"This is a long way from the Royal Shakespeare Company," a raspy Sir Patrick Stewart said with a laugh during the opening monologue of his Just For Laughs gala. Struggling with the costume suit of armour he wore to underline his stature as knight of the realm, he finally shook his head and threw it off, saying "I'm done with this knight shit."
Everything, from the way he spoke to how he held himself on stage, showed that Stewart was a masterful stage actor, but no stand-up comedian. Nonetheless, he brought energy, enthusiasm, and professional care to the material that his writers cooked up for him. And for it, he received the complete adoration of the crowd, many of whom, like me and my friend who wore her communicator badge, were thrilled to be in the same (very large) room as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
During his bits over the course of the night, Stewart called Stephen Harper a dick, and displayed pictures from his own adorable Instagram feed on a jumbotron, revealing how, with the appropriate context, they actually reveal his "totally gangster lifestyle." He explained how one of them, featuring a grinning Sir Ian McKellan on Santa Claus's lap, was taken after they kidnapped Santa and held him for ransom. "Not so adorable now, am I?"
The comedians performing at the gala represented a range of comedic approaches, like a buffet meal with something for everyone. But also like at a buffet, the show was quite safe and mainstream, which was to be expected. Still, there were some good laughs.
Animated Canadian Pete Zedlacher performed the night's lone Star Trek joke, and did a solid bit about his love of watching concert sound checks, including a hilarious imitation of a heavy metal vocal tech screaming "MURDERRRRR" into the microphone and then calmly, "A little more in the left monitor."
Kyle Kinane's more low-key style delivered in a gruff voice didn't benefit from the short set time. But his jokes on aging and trying to stay positive were smart and funny.
Motormouth English comedian Russell Howard's high energy comedy saw him bounding over the stage as he told jokes about the pranks his family members pull on each other, including how he convinced his mother to ask a grocer if they had any crystal meth.
Jim Breuer's physical humour and spot-on impersonations of everything from a soccer player to ostriches and lions, got some of the biggest laughs of the night. The Half Baked star's extended impersonation of a British man being eaten by lions gained him a standing ovation.
Local David Acer was a bit thrown off by Breuer going over time, but got laughs from some classic jokes about how Americans don't know anything about Canada and how Albertans hate Quebecers.
New York-based English comedian Gina Yashere was hilarious, and the show's standout for me. Speaking frankly from the start about her sexuality, she joked about the lesbians in Montreal and discussed her experience coming out as gay and vegan to her parents. Describing her recent move to the Big Apple from L.A. she laughed about the limited roles for black women in Hollywood, and then sent up the poor showing of African countries at the Olympics.
After a few more potty-mouthed bits from Sir Patrick, the night was closed out on a high note by Sebastian Maniscalco who related stories of his Italian-American family, including his grandmother's lasagne-making prowess, while moving around the stage like a weird ballerina.
Grab-bag galas are rarely perfect, but the Sir Patrick Stewart's JFL gala was a good show. A lot of us were there for P Stew — everything else was gravy.