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Nick Broomfield’s new documentary, Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love follows the peaks and valleys of beloved Canadian singer/songwriter/poet, and Montreal local, Leonard Cohen’s life, throughout his career up until his death, beginning with his time on the Greek island of Hydra in the 60s.
It was there that he first met his longtime lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, who served as inspiration for one of his most beautiful and successful songs, So Long, Marianne. When Ihlen and Cohen first found each other, Cohen had yet to cross over into the world of music, and spent many of his days on the island, which was at the time somewhat of a known Bohemian Utopia, doing speed and working on his book, Beautiful Losers.
Ihlen, a Norwegian expat and recent divorcée, was also seeking refuge from the trials of life on the idyllic island with her son, Axel, when she met Cohen. There was an immediate connection between the two, and thus began the start of an on/off relationship which would go on for a decade, and a connection that would last for a lifetime.
Nonetheless, what seems to be the beginning of a blissful companionship under the sun between the poet and his muse is put on hold when Cohen decides to return back home to Montreal. While he’s there, he decides to play a piece of Suzanne for Judy Collins.
Also featured in the documentary, Collins recounts his nervousness, as he says he can’t sing or play the guitar, but the song ultimately speaks for itself. Suzanne is an immediate hit, and Collins gets Cohen to perform it at a fundraiser with her. His timidness on stage—even leaving the stage halfway through the song, only to be brought back out by Collins—is a huge part of what has made the charming, but humble poet so beloved by all.
This is a life-changing moment for everyone; Cohen’s success skyrockets from this point on, as the world gets a new star, but Ihlen’s picturesque partnership with Cohen will never again be the same.
Though the title posits a love story, Ihlen’s presence in the documentary is scarce. In spite of the director’s inside connection to her as a close friend as well as a former lover, very little detail of Ihlen’s personality or life is incorporated into the film, with her only notable screen-time being footage from her deathbed—arguably something perhaps too intimate for the screen.
For the most part it seems that the film is primarily a Leonard Cohen story, following the eruption of his career and success, and weaving through the familiar tale of his fame, including his countless lovers, indulgent drug use, and overall turbulent mental health.
What we see of Ihlen is a fragmented portrait of a young, blonde woman, often looking out longingly at the sea, seemingly dreaming only of Cohen. Contrasted by the occasional peripheral remark about the toll of it all on her young son, Axel, who spent much of his life in and out of institutions as a result of the somewhat hedonistic insouciance that characterized the 1960s and 70s.
The story is in many ways more revelatory of the time than it is of its characters, with little unique insight into the mind of either Cohen or Ihlen. In the light that Broomfield sets the scene, it feels to be somewhat evident that the “undying love” between Cohen and Ihlen proves to be far less romantic than Cohen’s poetic ballads.
Overall the documentary makes for an interesting watch as you are guided for a nostalgic stroll down memory lane with a great deal of interesting footage of Cohen throughout his career. Though of course there is undoubtedly substantially more documentation of Cohen available for use than there would be of Ihlen, perhaps titling the film Marianne and Leonard is somewhat misleading.
Broomfield still, however, manages to paint a complete picture of the time during which the famed relationship occurred, and even chips away somewhat at the unwoven seams of Cohen’s character and career, even if Ihlen’s character is never developed beyond mere ‘muse’.
To say that Jessimae Peluso is happy with her Just for Laughs booking this year would be quite the understatement.
“It’s the one show,” Paluso says of her upcoming gig, JFL staple The Nasty Show, “that for years I’ve said this is my show, this is my jam!”
Peluso has played JFL before. as part of Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud Live! series. While she considers her previous experience both enlightening and even a bit overwhelming. This time, though, she’s excited to bring the nasty.
“It’s purely based in what I love to do most and how I like to perform, which is uncensored and straight from my brain to my mouth,” Peluso commented in a phone interview, adding: “which, for the better part of my life, I’ve been in trouble for.”
Exile from the classroom and mouth washed out with soap (both of which Peluso mentioned) aside, the comic also hosts not one, but two podcasts. I asked her why so many comedians turn to podcasting and for her, creative control is the most alluring aspect.
“There’s no red tape, there’s no waiting for the network to okay the content, there’s no network notes or anything from people who have never set foot on a stage or written anything creative in their life,” Peluso observed, “it’s a liberating medium for any sort of performer or public speaker. It’s a great way to talk about something that interests you.”
And what interests Peluso? Well, talking comedy on her Sharp Tongue Podcast clearly does. Her Highlarious Podcast, though, has a dual focus of raising awareness about Alzheimers, which her father passed away from in October (and Seth Rogan’s Hilarity for Charity), and talking about the benefits of cannabis, in particular legalization.
