COMEDY / Taking laughing stock: Jenny Landreth spends a week at the Montreal Comedy Festival

THE BRITISH comedians Mark Thomas and Jack Dee were sitting at a large table with five Canadian performers. 'Tossers,' said Thomas. 'Do you have tossers here?' The five shook their heads. 'No. We have arseholes and jerk- offs,' one said, 'but not tossers.' Thomas crossed out three lines in his notebook. 'What about hedgehogs?' asked Dee. The Canadians didn't seem sure, which was surprising; you might have thought the squashed hedgehog gag was international.

This global linguistics exercise is easily explained. Thomas and Dee were about to do their first warm-up gigs at the Comedy Nest venue, in preparation for the British Gala section of the Montreal Comedy Festival, Just For Laughs. And there would have been little point travelling 10 hours for seven minutes of televised performance only to fail on a technicality. It has happened before: a British comic was doing really well until he mentioned Sellotape, which so baffled his audience he lost them completely. Daunted by this story, Thomas and Dee were attempting to become international.

It's humid drizzle rather than blazing sky, but Just For Laughs is a kind of comedy Olympics. The Americans seem taller and healthier than everyone else, set on taking every medal; the British team seem eccentric in comparison. The performers train for their big event with warm-up shows and some heavy pep-talking from agents and managers, always ready with the mobile phone and warm towel when they come off the track.

This year is Thomas's first and Dee's second race. Heading straight for the comedy clubs from the airport, both were keen to test the humorous waters: there may be a world of difference between playing to 90 people in the intimate Comedy Works venue and 4,000 people in a massive urban theatre, but if those 90 don't get the one about Captain Birdseye, there's a fair chance the 4,000 won't either.

Tuesday night, and the Olympics began to hot up. The top British medal hope, Ben Elton, arrived to do an hour-long show (also in preparation for Thursday's gala, which he was to MC) at the Comedy Works. This was his Canadian debut, and a rare opportunity to watch a big man play a small room, Linford Christie at a school sports day. He presented a seamless, masterful hour; although seeing him in a tiny space is like watching a caricature of himself. The gesticulation, the grimaces, the Larndan accent become larger than life under the scrutiny of a small spotlight, and within the performance you see flashes of unexpected people: a young Robin Day, a salacious Frankie Howerd, a whirling Magnus Pike, even a De Niro Mean Streets shrug or two.

The evening is dampened when we all sojourn to the 'Nasty Show' at Club Soda. It should have been enough warning; we walk into a Samurai comedy troupe lighting their farts, and are finally assaulted by the bile of Bobby Slayton. The self-styled 'Pit Bull of Comedy' was the nastiest, most aggressive fascistic stick of a man I've ever seen. Racist, homophobic and misogynist, eaten away by bitterness . . . and the crowd bayed for more.

By the end of Wednesday, all the British had ran their heats. Eddie Izzard arrived, straight from a two-hour show in Vancouver, to do a seven-minute recording; comedy pop stars Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer had bemused an audience who simply didn't see that a 25-foot roll of beige carpeting was funny; Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse as DJ's Mike Smash and Dave Nice had mistakenly presumed that their audience might have a grasp on the simple notion of irony. And, without the aid of steroids, Mark Thomas had performed a stunning set that acted as a nerve-settler before the big night.

By Thursday, it was all over bar the shouting. By this stage, commentators were beginning to adjust their opinions, taking their money off the big players and grudgingly acknowledging that the younger British performers, Thomas, Dee and Izzard, might come through the ribbon first.

As compere, Ben Elton seemed to fit more snugly into the large theatre. And by the end of the evening it was clear who the victors really were. Jack Dee was first up, and set the pace straight away. He showed that he had found his feet and exactly the right material bang on cue. The crowd adored Eddie Izzard for his bilingual routine - you don't need to speak French to work here, but it helps. And Mark Thomas kept his best punches for the night, when the energy and precision of his target shooting was stormingly appreciated. Sometimes, it seems, outside runners are worth betting on.

Mark Thomas and Jack Dee are playing at the Assembly Rooms and Eddie Izzard is at the Gilded Balloon during the Edinburgh festival. Just For Laughs will be broadcast by Channel 4 in September.

Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
    Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

    They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

    A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
    David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

    Hanging with the Hoff

    Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
    Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

    Hipsters of Arabia

    Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
    The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

    The cult of Roger Federer

    What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
    Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

    Malaysian munchies

    With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
    10 best festival beauty

    Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

    Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

    A Different League

    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

    Steve Bunce on Boxing

    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf