Formerly known as The Ethnic Show, Just for the Culture has been a staple show in the Just for Laughs comedy festival for years. It is a show which celebrates the diversity in the festival and, for that matter, the world. The concept is that a handful of stand-up comedians from different cultural backgrounds take the stage and talk about what their culture (or others) means to them. This year the host was veteran comedian (he mentioned he just turned 60! Looking good!) Alonzo Bodden with the comedians performing being Dave Merheje, Jessica Kirson, Paul Rabliauskas, Sheng Wang, Yannis Pappas and Zainab Johnson.
Taking place at Club Soda on Saint Laurent, the venue is a great one for comedy allowing for excellent sightlines and the feeling of being close to the comedians without being packed in. We went to the 7 pm show, sat at one of the small tables upstairs and none of us had any complaints about being able to see.
A show like this one is always a bit of a shot in the dark as you never know what you are going to get. The comedians are usually ones you have not heard of before so don’t know their style and the fact that each does about 10 minutes can be tricky for some stand ups. I have seen great comedians bomb at galas or shows like this one because they cannot adapt their style or material to a short set. Thankfully that was not the case for anyone on this bill.
Getting the crowd ready was a man who has been in the comedy scene for over two decades, Alonzo Bodden. With his laidback style, Bodden is as sure a bet as the Habs not winning the Stanley Cup since 1993. In this case, however, it is a good thing. A regular performer at JFL over the years and the winner of season 3 of Last Comedian Standing, he is the type of comedian who can make almost anything funny. During his little intro set, he riffed on the fact that stupidity seems to be the culture du jour in his native United States and gave us a little lesson on language. Meaning he told us that the attacking of late on comedians for what they may have said during their acts 15 years ago was silly. It is all about context. Words that were used then are not appropriate now. Like how he cannot call a friend of his a midget anymore as the correct word(s) is now a little person.
First up was Sheng Wang, another comedian with a (very) laidback style. The Houston, Texas native has just filmed his first stand up special. He has toured in the past with Ali Wong and has done some writing for the network show, Fresh Off the Boat. Wang delivers a very dry and witty brand of humour. Even though he had the tough opening slot, he got the crowd in the mood for the show by consistently having them laughing.
Next up was Zainab Johnson, another regular at Just for Laughs. A Muslim American with a really engaging on stage personality, she divided her time on stage addressing a woman in the front who she claimed was throwing her as she looked like a character from The Devil Wears Prada and talking about being black, Muslim and her name. The NYC native has a definite point of view slant to her comedy that works really well.
Rounding out the first half of the show was Dave Merheje. Of Lebanese background, he brought the volume and energy up. Moving back and forth across the stage, his set included what it is like to have Arab parents and a hilariously accurate bit about ordering food at Boustan.
After a short intermission and a little more from Bodden, Paul Rabliauskas kicked off the second half. An Indigenous comedian from Winnipeg, he builds his anxiety into his act. As well as his large size. Recently he taped a JFL set that will be available soon on Crave.
Yannis Pappas was there representing Greeks. His set included laughs about being Greek Orthodox and a couple of hot-button topics. He always seems to be on the verge of losing his mind up on stage which adds to the humour. A world-class ranter.
Last up was, in my opinion (and also based on the uproarious laughter from the crowd) the funniest, was Jewish comedian Jessica Kirson. I was in stitches throughout her too short set. Ten minutes was not enough! She did bits about performing for seniors in Florida while they engage in full, loud conversations, how she does not understand how her grandfather ever had sex with her grandmother – a woman who never let him get a word in over their entire marriage and having an anxiety attack while walking down the street in front of a couple of female millennials. The voices she does are incredible and hilarious!
You have another week to catch a Just for the Culture show as it will be at Club Soda until July 28th. Go and you will be guaranteed a fun night of laughs.