When I mentioned that weed is legal now north of the border, Peluso was quite aware and prepared:
“I’m going to be out in a bikini at 8am smoking weed in public saying ‘sorry, sorry, just living my truth’, I’m excited.”
I could tell she was excited throughout the interview. I’d like to bring up more of what we touched on, like how a video of her LOL performance is inexplicably bleeped on YouTube, her discovery that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mom is also playing JFL, her three dogs or the fact she started the interview by calling me Jason Voorhees (some real dad joke-level humour there), but I can’t include it all.
Instead, I’ll leave the last word to Peluso. When I asked her what audiences can expect from her this year, she said:
“They can expect to see somebody who feels real honoured and at home on a stage that celebrates comedy without restrictions.”
For eight seasons on the shameless sketch comedy series MadTV, comedian Bobby Lee cracked audiences up with his impersonations of celebs like Connie Chung and Kim Jong-il…but just as often by simply running around naked, even to the point where one sketch featured an Intervention-style sit-down with his concerned co-stars. It was a career-launching experience for the California native, who makes his Montreal debut this week as the host of Just For Laughs The Nasty Show. With his successful podcast introducing him to new fans, the 47-year old is happy to reflect on the good ol’ Mad days and share just how nasty he plans to get.
James Gartler: How did your popular TigerBelly podcast get started back in 2015?
Bobby Lee: My girlfriend asked “how come you don’t have a podcast?”And I said, “No one will listen if I have one.” So, she went to the store and bought all the equipment and told me “Well fine, I’m going to do it on my own then,” and for a couple of weeks she did. One day I just walked by the room and she was sitting by herself looking so sad, so I said “Fuck it, okay, I’ll do one with you”.
It turned out really well and we started accumulating a couple of episodes and building some good traction and eventually I was able to get really good guests, like Jordan Peele, Eric Stonestreet, Craig Ferguson and others. It kind of reinvented me in a sense. People wanted to see me again. So it’s been great.
JG: Do you feel podcasts are great medium for comedians? It seems like an open-mic night that can go on for as long as you want it to and no one can censor you really…
BL: Also you find your real audience that way, I’ve done a lot of different things – a couple of lines here and there in movies, TV shows and whatnot – but podcasts were the way to reach the people that share my real sensibilities and people that enjoy what I have to say. It’s reinvented my shit, man, and I’m pretty happy.
JG: Have you never performed in Montreal before?
BL: I’ve never performed in Montreal before. I’ve done Vancouver a bunch of times, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, all those rooms, but Montreal is the one festival I’ve never done, which is weird because I’ve been in the game for so long.
JG: You’re hosting JFL’s The Nasty Show, which is a popular ticket. How do you decide what material works best for that kind of evening?
BL: Well, not every joke I’m going to tell is going to be a dirty one. I feel like I’ll do an act that I would do in L.A. and that’ll suffice. People say that I’m really dirty – I don’t see that. I could have done The Ethnic Show a couple of years ago, but I decided that maybe the dirty one was more up my alley.
People think that when I perform that a lot of Korean people come out. I have no Asians come out. My audience is a mix of everyone. Obviously, I have Asian people that like me, but I wouldn’t say that’s my audience. If you see someone like Jo Koy, he has a huge Asian audience. I don’t think Asians like me that much.
JG: Why’s that?
BL: I won’t tell you who it was but many years ago there was a Korean actor at The Comedy Store who saw me perform and he came up to me and said: “you’re a disgrace to your people”. So that’s when I knew, “ohhhh, I don’t really connect with them really” (Laughs). Like, if you look at my audience, the people have tattoos on their eyeballs, or they have some weird thing they’re doing with their hair, they look a little dirtier, much like me. I’m just a dirty ethnic guy.
JG: On MadTV you showed a real propensity for running around naked. Did they request it or did it evolve over time?
BL: I just had this thing growing up where I just kinda liked being naked. It’s a control thing, to be honest with you. The other reason why I do it is because I never thought that I was that sexy, but once I started getting naked and being more comfortable with my body is when I feel like women started going “Oh – he thinks it’s good. Maybe it is good?”
It was a way to build my self-esteem, really to be honest with you. And also, getting naked on MadTV was nothing – I used to do some crazy shit. I used to poo in people’s dressing rooms. I pooed in the executive producer’s office once. So being naked is not the worst thing I did.
JG: So by comparison they overlooked it…
BL: Oh yeah. But MadTV taught me so many things about life. It really influenced me because it was so difficult being on that show, especially in the late 90s/early 2000s.
