Killer jokes trump bad rants

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      Global ComedyFest

      At various venues from September 13 to 22

      Even though most of the comics booked at this year's Global ComedyFest would fall into the "alt" category, their styles and personas were as varied as the festival's venues, which were spread throughout the Lower Mainland.

      The highlight of the festival for me–for the second year in a row–was Paul F. Tompkins, a Philadelphian living in Los Angeles. The erudite and sartorially splendid Tompkins has a way of phrasing and thinking on his feet that usually slays crowds, although he claimed to be having a bit of trouble at the Best Kept Secret Show at the Cultch on September 19. Not getting the usual response, he was perplexed, offering a range of theories as to why: "Are you all bummed out because of Pavarotti?" and "Is it all French Canadians here tonight? Maybe it's a language barrier." But of course he wasn't dying. He soon got cooking with five minutes on why cake is better than pie. ("Frosting trumps all, you fools.")

      Jimmy Pardo, who hosted both the Comedy Death Ray showcase at the Commodore on September 20 and Match Game (yes, based on the 1970s daytime-TV hit) at the Cultch on September 21, was another highlight. He can best be described as a chihuahua/pit bull mix. The five-foot-four American went on the attack with the best of them, picking on the audience without ever crossing the boundaries of good taste. His imaginary impromptu cellphone conversation at Death Ray went on and on, getting funnier the longer it lasted, before ending with: "No, I don't have time to talk to Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, or Ellen"–a little reward for comedy fans who recognize that all three of those legends are known for their phone routines.

      Probably the most famous name at the fest was David Cross, who gained mass appeal with his role as Tobias on Arrested Development, but his was a mixed bag. Doing standup, he's just an angry know-it-all who appears to hate his time on-stage almost as much as he hates his fans. Appearing last in the almost-three-hour Comedy Death Ray show, Cross insulted First Nations people and drug addicts before going on a seemingly endless–and humourless–rant about Mormonism, hemming and hawing his way through an ill-prepared set. But what a pleasure it was to watch him the next night in Match Game, where he smiled, laughed, and enjoyed himself, and in the SKETCH Show on September 22, also at the Cultch, where he was reunited with former Mr. Show partner Bob Odenkirk.

      Maria Bamford always amuses, as she did at both Comedy Death Ray and Match Game. But she's getting weirder and weirder. I mean, you laugh at her imitation of the baby Jesus leaving messages on her mother's answering machine because it's so absurdly surreal, but it goes nowhere. It's one bizarre characterization after another that somehow works.

      The Best of the Fest showcase on closing day (September 22), at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, was an all-round success. Former locals Irwin Barker and Darryl Lenox got me all nostalgic about the good old days when we could see these two pros just about any day of the week. Lenox talked about his girlfriend's hippie parents, who served him porridge for breakfast: "I didn't even know that shit was real." And Barker, who's suffering from cancer, is still writing gems: "I bought the book France for Dummies because I've always wanted to see Buckingham Palace."

      The festival seems to have the artistic side down pat. Next step: a real presence in the city it refuses to acknowledge in its name.