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Matt Wright and Nick Nemeroff head up a strong list of hilarious, but not very diverse, comedy albums
There’s a glaring lack of diversity in this year’s nominees for best Juno comedy album. All five comics are white, and four are straight dudes. Where’s Brandon Ash-Mohammed’s Capricornication or Nick Reynoldson’s I’ll Be Fine (both reviewed here), or Rebecca Kohler’s Guilty And Disgusting, or Michelle Shaunessy’s Botoxic?
Apart from that, there’s not a weak album on the list. And the comics hail from across the country, so there’s that.
If I had to choose a favourite, it’d probably be Matt Wright‘s Existing Is Exhausting (Independent; Rating: NNNNN). The Newfoundland-born comic is one of those gifted writer/performers who can take a premise or situation and make it go to unexpected, wildly imaginative places.
His bit on Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner, for instance, starts out funnily enough, but he ramps up the joke to act out Cherry’s mispronunciations of hockey players’ names like a play-by-play commentator. It’s a bravura routine, and earns its audience applause.
Wright delivers solid one-liners about gym rats and leftovers in the fridge, but he really shines in his extended jokes. Just listen to him imagine how the croutons ended up in Caesar’s salads, for instance, or see where he goes after introducing his dog, a humble rescue beagle.
Even when he messes up a line, he acknowledges the mistake and, like a good improviser, makes it even funnier. He does this near the end, before his astonishing set closer, a triumphant tale about a drunken night out at a dance bar. After hearing this joke, you’ll never look at a Subway sandwich shop in the same way again.
Nick Nemeroff’s debut album, The Pursuit Of Comedy Has Ruined My Life (Independent; Rating: NNNNN), shows a stand-up in total control of his voice, persona and material.
The Montreal-born comic has got a soft-spoken, almost introverted delivery that immediately gets the audience on his side. Before his first joke is done, however, he subtly turns on us, making us realize we’re in for a very funny, passive-aggressive ride.
Nemeroff has mastered the art of comic misdirection – one of his tracks is even called Classic Misdirection. Whether he’s joking about taking his fiancée’s name, riffing on Hitler – which at first he’s hesitant to do because he’s “not a political comedian” – or showing concern over a barista crying at a cafe, he expertly swerves away from our expectations.
He leads up to one of his funniest jokes by pretending to be upset – his somewhat monotonous voice even cracks under the faux emotion – and the contrast is wickedly effective. Nemeroff is clever enough to know that he needs to break up the hour-long set of relatively short jokes with something different, and so he introduces a surprise that does the trick. Smart.
And when a patron drops a glass on the floor, interrupting a joke, he leans into it, making the decision not to finish the joke. There’s nothing like live comedy.
While his final joke – which involves UFC fighters and fetishes – isn’t the classiest finale, Nemeroff makes it work, delivering a happy ending for all.
Speaking of happy endings, Shirley Gnome, the Vancouver-based comic singer/songwriter, is no stranger to sexually-tinged puns, as you can tell from the title of her new album, Decoxification (Comedy Here Often?; Rating: NNNN).
Toronto Fringe audiences know her from her clever and raunchy show Taking It Up The Notch. Decoxification catches up with her life as an adventurous single woman in the era of dating apps and hashtag social movements.
Gnome’s act benefits from being seen live – there’s nothing like laughing with a couple hundred people about human sexuality – but most of the songs are still effective even when listening solo.
One amusing song explores sex among the elderly, while another comments on why Gnome’s desire not to have children should be considered selfish.
A song called Eggplant Emoji brilliantly examines why so many straight men have the maturity of children, and then touches on women’s responses to that. The smartest song on the album features a guy mansplaining why Gnome should write a song about #MeToo.
And the track with the widest appeal is a bit of an in-joke. Gnome signed to 604 Records, which is co-owned by Chad Kroeger of Nickleback. So her song Nickleback’s Not So Bad – which includes a brilliant parody of one of the rock band’s songs – is especially funny, an homage that doesn’t pull it punches.
Of all the Juno nominees, Montreal’s Derek Seguin is the only one to tape his set during the pandemic – just witness the title of his album, Panderek (1st Wave!) (Independent; Rating: NNNN).
He gets a couple of laughs from the virus – being self-deprecating about the size of his typical crowds, for instance, and pointing out how quiet the audience gets when he coughs – but most of the set consists of well-crafted dad jokes.
Seguin’s act is the most middle-of-the-road of the five, but he’s got such energy and enthusiasm – and his jokes are so polished – that he easily wins us over.
Whether he’s discussing his impulse buys at Costco or shopping at Urban Outfitters with his daughters, he’s sharply observant and relatable.
I get the feeling Seguin could sometimes go deeper and darker. During a bit about Toronto narcissism, he has a joke about how some of the city’s birds don’t identify as geese but rather as ducks. That has potential to go somewhere interesting, but he pulls back.
His best joke – and one I’ll listen to many times – involves a trip to the Bay to buy some cologne. From his description of the Bay Lady’s overly-made up face up close (“super excited, but sad too”) to his discovery of the difference between eau de toilette and parfum, his act is charming and persuasive.
Vancouver-based comic Jacob Samuel is technically one of the best stand-ups of the bunch. He’s perfected his wise, snarky delivery, and his material feels uniquely his own. But in Horse Power (800 Pound Gorilla Records; Rating: NNNN), something about his act seems too exact, almost chilly; there’s no warmth, nothing to endear him to us.
That’s not to say he isn’t clever. The way he deconstructs the cliché dating advice “there are lots of fish in the sea” to comment on the environment is sharp. And you get a good sense of his personality by the way he analyzes the word “efficient.”
His funniest joke is about how Jews are the hipsters of religion. And, as a Jew, he’s got a great comeback for the racist notion that his people are cheap.
Samuel’s also a master of lateral thinking; part of the joy of this album is watching where his imagination goes when discussing subjects like U.S. elections or doves vs. pigeons.
But there’s something slightly repetitive and monotonous about his act. He’s totally confident, but perhaps doesn’t realize that a bit of vulnerability could make an audience not just admire him but love him, too.
The 2021 Juno Awards will take place on June 6, 2021 and air on CBC TV, Radio One, Music and Gem. See more on the Juno Awards here.