I was a little Korean guy on an American sketch show and that rarely happens.
For me to be able to get that show and learn how to act and memorize lines and perform on TV was so valuable. And also it taught me that “oh shit – maybe you can make it”. Getting there was so important to me on so many different levels.
JG: And a lot of the cast has moved on to great things. Alex Borstein, of course, has her great voiceover career and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are doing well for themselves. Who are most jealous of, from your costars, if anyone?
BL: Honestly, I’m not jealous of any of those guys because those guys are all family. I’m more jealous of people who are more my type. When people my type do better than me, then I get a little crazy.
JG: What’s your type?
BL: I think my fear is that when other when other Asians make it people think that I’m that person. Like when Ken (Jeong) got Hangover and it became a big hit, I would walk down the street and people would roll down the window and yell “Hangover!” so people thought I was Ken for years. That’s what I dread the most – when other Asians make it and people think that I’m them.
JG: Was there a backlash for MadTV alums after you left the show? The material didn’t pull any punches. You made fun of everything and everyone and it was hilarious. Was it hard to go into an audition and say “hello and yes – I’m the guy from MadTV”?
BL: At the time when we were doing it, it felt like… We had no control over what the show was.
When Keegan and Jordan and Ike (Barinholtz) were there, I knew, even though we weren’t really a hit, we were under the radar, but I still knew that the level of talent on MadTV that could rival SNL. I’m not saying we were better, but I was able to see so many good guys.
When I joined the show, Alex was still there, Will Sasso, Michael McDonald…all those guys are my friends and it was just a great introduction to comedy. Keegan and Jordan and Alex and all these people being successful only helps my cause. I feel like Key & Peele reinvented the way the industry views MadTV. I know that Key & Peele was their own thing, but they are MadTV people and they met on MadTV. The kind of talent I was exposed to completely and utterly blew me away.
And also, I got sober on that show. I
discovered recovery on that show. I relapsed, I got sober and that’s how I was
able to do movies after that. So even though there was some darkness, I have
fond memories when it comes to Mad.
The Ethnic Show is a Just for Laughs staple. Promoted as a “hilarious celebration of global perspectives” it features an ethnically diverse cast of comics cracking jokes about their own cultures and how whites treat them. It’s one of the few events where white people can feel comfortable laughing at ethnic jokes, guilt-free.
In the past, The Ethnic Show has been kind of hit or miss for me. Some of the comics are great, pulling no punches with their critiques of their own cultures and how white people react to them, while others are lame, opting for the most clichéd ethnic jokes or lame-duck tactics like busting out a guitar.
I was pleasantly surprised this year.
The host is Cristela Alonzo, a Mexican-American from Texas. Though tiny and sweet looking, she made a perfect host, not just because her material was funny, but because as a comedian, she’s relatable and likeable.
Host Cristela Alonzo
Her material ranged from encountering racism for the first time, to her homogenous upbringing, to the adventures of getting older. She also made one of the best Trump jokes of the night, saying she’s ok with the wall…
“Because we build tunnels now!”
Next up was Italian comedian Anthony DeVito, who began his set bemoaning the fact that he looks ethnically ambiguous. His comedy is primarily self-deprecating, his set taking jabs at himself, his girlfriend, and his grandmother (or Nonna), and the racism of older generations.
His set was very stereotypically Italian, but the shy, angry, self-deprecation of his delivery made it hilariously endearing and a joy to watch.
DeVito was followed by Brazilian comedian Rafinha ‘Rafi’ Bastos, who was one of the funniest acts of the night. I had seen Bastos perform as part of Laugh Out Loud Live! last year and in my review I said he’d be a great addition to The Ethnic Show, so I was overjoyed to see him on last night’s roster.
While a lot of his material – like his bemoaning the fact that Brazil is known for bald pussies – was repeated from last year, he had enough new material to keep the set fresh, and his loud angry delivery was hilarious enough to make me not care about the old stuff. In addition to making fun of himself, he took potshots at plastic straw bans, turtles, and English insults – pointing out that ‘pussy’ doesn’t work as an insult because every pussy he’s encountered has been strong and durable.
Dave Merheje, a Lebanese Canadian comedian, was on next and I had high hopes for him. I had had a chance to interview Merheje before the festival and had seen past performances on YouTube. He is incredibly funny.
Unfortunately he spent too much of his time last night trying to engage the audience, who weren’t having it. When he finally did launch into his material, he was great. Here’s hoping he focuses on that for future performances.
