Not just for lau ghs

The comedy festival in Montreal is the scene of some heavy-duty schmoozing, as comedians Lee and Herring discovered recently

Richard Herring is late for our interview in the bar at the Delta Hotel in Montreal. Naturally enough, he has been delayed by having to change out of a hawk costume. He had been wearing this for a schoolboy-humour cut-away after his double-act partner, Stewart Lee, had just said: "Rich has been watching me like a hawk." Boom boom.

Festival of Fun, their new series of ironic reports from the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, is chock-full of such wilful stupidity.

There is a running gag about them trying to sneak out of the hotel without paying their bill. In another episode, Herring alludes to "an incident" last year at the Montreal Insectorium when "the police became involved". To be allowed back into Canada this year, he moans, "I had to sign a declaration saying I wouldn't go within six feet of any insect. But it's hard, Stew. They come flirting at you with their colourful wings..." Later on, Herring claims that "it's particularly difficult for me to resist their insecty charms here in Montreal because they buzz around with a French accent and it's romantic."

In a knowing reference to Morecambe and Wise, a pyjama-clad Lee and Herring present a lot of the series from a double bed. Although obviously not in the same class, Lee and Herring have other similarities with the archetypal TV double act. "Our stuff is about the relationship between the two of us," says Herring. "Anyone can relate to that - everyone has someone they argue with."

In their live act and on shows such as BBC2's Fist of Fun and This Morning with Richard Not Judy, they have shown they can bicker for Britain. Herring mentions a sitcom about two hostages that the BBC has commissioned from them. "We want to set it in one room, where two men are trapped and talking rubbish. People say, how will you spin it out into a series?, but there are endless possibilities. In his book about being a hostage, Brian Keenan talks about looking at an orange for a whole day because it was so vivid. In the sitcom Stewart's character will say `That orange is amazing', and then wake up the next morning to find that I've eaten it. You don't need lots of action with a double act."

Lee and Herring's brand of sophisticated childishness goes down well with the audiences in Montreal - particularly when they take the mickey out of the bilingual locals. On stage at the downtown Comedy Works Club, Herring announces that "heroin is dangerous. That's [adopts Inspector Clouseau-esque French accent] `heroine est dangereux', just in case you didn't understand."

The pair try to eschew formulaic "have you ever noticed?" humour. "It's always original stuff that makes me laugh," says Herring, "which is why I don't like a lot of the American comedians here. They just talk about their girlfriends and the difference between cats and dogs."

And there is certainly a great deal of that at Just For Laughs. Belying that title, comedy here is strictly business, and originality is not encouraged. During the fortnight of the biggest comedy festival in the world, Montreal plays host to a veritable vipers' nest of Hollywood execs (is that the right collective noun?). They slither around the venues in the hope of sinking their teeth into one of the 500 or so comedians who have come to Canada from all corners of the globe to perform a seven-minute showcase. The Hollywood hit-rate is pretty impressive. Over the past 16 years, such US sitcom giants as Roseanne, Jerry Seinfeld, Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde-Pierce, Tim Allen and Michael Richards have been snapped up at Just for Laughs. The thought of becoming "the new Seinfeld" is quite alluring for any up-and-coming stand-up.

Despite being courted by Hollywood's finest themselves, Lee and Herring view what they call the "meat market" with a sense of amused detachment in their Festival of Fun series. "Comedians have been sent here to be discovered and they can't risk a set longer than seven minutes," says Lee. "That depresses me. This is the way-in to TV, but it's also a failing of the system that the execs imagine there is any correlation between doing seven minutes of good stand-up and being good at anything else. The people from Hollywood are looking for someone who does seven minutes of material that could fit into a sitcom with their name in the title."

"There is no other festival where each comedian only does seven minutes," Herring persists. "It's like doing an advert for yourself. At least at the Edinburgh Festival, you can try different stuff out. Here it's the cynical thing of everyone schmoozing at the Delta bar. I tend to get drunk and be abusive to important people. The whole thing is so shallow. On the night, they say `you're great'. But the next day, you're back to being a nobody. In the series, we have this surreal thing that the whole Festival sends me mad, and I start believing that we actually live in this bed together. Stewart has to explain to me that it's a comic premise."

Other British comedians are equally bewildered by the Festival schmooze- athon. "I've been overdosing on it," says Sean Meo. "There's always some guy at three in the morning buzzing round this bar like a wasp trying to clinch some deal. But after 84 margueritas is not the best time to do it. Sitting in a bar buying drinks for someone who says he's the head of NBC is not my idea of fun."

Tim Vine, another British stand-up at the Festival, has also found the experience baffling. "I've been approached by a few people who want money for a cup of coffee, and I've told them to go away. I hope they weren't Hollywood moguls."

`Festival of Fun' is on Paramount Comedy Channel at 11pm, Mon to Thur and will be shown on C5 in the New Year. `This Morning with Richard Not Judy' returns to BBC2 in the spring

James Rampton

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss