This show was a prime example of what I love about Zoofest or Off-JFL. You got eight quality comedians for a low price in a very intimate venue. Very rarely do you get the opportunity to see comedians who are all performing headlining shows at the festival and who have been around for so long they are regulars on Comedy Central, HBO or the like in such a small theatre. Bless you Zoofest/Off-JFL.
This was not the first year for the Hosts with the Most. It is kind of like a mini Gala. The concept is that there is one comedian who serves as the host for the evening and then there are seven others who come on and perform short (7-10 minutes) sets. On this evening Cameron Esposito was the host. If you have never seen her before then you were in for something. Her stand-up style varies (sometimes very quickly) from a calm laid back storyteller to an eyes bulging, hands gesticulating and same sentence or term repeated over and over in a loud voice. The change in tempo and volume is just to make sure you understand how absurd what it is she just said was. She mixes in some one-liners. That was illustrated when our host spoke of how she loved Canadian money. The money with a window in the middle. Much of her material on this evening was about Canada or her being a gay woman (funny bit about her being a swimmer and that her best stroke was, of course, the breast stroke) from a small town and a very Christian family. This awkwardness and outsider status (did I mention that when she was young she had to wear an eye patch?) was the origin point for her comedy. Go figure. Her odd way of looking at things serves her well. There was a funny bit about how she, a person afraid of everything including being killed in the middle of the night, has married a woman who is a sleepwalker. Usually sarcastic, but always intelligent and polished, Esposito is a hoot.
First up on the stage was one of the few comedians of the evening who I was not familiar with, Canadian John Cullen. He was good with his funny stories about having a day job as a substitute high school teacher. Easily poking fun at himself and the whole experience of substituting in P.E. class, he had a warm and likeable style about him.
Next up was stand up legend, Louie Anderson. He has been around for decades and is still as funny as ever. This was my first time seeing him and the only disappointment was that it was only in the short dose of 7 minutes. He is a natural. When Louie is on stage it just seems like he is just saying whatever comes into his head. And it is all funny. He manages this without being off-coloured or swearing. Imagine that! Most of his jokes were about food and being a large man. It is all about his delivery that he has honed over thousands of hours on stages of all sizes. Old school comedy that is still relevant.
Local guy and man in the news a lot lately, Mike Ward was next. Though he did not, for a rare time, talk about the ruling that he has to pay $35,000 for a joke about a physically disabled kid named Jérémy, there were many allusions to it if you were paying attention. He has built his career upon being a shock comic. For God’s sake he is hosting The Nasty Show. However, he is not a mean guy. He is just a comic who says mean and shocking things on stage. Not backing down from the style of comedy that has made him millions, a good portion of his short set on stage was about how he now sucks at sex, how he wants to trade his wife in for an 18 or 19-year-old and how he’ll pay someone to give his brother AIDS. Nothing has changed here.
After Ward was the only other comedian who I did not know, Jermaine Fowler. He started his set off by saying he was not going to do material from his headlining show as he had a few things to talk about. Fowler is a black man and most of his set had to do with that. Marching in a Black Lives Matter protest and having to deal differently with police than white people do. He often mines his own life and experiences for his material. Though he is still young he has been doing stand-up since he was in high school, so is quite relaxed on stage. Maybe a little too much so for my taste. The only time when someone was on stage time seemed to drag for me.
Another veteran was up next, Andy Kindler. Here is a guy who does observational humour that is weird as all get out. His biting humour will certainly keep you on your toes if you want to keep up. And, trust me my friends, you’ll want to. If you don’t much of what he is saying will go right over your heads. His style and jokes certainly are not mainstream. There is an outrageous logic to it all. Even his side comments are odd, but good.
I saw this guy perform on a Denis Leary comedy special and have hoped to see him again since. The native New Yorker is now living in California and I am thinking he must stick out like a sore thumb as he is your prototypical New Yorker. He is usually pissed off about something and talking very loudly about it. So much so that his best bit was about how he cannot sleep because there are always a million things on his mind irritating him. His onstage persona is wound so tightly that he even took the piss out of people who drive Priuses. Everyone was in his crosshairs.
To round out the evening was a small guy (he’s actually a small person) who got the biggest laughs. I had heard that Brad Williams was one of the better acts at The Nasty Show and his short closing set did nothing to dissuade me. His entire set was about him being a midget (okay to say it according to him) or small person. He certainly is not afraid to make himself the butt of the joke. Williams is not going to allow you to make a joke of him because he is going to beat you to the punch. His short set was filled with non-stop riotous laughs. Williams took on the subjects of sex, race, disabilities, and relationships. Did not shy away from anything. All of it came at you at a frenetic pace. No wonder he is one of the more in demand comedians working today.