Monday 27 July 2015

Neil Patrick Harris adds true star power to Just For Laughs galas

I caught the first of four Just For Laughs galas Monday night at the Place des Arts, hosted by superstar Neil Patrick Harris. He was essentially the ringmaster for what was called Circus Awesomeaus. Once again the folks at JFL came up with a pretty novel way to close out another successful celebration of comedy.
The star of the show, NPH.

Harris has hosted 10 televised awards shows over the past few years. Only a few months ago he was front and centre in Hollywood at the Academy Awards. Fast forward to Montreal, a city where he has shot a number of movies, and he did not disappoint as the common thread for a variety show which included a singing clown, a sword swallower, a magician/illusionist, an acrobat, a “little person” stand up comic and a female comic who would be better suited for the Nasty Show.

Local comic Ryan Willner opened things up with a great cross promotion for sponsor Air Canada.  Two spectators, Phillip and Carolina, were upgraded from their balcony seats to front row centre. They each got $250 AC gift cards and a chance to go back stage after the show. Following a short highlight reel of previous gala shows, Puddles the Clown made his way into the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, walked down a few rows and introduced Neil Patrick Harris.  This was one of those “feel good” moments as the capacity crowd of some 3,000 rose to their feet and gave him a loud and lengthy standing ovation. Since this was being taped for airing on a future CBC broadcast,  it made for a great TV moment.

“Montreal is my favorite city in all of Canada,” he said, “and I’ve been to Edmonton.”

Harris spoke about how exciting this past year has been for him. “I played a flamboyant transgender punk rocker in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, then I did something rash and I hosted the Oscars…then I got married,” he said.

Harris made several jokes related  to his sexual orientation, first praising Canada for marking the 10th anniversary since legislation was adopted legalizing same sex marriage. The United States only followed suit recently.  “America’s future is looking more like Canada’s past,” he said.

A funny bit had Harris promising to read the minds  of some audience members. Two pretty women came on stage with a large case. Inside were sealed envelopes.  His first question was to a man near the front, asking if they had ever met before. The man said “no.” Harris then showcased a small board with the word “no,” on it. He then asked a woman in the crowd who her favorite actor ever was. Her response was Red Skelton. Harris promptly displayed the photo of a baby. “Red Skelton at nine months old,” he quipped.

This might not have been up there with his performances at the Tonys or the Oscars, but I got the feeling that just about everyone in the room was so excited to see him live and in person he could just as well have sat there playing solitaire. 

Sammy J and Randy were the first acts to perform. Sammy (Sam McMillan) is an Australian musical comedian and writer who embraces a variety of media in his comedy, including the use of video and self-composed music. Randy is a purple puppet voiced by  Heath McIvor. They were quite funny.

Harris then brought someone out in a wheelchair, outfitted in a straightjacket. It was sword swallower and self confessed professional weird person Brett Loudermilk, who made everyone feel just a little bit uncomfortable.

Next came the true hit of the night – little person Brad Williams,  whom I would go back and see solo any day of the week.  A California native, he started doing stand-up at age 19 and has been touring ever since. He has appeared on numerous TV shows including Legit, Deadbeat, Dave Attell’s Comedy Underground, Sam and Cat, Live at Gotham, the Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Mind Of Mencia, and Pitboss. The late Robin Williams called him “Prozac with a head.” Brad’s ability to make humorous observations on disability, relationships, sex, and race are winning over audiences and proving that anyone can overcome their shortcomings. He joked about walking into a children’s hospital. A young kid ran up to him and said, “don’t worry, they will fix you.” One of his funniest lines was about the looks he gets at the grocery store when he buys Lucky Charms cereal (known  for their leprechauns).

Magician/illusionist Ed Alonzo got some giggles with his bit – swallowing a balloon, followed by some funny sound effects and then having it come out of his rear end. According to what I read on the web, Harris referred to Alonzo as his “best friend” during a 2008 interview on the Craig Ferguson Show. Harris asked for volunteers, as he was told by Alonzo to saw a woman in half. One lady obliged. When the deed was done, her upper torso was transported off stage to which Harris asked “What am I supposed to do with the bottom half of a woman?”   

Someone introduced only as Beardyman came on stage. He created some impressive sound effects with his mouth, from music to a baby talking. Harris then came forward with a fish bowl. Inside people made up the titles for some songs such as “My second boyfriend left me,” to “How did my daughter get lice again?” The bearded man turned these words into pretty good songs.

Acrobat Hugo Desmarais was not only impressive in his aerial cage, but when he seemed to have finished his act he signalled to Harris to come forward and together they flew through the air- a pretty impressive, but risky move for the very successful and wealthy Harris. One bad move and his career would have been mush. Referring to the handsome Desmarais, Harris shouted out, “I love my husband David! I love my husband David!”

What would a circus be like without a juggler. Nicolas Fontaine fulfilled that role

I am not sure anyone in the audience was ready for profanity laced Bridget Everett, a singer, comedian, actor and writer who performs regularly in New York City.   A plus size woman wearing an outfit which showed a lot of her anatomy, she went into the audience and actually convinced some men and women to repeat some very racy language.  Check her out in the new Amy Schumer movie Trainwreck

As the show drew to a close, Harris finally consented to give Puddles  The Clown the stage. Puddles belted out a pretty good rendition of the theme song from Titanic. As he concluded, a makeshift boat with the name “Titanic” written on the side containing Harris and  the evening’s performers appeared on stage. No question about it. This ended things off on a high.
The Titanic finale.

There are still some tickets left for the Tuesday, July 28 shows. Go to to do so.

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