Just for Laughs Festival: Day Two

All the action from day two of the world’s second-largest comedy festival
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The Independent Culture

Tuesday night at Just for Laughs in Montreal was ladies night. Or at least it was for me.

I’d chosen to go and see two shows that couldn’t be more different in tone, both involving the ladies. The first was the one-woman show of stand-up, and Rosie O’Donnell Show writer and producer, Judy Gold, the other was the ‘Nasty Girls’ showcase featuring four feisty females including British-Nigerian comedian Gina Yashere.

‘Judy Gold is Mommy Queerest’ at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre was the story of Gold’s journey from awkward New Jersey kid to confident New York stand-up and of bringing up two kids as a lesbian mum. Never far away on this journey is Gold’s own mother who conforms to the busybody stereotype so often applied to Jewish mothers. However, Gold’s show is a very open and honest portrayal and you never feel the 6’3” performer is telling tales that are any taller than they need to be. You believe her when she says that “screaming and silence were the only two methods of communication in our house” or, that when Gold goes to university in Newark, her mother roamed the dorms looking for Jewish names on the doors of her daughter’s fellow students.

Like the Sandra Bernhard you could take home to meet your own mother Gold is low on caustic attitude but still witty (“Why do tumours always have to resemble fruit shapes?”) and passionate about for example, the inequities between heterosexual marriage and gay marriage in terms of benefits. Gold informs us that gay couples in the US miss out on 1128 rights and has a good stab at trying to name as many of them as possible in one of better, less schmaltzy, musical numbers of the show.

Just as there was a lot of info to convey here there’s a lot to pack in the show generally, rounding off her parent’s acceptance of her sexuality and describing the difficulty faced falling out of love with the her partner and mother of her first child. Tonight was only the second performance of this show so further development is inevitable and, while nothing feels irrelevant as such, cuts are there to be made. It’s certainly the kind of ‘me show’ that would grace the Edinburgh Fringe and end up at Soho Theatre in London for example, so watch those spaces. All in all this was an enjoyable, if overlong, show that wasn’t spoilt by the fact that the lady sat next to me would say: “that’s funny” when something was funny rather than actually laugh.

Someone who has already graced both those spaces is Gina Yashere. I hadn’t realised that ‘our Gina’ now lives in LA and has done for the past couple of years, presumably in the wake of her appearance in the Last Comic Standing, the X-Factor style talent show that mixed US and UK comics of varying levels of experience. Life in California appears to have left her leaner (colonic irrigation it turns out) and meaner if the evidence of her stewardship of the ‘Nasty Girls’ gig at the atmospheric Club Soda was anything to go by. ‘Nasty Girls’ is one of the themed nights at Just for Laughs along with The Ethnic Heroes of Comedy and an example of how TV scouts can be conveniently steered to fill any quotas they may happen to be looking to fill. The title always puts me in mind of the strip club scene in Beverley Hills Cop where the song ‘Nasty Girl’ by Vanity plays, and I guess that’s the risqué vibe that it aspires to.

Yashere duly obliged the ‘nasty’ theme by talking about the one in three men that she reckoned must have slept with a Ladyboy even after discovering their true sexuality. By this point she had already struck up a teasing relationship with audience member ‘PBT’ which stood for Pot Bellied…erm..something-or-other. I confess I missed what the T was as it was mentioned while I was hot-footing it from the end of Judy Gold’s show. I’m sure it wasn’t flattering, but stayed on the right side of jocular even when most of the rest of the acts picked up on it.

Rachel Feinstein, a kind of animated Sarah Silverman but without the depth of material yet, was first up after Yashere’s compere slot had ended with a parody of profane gangster rappers (“these guys were kids once!” she exclaimed). While gansta rappers might have been too heavy on machismo for Yashere, Feinstein complained of men she was meeting who were “sprinkled with gay” and expressed equal discomfort for having men narrate on a date i.e. “so tonight I met the most wonderful girl…” Without setting the crowd on fire Feinstein demonstrated some nice flourishes and I enjoyed her comparison of bored porn actresses sounding like she does when she’s moving furniture.

Burning up the crowd is what the paradoxically-named B Phlat is all about. In amongst all the ‘bitch-ing’ and ‘motherfucking’ that punctuates her act with there are some decent gags including one about living in the ‘hood’ being good for “getting shit done”: “I had a crack-head cut my lawn with some scissors for two dollars.” Despite the high-energy approach the material is run-of-the-mill but B-Phlat is good at giving what she has 100%, though for some tastes 20% might be enough.

Following from Yashere’s suitably scatological gag: “have you ever done a shit so big it flushed itself?” Newfoundlander Nikki Payne got the audience going with a story about how she donated a kidney to her dad. It didn’t do much for me comedically, in a pen-to-notebook type way (or say out loud “that’s funny), but it was a set that relied on truth of experience rather than stereotype projection if nothing else.

Completing the quartet of what Yashere called ‘Nasty Bitches’ was 52 year old Thea Vidale, star of her own short-lived sitcom, Thea, and a bit-parter on numerous other shows. It has to be said that only someone of Vidale’s age will remember when the line advising men with small member’s to promise: “I will do the best I can and take you shopping afterwards” was last funny. Equally I have to hand it to this large-framed lady, with a personality to match, she has the kind of eloquence and presence that can pull it off. Equally clichéd is the advice to women on how to give the perfect blow-job, “suck a dick, save a life” being her catchphrase on this matter.

While I, er, personally feel there are some jokes that you can never hear enough of, I couldn’t help but wonder…from Judy Gold to this? In a matter of hours I’d gone from the subtle to the ‘sucking’. Less than a mile away in terms of location, but metaphorically worlds apart.