Gilbert Gottfried @ Yuk Yuk’s | Exclaim! | September 14, 2017

Gilbert Gottfried

Yuk Yuk’s, Ottawa ON, September 14

Gilbert GottfriedYuk Yuk's, Ottawa ON, September 14

Returning for the first time since his popular run of shows in 2015, Gilbert Gottfried helped pack Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa with a raucous and eager-to-laugh crowd. As Thursday marked the first of his four nights in the nation’s capital, the Brooklyn comedian was greeted with deafening chants of “Gilbert! Gilbert!” long before the first comic hit the stage.

Opening the show was the evening’s host, Toronto comic Jeff Paul, who jumped upon the penetrating energy already present, bulldozing his way through a set that highlighted his self-deprecating humour. Up next was Ottawa’s Michael Lifshitz, who cleverly gave the engrossed crowd a bevy of twists regarding his customary jokes about his disability.  Local comic Chris Borris followed up with a laidback (but well-written) delivery that unfortunately lost a portion of the room, while his compatriot Dave McConnell absolutely slayed the audience with his acerbic one-liners.

When Paul returned to the stage to introduce the evening’s headliner, the crowd leaped up to give Gottfried a rare standing ovation as the diminutive 62-year-old hobbled to the stage. Although looking frail and unassuming, Gottfried authoritatively greeted the crowd with his iconic voice, perhaps revealing the intention of many of those in the audience, “You came to see me, you saw me, now get out!”

As he segued into an absurd stream-of-conscious rant about losing his pet turtle behind the radiator before describing a scenario where little people would be jumping on top of a rusty crowbar jammed into his eye, Gilbert was met by much confusion and a bit of revulsion from the now-tempered crowd. But being the veteran comic that he is, Gottfried got the house roaring again when he delved into a bit about Canada and our insistence to cover perfectly tasty foods with maple syrup.

After a typically strange run of prop comedy bits, Gottfried closed his 45-minute set off with traditional setup and punch line jokes that often straddled the lines of politically correctness, expertly demonstrating just how easily he can find a laugh no matter what his mode of delivery may be. As Yuk Yuk’s helped him close out the show with a second standing ovation, Gottfried disappeared to the back of the club, ignoring the crowd’s wild chants for an encore and showing the audience that, when it comes to his uncompromising persona, Gilbert Gottfried will always brilliantly be Gilbert Gottfried.


Bridget Christie- Stand Up For Her | Exclaim! | August 2017

Bridget Christie

Stand Up For Her

Bridget ChristieStand Up For Her

Netflix has helped bring attention to a number of British comedians, with specials from Jimmy Carr and Stewart Lee gaining a wide North American audience over the past five years. But if anyone deserves the exposure the streaming service can bring, it’s Bridget Christie, the celebrated humourist, writer and standup.

On her first special in both North America and England, Christie chooses to shape her entire act around one specific theme (a common practice in the UK), brazenly skewering the stereotypes, issues and inequality faced by women throughout history.

In 50 completely absorbing and acerbic minutes, Christie never comes off apologetic and she never makes the viewer feel like she’s saying something out of line or taboo, as her scope moves from the Biblical Adam (“Eve was created to laugh at Adam’s jokes”), the Christopher Hitchens’ essay on how women are not funny (“He tried to prove his theory by not putting any jokes into his essay and then dying”) and the ridiculous Bic for Her pen (“Before they were invented, women could only use their menstrual blood”).

Performing at London’s 320-person capacity Hoxton Hall, Christie keeps the gracious crowd captivated with her quick-fire wit and intelligence, demonstrated by her unique narrative style that often finds her coming off as if she’s discovering these truths in real time, helping her deliver the absurdity of men’s ideals around women, in which she sums things up brilliantly: “I’m not going to stop talking about feminism until short, fat, bald, pissed, sweaty women have the level of self-worth and self-confidence [as men do].”

Even if you find Christie preaching to your own personal choir, Stand Up for Heris delivered with such a level of confidence, intelligence and common sense that you can’t help but coming out of it feeling a little more enlightened, informed… and sore from laughter.

