A bout of prostatitis prevented John Cleese from hosting this showcase for UK talent at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. The British comedy icon was due to be one of the event's big draws, along with the US stars Bill Cosby and Whoopi Goldberg, before illness struck and hospitalised him, although he is due to make a rescheduled appearance before the festival ends.
The British contingent carried on regardless, but inevitably reference was made to the ex-Python's absence. The show's announcer took care to note the irony of the new host's origins: "Your host of tonight's Britcom Gala, please welcome from Silver Spring, Maryland, Lewis Black."
Opening the showcase, Brit Mark Watson used the Cleese no-show to embroider his early routines, remarking: "It's good if your expectations are not too high... Canadians seem to have a similar world view to the British, which is 'it will probably be shit, but let's hope for the best'."
Similarly downbeat musings were on the mind of British-Nigerian comic Gina Yashere, who imagined her mother's thought processes as she was making the decision to leave Nigeria for the UK: "Where shall I go? You know what? I am fed up of all this sun, I want to go somewhere with a lot of drizzle and subtle racism."
Subtlety is not a word you could apply to Jimmy Carr, though straightforward is. "My name is Jimmy Carr and here are my jokes" is all you will get by way of scene-setting before an armoury of one-liners is unloaded. Tonight's selection included: "You know you're old when you're watching porn and you're thinking 'that bed looks comfy' "; "Most people who have cosmetic surgery are disappointed by the results, but they always look pleasantly surprised"; and an attempt at the shortest possible joke with "Dwarf shortage."
Next came Ross Noble who bounded on stage to do his bit of trademark lunacy, remarking "it's always nice to see that half of you are thinking 'he's funny' and the other half are thinking 'do you think he's dangerous?' Considering that, as one fellow comic put it, it takes Noble 10 minutes to say hello, he made the most of a slot that was not much longer. His set included the best reference to the absent host, imagining him rushed to hospital and undergoing the Dead Parrot sketch all over again: " 'This comedian's dead!' 'No he's not, he's resting.' 'Look, he just moved!' 'No, you defibrillated him.' "
The sketch troupe Idiots of Ants, Fringe favourites and darlings of YouTube, also did well in front of the live audience for this to-be-televised show, in particular with a skit where all four of the group serenade one female audience member.
The Scottish-Asian comedian Danny Bhoy, about to film his own special with the cable channel Comedy Central, closed the show with a tight set that included a routine likening the sound of his cat vomiting to techno music.