Nut cream to air-guitar currency, comedians Howie Mandel, Morgan Murphy, and Dave Attell are on fire on Day 1 of JFL NorthWest comedy fest

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      At the Orpheum and the Vogue Theatre on Thursday, February 14

      The weather lately has been a joke, so what better time to start the annual JFL NorthWest Comedy festival? With snow blanketing the city on Valentine’s Day, new Just For Laughs owner Howie Mandel (who also dabbles in standup) welcomed the huddled masses to the Orpheum for a patented JFL-style gala.

      The youthful 63-year-old Canadian comedy legend was a perfect host for the event, which serves as an amuse-gueule to whet the audience’s comedic appetite. Although he has lived in Los Angeles for 40 years, Mandel knew enough about Vancouver to ingratiate himself to the older fans in the crowd. He talked about performing here at Expo 86, and before that on the old Alan Hamel and Alan Thicke talk shows, which, granted, probably meant nothing to anyone under 40. The famously OCD hypochondriac was then predictably Howie, soliciting medical advice from the audience on a variety of ailments and remedies, including teh advisability of using “nut cream” on athlete’s foot.

      Mandel brought out a series of performers who did short, sweet sets. If one wasn’t to your liking, another one was on his or her way up to the microphone in short order. No one overstayed their welcome. Regular Mandel opener, and pal, John Mendoza was first up. He’s a great joke writer of the same vintage as the host. Mendoza says he’s noticed so many Tim Hortons franchises sprouting up in Vancouver he saw one in a Starbucks.

      Chicago’s Matteo Lane, who described himself as “obviously gay", hilariously, and sacrilegiously, posited an explanation for how Jesus walked on water that would surely offend the born-again set.

      Flula Borg, from Germany, did, essentially, Andy Kaufman’s Foreign Man character—a heavily accented comic-wannabe who gets laughs from purposely butchering setups and punch lines.

      Toronto resident DeAnne Smith charmed one and all talking about feeling out of place at a Women’s March, while Daily Show contributor Roy Wood Jr. compared the easy pass some heroes (firemen) get over other heroes (cops).

      It was an entertaining, tight package that left us wanting more, just as showbiz folk are taught. My only complaint is that there wasn’t a Vancouver comedian on the bill. Our best stack up with the best from anywhere, and it would have been nice to show one of them off to an audience that only comes out to big-ticket affairs.

      Those of us wanting more then walked a few doors down to the Vogue to catch the doyen of dick jokes, Dave Attell. It was MCed by Louis Katz, who offered up a spot-on analogy: “whiter than a $1,000 vet bill". Perfect.

      Guest Morgan Murphy did a set before the headliner. It’s been 12 years since I last saw her here. Not too long ago she was Louis C.K.’s opener (whoops!) and was a writer on the Roseanne reboot (uh-oh!), but don’t hold those credits against her. Murphy is a really good standup. She talked a bit about Trump, then moved on to how women and professional athletes have a lot in common: they’re both irrelevant at 40 and know what it’s like to be traded for a 19-year-old.

      Attell hit the stage and upped the energy as only Attell can do with his booming voice, unmistakable rhythm, and rapid-fire killer jokes. As you would expect, a good number of them were about “s-e-x” (loved how he spelled out the word because, as he says, he’s a “faith-based comic” who will joke about 12-inch schlongs or “the forbidden hole”), but he’s not married to any particular category. He’s got gags aplenty, from kayak jokes to pottery digs to Bitcoin references (“air guitar currency”, as he calls it).

      The evening ended with all three comics on-stage riffing with each other.  If Day 1 of the comedy fest was any foreshadowing, we’ve got another nine days of laughs in the forecast.