Tracy Morgan- Staying Alive | Exclaim! | July 2017

Tracy Morgan

Staying Alive

Tracy MorganStaying Alive

Staying Alive, Tracy Morgan’s glorious return to the stage, isn’t just a recounting of his 2014 near-death accident, it’s a celebration of his recovery. Kicking off with a wonderfully executed title card showing Morgan strutting down the street to the music of the Bee Gees, à la Saturday Night Fever, Morgan inserts a joke where he pays for an lavish coat in cash, pulling money from a cloth Walmart bag, while giving the viewer insight into just how real and honest this special is willing to get.

Walking out in front of the crowd at the Count Basie Theatre in New Jersey, Morgan wastes little time getting real. Decked out in a white John Travolta suit, the Bronx-raised comedian delivers a touching and riotous set that often resembles a one man show, as he recounts his life-changing experience, beginning with his time spent in the afterlife, musing on how he met God, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Notorious B.I.G. and Michael Jackson.

Throughout the 60-minute special, Morgan’s material never comes off entirely mind-blowing or astute, but it does come from actual events that Morgan never shies away from reciting, from asking his doctor if his dick still worked, to recovering from brain trauma and informing his speech therapist that “This is the way I’ve always talked.”

But Morgan is resourceful enough to avoid sticking completely to his accident and its aftermath, instead he uses this experience to parlay into jokes describing family members who visited him during his hospital stay, about how his wife shamed him out of feeling sorry for himself, and how, when he returns to heaven, Jesus will be the cool guy at the party hanging with his comedian friend, Jimmy Mack (who perished in the same crash).

Although there are stretches that finds Morgan rambling and unfocused, there’s truly no other special out there quite like Staying Alive for its candour, swagger, intelligence, touching truth and for its ability to laugh at mortality and to revel in beating death.

Sam Kinison- Breaking the Rules | Exclaim! | June 2017

Sam Kinison

Breaking the Rules

Sam KinisonBreaking the Rules

During his short career, Sam Kinison occupied the rarified air of being a comedian who was both beloved by his peers and adored by his ever-growing legion of fans. And although his allegiance with the L.A. hair metal scene, appearances on Married… With Children and friendship with Rodney Dangerfield now deeply embed Kinison in the late ’80s, Breaking the Rules shows just how clever, groundbreaking and shocking his material really was during the peak of his career.

A former preacher turned standup, Kinison’s first HBO special shows the Houston comic screaming through a set that that comes off much less taboo, but at the same time, much more politically incorrect for 2017. But that’s what places Sam into his own category, as splits his jokes into two categories: his problems with “demon women” and his vast knowledge of the bible.

Kinison even melds the two in his bit where, if Jesus was married, his wife would have never believed the story about going out with his buddies and not returning for three days. Recorded in 1987, just as his career was taking off, Kinson’s material about cheating on his wife and his trysts with several women are surprisingly overly confident, self-effacing and completely misogynistic.

While there’ve been countless hack comedians since who’ve tarnished Kinison’s style, it’s fascinating to hear the audience’s pure shock when he tells them how to perform successful cunnilingus by spelling out the alphabet with one’s tongue, or when he speaks about the grossness of Christ’s crucifixion. Though at the time Kinison wasn’t as dirty as Andrew Dice Clay or Eddie Murphy, he was certainly the perfect foil to help break down the PC age of the late ’80s. Plus, bonus points for burning out long before fading  away.

Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.

Garfunkel and Oates- Trying to Be Special | Exclaim! | February 2017

Garfunkel and Oates

Trying to Be Special

Garfunkel and OatesTrying to Be Special

Just from its premise alone, Vimeo’s 2016 release, Trying to Be Special, the second TV performance from musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates, stands as quirkily original.

Laid out in the show’s cold open, the duo of Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome concoct the ludicrous idea of putting on a comedy special in order to raise money to “record their own comedy special.” After a brief fake-out opening set by Anthony Jeselnik, in which he expectedly insults the duo on performing old material, Garkfunkel and Oates enter the stage next to an oversized thermometer designed to measure audience applause.

