of the night, start to finish. His delivery was fresh and unique, coming off as the dichotomous thought catalogue of a very observant goldfish. Very few of his jokes took over ten seconds to finish, and fewer had any connection to the jokes before or after. That said, he didn't come off the way a one-liner comic often does; he seemed weirdly pensive. One-liners or not, Emeny was the big cheese.
In a one-in-a-million set, Adam Hills — after about five minutes of his standup material, presented a video he made with terminally ill cancer patient and fan, Craig, in which they took rather tongue-in-cheek naked pictures together — replicating John and Yoko's famous Rolling Stone cover photo, for example. This had been Craig's method of having a laugh in the face of his condition. The video was made three years ago. When the video was finished, Hills announced that Craig had against all odds survived, and introduced him on stage where in true JFL style, they brazenly stripped while singing "fuck cancer" on the glitzy stage of the Maison Symphonique. It was a funny, rather sweet moment.
Finally, towards the end of the night, Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood performed a improvised musical, about ten to 15 minutes long. Perhaps surprisingly, Mochrie is a moderately better singer than he was in the days of Whose Line Is It Anyway. Lewis Black was a very brief surprise guest on stage, though as one might expect, he did not exactly join in for the chorus. He simply walked on stage and when asked for advice by the duo — playing lovers in a quarrel at the time — he told them to "get out of his dream," and abruptly walked off. It was short, but the crowd ate it up.
Most of the other comics on the bill had perfectly good sets, but perhaps a nearly two hour gala with no breaks was asking a little too much of the audience. One had to be extraordinarily on top of their game by the end of the first hour to get any real rise out of them.