After intermission Robby Hoffman took the stage. A former Lubavitch Chasidic Jew-turned-Lesbian, a lot of her set was about growing up in a religious household with a Jewish mom and nine siblings.
As a Jew, I found this material kind of tired, but that’s probably because her jokes were things I hear about all the time from my friends. She also had a bit on dried fruit that could only be described as lame. Her set vastly improved when she started joking about gender, sexuality, and the pay gap, saying that men should pay for women because:
“Pussy is expensive. You want free? DICK is free!” A joke that had the audience hysterical.
Last to go on was Donnell Rawlings. Other media I met at the event described him as a disciple of Dave Chappelle. In addition to being a comedian, he also has an upcoming role in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot film.
He came on stage loud and proud, singing along to the country song Old Town Road by Lil Nas X with the vocal prowess that showed that if he ever decided to quit comedy, he might have a shot as a singer.
Rawlings is a comedic powerhouse. Every joke hit the mark, from his bit about how black people don’t pick up shit, to being into white women who work for non-profits, to his rant about rock music.
He was a great way to end the show and people left the theatre still laughing at his performance.
The Ethnic Show runs from July 11-25 at the Just for Laughs Festival. Check it out
I arrive at my first Piknic Électronik of this summer, (#8 of 2019), two road-beers down the hatch and eager as ever after a long week to get some sun and dance to some electronic music (or more so in my case, sway back and forth as rhythmically as I can relative to the ratio of sangria I’ve consumed over time).
I, of course, have naively failed to account for the rather large crowd that Piknic often attracts on a day as beautiful as this, and with the same idea (and perhaps gusto) as everyone else, head for Parc Jean-Drapeau at peak hour, and am consequently forced to sober up some while I wait in the tunnels of the vastly over-crowded yellow line.
The train is packed full, and we all spill out of the station in a mass, ambling to the main entrance of Piknic. Luckily, though, the line at the rather densely packed entrance is quite large, it moves slowly but surely, and as I wait to receive an entrance bracelet from a smiling staff member, the atmosphere is reinvigorated by the excitement of those around me. Their enthusiasm fuelled most likely in part by a similar cocktail to mine: excitement, anticipation, alcohol, and an absolutely perfect amount of sunshine.
Inside the festival there awaits a sea of animated festival goers; a diverse crowd of people united by their attire of tank-tops, shorts, and fanny packs, and a palpable enthusiasm. They’re talking, drinking, dancing, swaying.
Some are sitting in the lounge chairs on the outskirts, or hammocks, watching their friends playing volleyball under the sun at the sand court between the two stages. Many people are in line waiting to refill their cups and buckets of Sangria and beer, but the largest sea of people is situated in front of the main stage, the perfect place for imbibing both sound and sun, and neither come as a disappointment on this day.
A game of volleyball if you look closely… But if all you see is sun and trees you still get the picture!
At the main stage French DJ, Groj, who is known for his live singing during his performances opens with a rhythmic and psychedelic set that grabs the crowd’s attention. The music is resonant, sonorous amidst all the trees, and yet somehow still bright and energetic, in a way that somewhat mirrors the energy of the crowd.
Groj’s performance is followed by the headliner of the evening: German DJ, HOSH, part of Diynamic record label. His melodic house and techno sound has been likened to the journey of a collapsing star, and the comparison does not disappoint.
HOSH’s music captivates his audience, with its spirited buildups and explosive melodic peaks. And as the beautiful day transitions into a beautiful dusk with the sun setting over the main stage, it’s time go home again although this time I decide to walk instead of bother with the crowds at the metro. If you ever get the chance and don’t mind a bit of a walk, the view from the bridge at sunset is rather captivating.
For many people, collage isn’t really an art form. It’s an activity you give kids when you have a bunch of old magazines to get rid of and they’re bored and restless. Quebec Collage is looking to change all that.
This initiative seeks to promote the art of collage through webcasts, calls for artist submissions, workshops, and exhibitions. Their latest effort is the Retailles exhibition, a collective art show featuring collagists from Quebec and abroad.
Hosted at Galerie/Atelier Marc Gosselin, The Retailles exhibition invites you to look beyond your perceptions of collage. It features two parts, one showcasing ten Quebecois collage artists, and the other displaying a selection of postcard art in the Noir & Blanc.
The Quebec artists featured include Virginie Maltais, founder of Quebec Collage, as well as Jérome Bertrand, Lucie Bosquin, Éric Braün, Madame Gilles, Caro Dubois, Linda Luttinger, Jean Marie Moncelet, Jean Martin (RAVEN), and François-Xavier Vigneault Marcil. One look at their works will dispel any misconceptions you have about the art of collage.