Over 60 minutes, Micucci (on ukulele) and Lindhome (on acoustic guitar) perform some of their best known material (from their four LPs and various YouTube clips), including “Pregnant Women Are Smug,” “Fadeaway” and “Fuck You” (with the latter enhanced with a joyous crowd kazoo-along). Although the duo come off confident and inventive during their performances, their between-song banter and jokes unfortunately feel a bit awkward.

After a mid-special highlight that covers hilarious crass songs about handjobs (“I Don’t Understand Jobs”) and post-secondary sexual experimentation (“The College Try”), Garkfunkel and Oates hit their stride, combining clips from former tours, hilarious song intros and animated video for a song about Lindhome freezing her eggs (the Emmy nominated “Frozen Lullaby”). On Trying to Be Special, Garkfunkel and Oates prove that they’re industrious, clever and possess just enough crowd control to give this comedy special the same energy and panache as any classic concert film.

Louis CK- Hilarious | Exclaim! | January, 2017

Louis CK


Louis CKHilarious

It was 2010 that created the Louis CK we know today. After decades toiling away as a club comedian and television writer (Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Dana Carvey Show, The Chris Rock Show), the DC-born comedian became a household name with Hilarious, his sixth special.

Originally released on Epix, the 80-minute program led to FX giving CK his own TV show, Louie, and inspiring him to write a whole new hour each subsequent year up to 2014. Filmed at the 1,300-seat Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee, CK picks up where he left off on his last special, 2008’s Chewed Up, offering a frank and unflattering look into his own pathetic life.

Kicking his set off with a run of jokes about how the majority of people in the history of the world are dead, specifically Hitler and Ray Charles, Louis briefly revisits the brand of absurd humour that he originally cut his teeth on. Freshly divorced, CK offers his take on being a middle-age man attempting to date again, bringing out a stack of brand new jokes, as he compares his out-of-shape frame to a ’73 Dodge Dart sitting in a backyard that one suddenly has to rely on it to get to work, followed up by his now commonplace material surrounding his eating and masturbation schedule (or lack of it).

But it’s his left-field observations, like his impression of the guy who demonstrates the hand job pantomime, only to continue it to completion, or his run on “white people problems” (being one of the first comedians to bring that term into the comedic lexicon), and the annoyingly hyperbolic use of the word hilarious (hence his special’s title) shows just how far ahead his humour was from his schlocky contemporaries. On Hilarious, Louis CK finds himself commercially, showing the audience that the funniest version of Louis isn’t necessarily the prettiest version of Louis.

Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.

Bill Hicks- Sane Man | Exclaim! | October, 2016

Bill HicksSane Man

Bill HicksSane Man

Since his untimely death in 1994, Bill Hicks has been recognized as one of the most celebrated and iconic comedians off all time. And although there’s been some great unearthed material released since (including seven posthumous comedy LPs), Hicks was always at his sharpest, smartest and most vitriolic when the cameras were running.

Despite the fact that his first recorded special — released on VHS in 1989 and filmed in his home state of Texas — suffers from poor sound and editing, it’s riveting and gratifying to watch Hicks in the midst of his transition from hackneyed joke-slinger to political pariah.

Opening with a voice-over speech — on top of footage of Hicks traveling from city to city on his Flying Saucer Tour — about how he would hijack a plane just to get his destination on time, gives the viewer a glimpse into just how subversive and fearless Hicks comedy was, even from the beginning. Although he starts off with a bit of obvious humour on how he once saw someone selling dirt in Tennessee, he incorporates it into a larger narrative about his perceived notion that American Southerners are almost exclusively hillbillies, giving a hilarious impression of a waitress asking him “What are you reading for?”

But once he launches into his now famous pro-smoking and pro-drinking-and-driving run (with the former later adopted by Dennis Leary), he demands complete control of the audience as the crowd squeals in laughter and shock. Although throughout the 60-minute set, Hicks never ventures too deeply into the coiled and politically-charged psyche he’ll later been known for, only briefly touching on Bush Sr.’s “war on drugs” and a few of his own drug stories, Hicks still manages to come off hilariously sardonic and opportune.

For all of its surface flaws, his debut special shows how — even in his comedic infancy — Hicks was a one-of-a-kind comedian: clearly brave, clearly relevant and pretty clearly not a sane man.