By John Bourke
We apologise for the late nature of this review of Just for Laughs: Britcom Gala with John Cleese. The author wishes it to be known that he has just been sacked. The review has been completed in an entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute.
When I was very young I thought that John Cleese’s name Was Monty Python and the Flying circus named in the title was his, which tells us two things: John Cleese made a very strong impression on me; and that it may have been a little early to expose me to something like Monty Python, although it probably explains the warped sense of humour I now display.
In any case, to say I was excited to see my old friend Monty on stage is an understatement of the highest order. It could be said that my almost fanatical devotion to him undermines the analytical value of this review, and that he could come on stage, yawn, then leave and I’d still enjoy it. It would be absolutely true, and I admit it wholeheartedly. It would appear that I’m not actually alone in this though, since when John Cleese walked on stage, he got a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth. This is the influence John Cleese has had: people feel happy enough to give him a standing ovation simply because they’ve seen him, he doesn’t need to do anything else. Of course he did do more, and he was, of course, very funny, but that’s not really the point now, is it? Anything after that is just kind of icing on a six and a half foot cake.
My guest for the evening was my friend Manni who came to Canada from London just a couple of years ago and has the incomprehensable cockney accent to prove it. I thought he would be an appropriate choice given that he would probably know some of the acts other than just John Cleese (Mark Watson, Gina Yashere, Idiots of Ants, Ross Noble, Jimmy Carr and Danny Bhoy) because I certainly didn’t. Manni was pretty excited about it because, as he said, these were pretty ‘top shelf’ comedians. Manni’s final review? The show was the ‘dog’s bollocks’, which I was later assured was indeed a very good thing. Going into the evening, his favourite was Jimmy Carr, who has quite a big following in the U.K, with hundreds of shows on Channel 4 tv and regular appearances on radio. Carr has what I think of as rather a strange act: He comes on stage and tells jokes with a setup and a punchline and that’s it. If I were the sort of person who said this kind of thing, I’d call it kind of post-modern in its stripped down simplicity, but I’m not, so I won’t. A sample: “I’ve been trying to come up with the shortest joke ever, and I’ve got it down to two words: Dwarf Shortage”.
Manni’s big surprise of the night was Mark Watson, who had the unenviable position directly following John Cleese’s opening monologue and pulled it off with ease, winning the audience over with genuine self-deprecative charm and some good natured digs at Canada, which Canadians always enjoy.
The act that really blew me away was the hyperkinetic Ross Noble who I’m pretty sure didn’t actually have an act and just came on stage and started riffing on whatever he happened to see, starting with the stagehand mopping John Cleese’s blood from the stage and moved on to a person in the front row with bare feet. It takes significant bravery to come on stage and just wing it, and Noble pulled it off.
The only act that didn’t work for either Manni or Me was Idiots of Ants who are a sketch comedy troupe who I think had some good ideas, but just didn’t quite pull it off for us.
All in all, a great show. I’ll be looking forward to whatever Just for Laughs puts together next year.