Montreal’s annual Just for Laughs comedy festival is the biggest of its kind in the world, with over 350 artists performing over the span of a couple of weeks. It’s the kind of overwhelmingly scheduled event where you can see Maria Bamford, Todd Glass, Mike O’Brien, and Chris Gethard in one night. But perhaps the greatest joy of JFL is discovering new talent, the unfamiliar names that could very well be the festival’s future headliners.
Twenty comedians from across the United States took the stage at Montreal’s historic Monument-National theater on Wednesday night for the New Faces showcase — a series that has given rise to some of the most prominent names in comedy today, including Amy Schumer (2007), Jimmy Fallon (1996), Ali Wong and Jerrod Carmichael (2011), Pete Davidson (2013), and Michelle Wolf (2014). Below, the most promising stand-ups from the 2018 crop.
A sardonic blonde clad in black, Rosebud Baker brought serious New York vibes to her set; you could practically smell the stale cigarette smoke when she stepped out onto the stage. That’s a compliment! Baker’s no-nonsense, wickedly dirty routine cut through the evening like barbed wire. “I am straight,” she professed, “in spite of this pussy-eating voice.”
This bookish New York–dwelling Jew took a real shine to Emmy Blotnick, whose relatively quiet, almost sheepish voice belies her cutting sense of humor. (I don’t want to spoil her wonderfully blue jokes about The Rock.) Her opening bit about superhero movies had the audience in stitches: Don’t guys realize, she joked, that when they take women to movies with titles like Captain War: America Man, they’re just giving them two and a half hours to contemplate who else they could be dating? “No more three-hour movies about Happy Meal toys fighting on a rock,” she declared. Amen.
“Keep it going for the white race, everybody!” DeForest, an affable bearded white guy based in New York, joked as he took to the stage. DeForest — who recently took over hosting duties for Hannibal Buress at the Knitting Factory’s weekly comedy series — is the nice white guy next door, a sort of everyman with a straightforward, matter-of-fact delivery that goes a long way when your jokes are centered on the inherent creepiness of men and why they should all feel terribly guilty about it. Speaking of the male sex organ, DeForest quipped, “If I see a woman I’m attracted to, it fills with blood. What is this, a horror movie?”
This “nonthreatening black guy number two,” as Jourdain Fisher introduced himself, talked about growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, in a family that owned a funeral home. “When I heard gunshots growing up,” he quipped, “that meant it’s gonna be a good Christmas.” Fisher killed with his closing bit about how white people have no “natural predator,” thus feel the need to make up shit like Game of Thrones. In a white-guy voice that Boots Riley would approve of, Fisher mused, “What if there were zombies and dragons?”
A diffident blonde who, from a distance at least, is a dead ringer for a young Maria Bamford — with the high, pinched voice to match — Erica Rhodes has a cerebral style that manifests in lots of wordplay jokes. After disclosing that her father uses a wheelchair, she remarked on the head-scratching concept of the fundraising walk for Multiple sclerosis. It seems “disrespectful,” she said, adding, “Sorry, dad. When I have an idea I run with it.”
This D.C. native, now living in New York, announced her frisky, good-humored energy right on her shirt — a white tee with the word “Paris” in black block letters printed all over it. With a voice and laid-back vibe that reminded me of Wanda Sykes, Sashay began by taking a moment to acknowledge and appreciate one positive by-product of Trump’s election: the spectacle of two factions of white people, the president’s supporters and critics, who vehemently despise each other. It’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s other dream!
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, look no further than Usama Siddiquee, who brought such exuberance to his set it almost tired me out. A Texas-bred, New York–based comic with a madcap energy, Siddiquee has an uber-confident stage presence — which I guess you’d have to, with a name like that. “My name is Usama,” he introduced himself. “No relation.” Observing that these days, we often assume the worst of white guys, he asked a white man in the audience to say “hi”; when the man obliged, he turned to the rest of us and said, we all heard just a whisper of the “N” word there, didn’t we?
This SoCal native just oozes L.A. One of her bits, which would likely go over better in a West Hollywood club than an 800-seat theater in Montreal, is a character she calls Plastic Surgery Face — a woman with a permanent duckface who talks in a voice she describes as “BILF”: “Baby I’d like to fuck.” “Are you my Uber?” she whined. Tarr can manipulate her voice and her face into hilariously twisted impressions, like her set-ending one of Robert De Niro’s face while giving a blow job. Try it sometime!
Originally from Detroit, Ron Taylor has an appealingly scrappy vibe — he began his set by describing his early days in Los Angeles, when he lived out of a van and stole precious shower time from women he’d meet on Tinder. “If you’re looking for friends,” he warned women on dating apps, “go to the park. This is the internet! We’re here to fuck!” Taylor’s energy and ease is infectious; he’ll let out a cackle after one of his own jokes, and his enjoyment boosts ours. Plus he’s got a kick-ass abortion joke, after which he defensively declared, “Y’all can kiss my ass; that’s funny.” No argument here.
Zach Noe Towers
“I am super gay,” Zach Noe Towers announced at the start of his set, “in case there are any deaf, blind people in the room.” An L.A. transplant from the Midwest, the skinny, blond Towers has the boyish irreverence of Please Like Me‘s Josh Thomas, and the flippant wit of the “asshole” played by Max Jenkins on High Maintenance. “I was raised super Catholic,” he divulged. “Anyone else … get molested?” (Relax, it was a joke!)
Now based in L.A., this lanky blond from Kansas is a great voice artist; he started his set with a side-splitting impression of Kings of Leon — “if they were lost in the woods.” Watkins uses the whole animal in his act — his stringbean of a body and his remarkably versatile voice were both put to good use. And his Michael Caine impression could go toe-to-toe with even the sharpest British comics.