A cross-section of Canuck comic talent – including local legend Seán Cullen – took the spotlight at the Rivoli last night, in a special edition of the long-running ALTdot COMedy Lounge that was affiliated with the ongoing JFL42 festival.
Other highlights of a mostly successful show included sets by Debra DiGiovanni, Arthur Simeon and Dave Merheje. The first of two shows in which the Just For Laughs-based festival is sponsoring ALTdot, it showcased a wide variety of performers and styles to a standing-room-only crowd. Most of the acts appeared to be sticking with tried-and-true material, with relatively few current topical references (what, no Romney digs?), and the laughs were generally consistent.
Running on Mondays and Tuesdays at the Rivoli, the ALTdot COMedy Lounge has become a Toronto institution over the last sixteen years, featuring hundreds of comedians both established and up-and-coming. The only thing missing from last night's show were the “surprise guests” promised by the press materials – even though there's no shortage of comedy stars in town for JFL42. ALTdot has hosted surprise appearances by Robin Williams, Lewis Black and Janeane Garofalo in the past.
Cullen absolutely stole the night, closing the first half with a set so polished, controlled and hilarious that it made all the other acts look disappointing in comparison. Starting off with some shots at the Marineland scandal, Rob Ford and the Toronto police, plus some riffing with the audience, he segued into a dead-on, brilliant imitation of a blustery, Inherit the Wind-style Southern lawyer. The bit lasted several minutes and never lapsed for a second, as Cullen loaded his pompous courtroom speech with irrelevancies, weird metaphors and mockery of the education and qualifications of his opponent, “Big City Lawyer”.
DiGiovanni's brash, fast-paced set poured on the self-deprecation, taking on her own slight obesity and sex life. “I lost a bit of weight recently,” she quipped, adding, “I found it in the fridge.” She also shared her fascination with stationery: “Paperclips are slutty staples.”
Simeon talked about his Ugandan ethnicity and the awkwardness it sometimes causes while living in Canada. Referring to a woman who'd said she found Africans “creepy”, he said: “You can't put all of us in the same boat – again.” Simeon also ridiculed the futility of women using the fake-phone-call trick to discourage strange men, sarcastically quipping, “Because people who attack women are very socially polite.”
Merheje, who currently stars on MTV Live, started out low-key but soon moved into his typical pumped-up ranting, stringing together some very funny observations about a crackhead uncle, a sexed-up cat and a girl with missing teeth, scattered with his usual random throwaway details.
The Late Late Show's Mark Forward hosted, and he seemed to be on a mission to upstage the main acts with his own outrageous material. He opened by chastising the audience for its (initially) subdued response, then spent the rest of the show hurling mock insults at the crowd, a riff that started out funny but soon became tiresome. He also did some nicely silly bits involving numerous sex positions with a wooden stool, which he named Pete.
Other performers included Pete Zedlacher, who offered a hilarious anecdote about a wrestling bear in Northern Ontario, and Kristeen von Hagen, who talked about trite news stories and her travels in Europe. Only Ron Sparks was a little disappointing; he shared some great material about his recent trip to Cornwall, but also spent too long on a bit mocking the Toronto Maple Leafs' name. (Yes, we all know it should be Leaves.)
K. Trevor Wilson's low-key, stone-faced delivery seemed to bring down the show's high energy at first, but he built up to a great punchline, as he talked about his Christian Scientist family and playing the Penis Game in church. (Wilson opens for Louis CK at the Sony Centre later this week.)
The JFL42 edition of the ALTdot COMedy Lounge continues tonight, with Ryan Belleville hosting; doors at 8:30, show at 9:00.