Brit-ish Gala L'Astral, Montreal QC, July 23
Published Jul 24, 2015Being the only showcase at this year's Just For Laughs festival to focus on the comedy of any geographical area — except of course for dear ol' Canada — one might have expected the evening's performances as a whole to be of a parallel stripe, somehow exotic or token. But with the exception of a few colonial cracks, a wider vocabulary and the darling accents of all involved, the evening had an air not dissimilar to any other festival line up — which is to say it was more or less brilliant, but not such a step off of main street that the distinctive title would imply. Perhaps Western comedy is becoming less divided in style. Perhaps it was simply due to the particular line up.
Taking the reins from the previous host — the ever-goading Jimmy Carr — was the downright congenial Omid Djalili. The immediately likable comedian couldn't have rubbed the audience the wrong way even if he tried, and try he did. After introducing each comic as "the best comedian of the night," he began to get a little "roasty," referring to the oncoming acts with good humored slander and insults. It was almost touching to sense the audience's dismay at the thought of Djalili trying to be anything other than someone any right-minded person would want to have a beer with.
Of the five guests performing — Ed Gamble, Pippa Evans, Stewart Goldsmith, Sarah Millican and featured comic Russell Howard — it was the latter three who shone brightest after the curtain.
Stewart Goldsmith, perhaps the funniest of all, was the first comic ushered on stage. There was no staunch British uptightness, no awkward pauses and little of the extreme absurdity we tend to equate with comedians of the United Kingdom. His virulent disdain for those in peak physical health — joggers, gym members etc. — animated in Goldsmith such arm waving, teeth gnashing and face palming as to make the late Robin Williams blush. Goldsmith is also host of The Comedian's Comedian podcast and winner of festival awards in Melbourne and New Zealand. One should expect many returns to Montreal from Goldsmith, each one bigger than the last.
Sarah Millican, not originally a part of the line up — she had her own solo show called "Outsider" at Just For Laughs the next night — was a pro. Again, perhaps not what one usually expects out of a night devoted to "British" comedy, Millican was replete with fart jokes, a few jokes about her weight, while also touching on good old-fashioned hatred of children. She's a salt of the earth comedian, delving into the everyday problems humans create for themselves in order to drown out the screaming void. Millican seemed excited to have a crack at a Montreal audience before her big night, and the audience ate it up.
Headliner Russell Howard performed for twice as long as his fellow guests. His last of three shows in Montreal after a tour through America, the homeward bound comic delighted in finally going off book. The audience got a more relaxed, open, less calculating version of Howard than many may be used to seeing, particularly in Britain, where he is quite famous. He riffed off the audience's shouts and oddities, sidling in and out of prepared material whenever it suited him. If anything, letting his guard down showed the audience how sharp he really is. Even when on improvisational ground, Russell Howard's confidence was as unshakable as his material.