Here's a synopsis of what went down last night at the first gala for the first Toronto Just For Laughs fest:
1/ Guy from JFL comes on and thanks people. He knows to keep it brief. When Mayor Miller's thanked he gets booed. Wow. Tough crowd.
2/ Host Howie Mandel comes on and says he's "glad to be home" about a thousand times. His weird spacey getup looks like a Project Runway assignment: Design an outfit to make someone in their 50s look cool. It actually works. Would you believe Mandel's 51? Facial hair is reduced to a tiny nub beneath the chin. He's all nervous because he kicks off the night with a live taping of The Tonight Show, to be broadcast later that night. Jay Leno's his usual innocuous self. Cute segment on Howie punking customers at the Fairmont Hotel. His set itself is a variation on the "aren't men and women different creatures?" theme. Shopping. Sex gets boring when older. Testicle exam. He gets a big round of applause when he announces he's been married for 32 years. Easy crowd.
3/ John Mendoza comes on, an old-style comic who apparently performed regularly for Johnny Carson. No kidding. In the program, his picture's in black-and-white and must be 20 years old. So's his material. Insulting stuff about ugly people (like he's one to talk, the geezer). You can feel the women in the audience burning up. So it’s a good thing he’s followed by…
4/ Kathleen Madigan, best known these days as a host on Last Comic Standing and a former contestant herself. (She's the one looking for female comics – you go, girl!) Calm but confident delivery, with lively impressions (Larry King, Liza Minelli, Dubya), dead-on observations and something missing from the show until now: warmth. Great material about the Catholic church. Good to end on that and not the American Idol stuff, which didn't do very well.
5/ Bill Burr/Frank Skinner/Alonzo Bodden. So-so laughs. Most interesting part comes when U.K. comic Skinner delivers an Elton John joke, after which many people in the audience shout, “He’s married to a Canadian!” Oooo. Liberal audience.
6/ "Special guest" John Pinette bounds onto the stage to close out the show and talk about his bad nutrition and food choices, milking his easy access to anger and his somewhat angelic smile. The audience adores him, mostly because he’s a kid at heart expressing his basic needs. His eating in Italy joke kills. Standing oh, followed by a big standing oh for the whole night. Way too generous audience.
Tonight (Friday), there’s the Lewis Black-hosted gala (looking forward to Richard Lewis and Jeremy Hotz, as well as NOW cover girl Nikki Payne), and the kick-off of the Street Theatre series with Fresh Faces Of Comedy, hosted by the terrific Jon Dore (whose TV show is coming soon to your airwaves).
Tip: get to Russell Peters’s free 7:15 pm show at Yonge-Dundas Square early, it’s going to be madness, rain or no rain. And I’m looking forward to Dotcomedy’s Misinformation Tent at 9 pm to see if they can help me organize the rest of my JFL schedule.