My own private Just for Laughs festival

Call me melodramatic, but I’ve vowed to attend the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal once before I die. Standup comedy is so enjoyable and relaxing for me that The Comedy Network’s “Comedy Now” program helps me fall asleep on Sunday nights. I have countless favourite comedians, and most are Canadian. (I’d probably cancel life-saving surgery if it meant I could see Ron James perform live.) But Just for Laughs is like the Mecca of standup, in my opinion. I’ve probably seen every televised JFL gala at least once, if not ten times. I’d almost kill, to go.

Yet in one big swoop last Friday, Just for Laughs came to me instead. After recently branching out of Montreal with annual cross-country tours, JFL has instituted a three-day version of the festival in Toronto. This year’s event happened last week, from July 24th to 26th.

Professional comedian Greg Morton performs all over the continent, and I’ve often seen him on the Just for Laughs specials. So when my friend, who knows him, told me he was appearing at Yonge-Dundas square last Friday, I was happy I’d finally get to see him live. She even thought we might go for coffee together afterwards. But instead of being a “quickie” event, the evening turned out to be a full comedy program, and for me, suddenly transformed into a bonanza of favourite performers.

Shaun Majumder was the host. You know — the Shaun Majumder of Just for Laughs, the Halifax Comedy Festival, CBC TV’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes? (Not to mention a role in the massive U.S. TV series, 24.) I thought, “Yay, what a bonus!” Little did I know.

After Majumder finished his own standup routine, he introduced the next performer: “Please welcome, from Timmins, Ontario…” And I squealed, “Derek Edwards? Derek Edwards??” Because he happens to be in my highest echelon of favourites, possibly at the top.

And yes, it was Derek Edwards in the flesh, mentioning how he’s the second-most famous performer from Timmins, Ontario – the first being, of course, Shania Twain. “It’s like being the second-most famous person from Bethlehem,” Edwards said, in his distinctively droll style. (I’ve heard it before, but it’s just different – better – when you hear it in person.)

Incidentally, Edwards inadvertently demonstrated what an unsuitable venue Yonge-Dundas Square is for events like this. He obviously felt that the crowd might not be with him, because from onstage, the performers only hear themselves, echoing back from surrounding buildings (and billboards!), and barely hear the crowd response. I wanted to holler to him that we really were laughing enthusiastically. I sure was.

‘I can die happy now,’ I thought to myself. ‘How can anything be better than this?’

Oh boy. Let me tell you how.

Greg Morton was the grand finale, the big bang, the fireworks to bring the show to a riotous conclusion. I thought I’d seen his best; his “Star Wars in 60 Seconds” is an absolute classic. But his set of musical impressions, complete with changes of clothes – everyone from Prince to Mick Jagger to James Brown to Madonna – that non-stop frenetic energy left the huge crowd packing the Square simply howling.

My other favourites were a nice bonus to the evening, but we all agreed: if Morton had been the only performer, we’d still have been extremely happy.

But the bonanza still wasn’t over. As my friend and I finally strolled toward a nearby restaurant with Morton and his wife, I remarked on the difference I’ve noticed between the Just for Laughs and HBO specials. I used another favourite of mine – Russell Peters – as an example, having seen him in both contexts. Morton confirmed that Canadian and American audiences are very different, and you must tailor your performance to each crowd.

Then we rounded a corner and there was the icing on my comedy cake: Russell Peters himself, having his picture taken with fans. Morton made introductions all around, then he and Peters tried to figure out when they could get together sometime, since they’re rarely in the same city at the same moment.

I wondered if these comedians get tired of the constant travelling. Morton later told us how, on each of his travel days the week before, some airline had a major delay or an outright cancellation. It has to be tough sometimes. But he keeps doing it – and doing it very well! – and seems to enjoy it.

I hope it’s as worth it for these performers as it is for their fans. For me, Friday evening was an unexpected thrill, as half my favourite comedians materialized out of the woodwork in less than two hours.

As I remarked to my friend when we bade Peters farewell and entered the restaurant, “This is better than rock stars.”


[By the way, don’t forget to click on my link to Greg Morton’s blog, “Blogged Down,” over there in my blogroll.]


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