At the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Saturday, November 24
I’m always a bit leery of slick, big-theatre presentations of standup comedy. The sterile environment usually takes the edge off any subversive grittiness. And these shows also place the performer, who often goes to great lengths to relate to the common punter, on a ridiculous pedestal leaving an insurmountable chasm between us and them.
But damn if Just for Laughs doesn’t get it right almost every time. You walk into the show knowing a few things: (1) it will start on time; (2) the production values will be first-rate; (3) whether you’ve heard of them or not, the comedians will be headliners on top of their game; and (4) there will be no interference from the suits at head office. The comedians are free to use any language they see fit. Let’s just say you wouldn’t see these live galas on the CBC.
What could be a milquetoasty, homogenized affair is instead a club experience writ large, with a range of styles representing different cultural and life experiences.
Former Last Comic Standing winner John Heffron, the domesticated-male portion of the show, hosted. He’s got sure-fire, relatable material but displays the annoying comedic habit of couching every personal experience he’s had as a worldwide phenomenon. Am I right, fellas? The problem is that as soon as we think of one exception to his all-men/women-do-this routine, the premise is shot. Still, what hit, hit hard, particularly his take on a relaxing husband and his wife-cum–shift manager.
Chicago’s single-named Godfrey was a revelation. His energy, fake accents, and infectious impertinence elevated some otherwise base material. Swamp ass, booty juice, underwear stains, and commodes were put through the Godfrey filter and made hilarious. He said he wants to install an airplane toilet in his house because, “when I take a dump, I don’t want to fucking see it anymore,” and then personified the poop as it whirled down a regular household drain for a second and third showing.
Toronto’s Debra DiGiovanni is a definite crowd favourite from her work on CBC Radio, MuchMusic, and the Comedy Network. As a 40-year-old single woman, her bread and butter is that, well, she eats too much bread and butter. She’s got a fast patter that starts out low-key, ramps up to a fevered pitch, then quickly does a decrescendoes to a calm “Here’s the thing.” It works beautifully, but a little self-deprecation goes a long way—and DiGiovanni does nothing but. She says 2013 will be her year to lose weight and find a relationship outside of her cat. Hopefully, then she can move on to other topics.
The show closed with the fully committed Jim Breuer, best known for his work on Saturday Night Live and Half Baked but showing that he should be most famous for his standup. He took the exact opposite approach to Heffron, making the personal universal. The 20-year “marriage warrior” gave advice based on his own experience. Men would be best served if they cleaned their asses, cleaned the house, and let their wives rest, punctuating each bit with killer physicality, setting himself up as the buffoon in most cases. He held the mirror up to Jim Breuer instead of all men, and we could all relate.
The show proved there’s more than one way to skin a comedy audience. Four comics with four different approaches to the craft made for one solid show.