Despite the myths, collage is a complex art, with some artists featuring intricate scissor cuts or torn paper and elaborate placement, while others, like Virginie Maltais and Linda Luttinger, opt to combine torn or cut paper with the use of paint in their work. It is truly eye opening and proof that collage is more than child’s play.
The Noir & Blanc part of the exhibition is the result of an international call for submissions. Artists from around the world were invited to submit analog collages in the form of black and white postcards.
This included everyone from established collagists to those new to the art form. What you’ll see at the exhibition are the postcards that made the cut, pun intended.
If you’re interested in visual art and want to expand your horizons, learn about collage, or just see some amazing work by local and international artists, check out the Retailles exhibition. It ends tomorrow (Sunday), so get moving!
Retailles can be seen at Galerie/Atelier Marc Gosselin, 3880 Saint Catherine East until July 14, 2019 at 5 pm
Mental illness is a topic a lot of people are uncomfortable with. Though society is getting better at discussing illnesses like depression, anxiety, grief and others, we owe that in part to the entertainers who have bravely come forward to tell of their struggles. Among these you find comedians like Hannah Gadby and Adam Cayton-Holland.
Adam Cayton-Holland’s story is one of moving beyond grief and turning pain into power. He is returning to the Just for Laughs festival after six years away.
The reason for his hiatus is a sad one. Shortly after he played the festival in 2013, his sister died by suicide. Cayton-Holland was the one who discovered her body.
Following her death, he battled grief and depression and underwent therapy which helped him to cope. He eventually came out with a memoir of his struggles, titled Tragedy Plus Time: A Tragi-Comic Memoir. His show, Happy Place, is loosely adapted from that memoir.
I had the opportunity to speak with Cayton-Holland about his experience overcoming grief and his return to Just for Laughs. He was surprisingly cheerful on the phone given the tragedy he’s endured, saying he’s excited to come back and that he loves Montreal.
When I asked him for specifics, he talked about loving the food at Au Pied de Cochon and that he’s looking forward to eating at Joe Beef this time around. When I asked him whether he preferred New York bagels to Montreal bagels, he pointed out that being from Denver, Colorado, he doesn’t have a dog in this fight.
“I’ll take Montreal,” he laughed.
Pleasantries aside, I asked about the tragedy he endured.
“I came to Montreal in 2012, and I came back in 2013. I came home, and two days after that my little sister took her own life.”
I asked if she was ill and he said she was clearly so but that things only became clearer in hindsight, describing how looking at the timeline, the last two years of her life were characterised by mental illness that turned his sister’s brain in on itself.
I asked him if the grief and depression he endured as a result interfered with his ability to do comedy:
“Oh my god yeah. And I sort of stopped doing standup for a while. It was this odd thing where you know, for a comic from Denver, Colorado to be a New Face, it was a big deal, it was a big career moment, and then two days later your sister takes herself out. So it’s like all things you’ve been caring about in your career and comedy and Hollywood and then you’re just quickly reminded: oh none of that matters at ALL and I’m broken and my family’s broken. My friends and I sold our TV show, Those Who Can’t, which had three seasons to TruTV right around that time so we had to make a pilot and I was sort of doing the best I could but I had a couple of breakdowns and I had to have aggressive therapy and it is as awful as you can imagine. It was THAT awful.”
I know some people, when dealing with grief, tend to work harder to try and forget, so I asked Cayton-Holland if this was the case with him. He said that he tried, but everything happened seven years ago and he hasn’t been talking about it in standup on stage.
Writing the book, then, became his way of mourning. Now that he put the book out, he wants to talk about it in a one-man show format, describing said show as:
“Not standup per se, a little more serious.”
For Cayton-Holland, writing was therapeutic and cathartic, helping him process what he was going through, though he went into the writing process with no hyperbole in mind.
“I’d sit at my laptop and sob, but it helped me. There was a normalization of it. I don’t want this to be a dirty secret. I don’t want this to be something I’m ashamed of. I’m not ashamed of her, not ashamed of what she did. I just feel like mental illness took my little sister out and so writing about it helped me kinda come around and get through the normal feelings of grief and anger and shame and guilt. Writing really helped me with that.”
When he mentioned sobbing, I asked if he wanted to fight the stigma about men crying. In response Cayton-Holland pointed out that the stigma is a little dated and feels like there’s something wrong with a man who can’t cry.
“I lost my little sister. You expect me not to cry?”
When I asked about the response to his memoir, he said it’s been amazing:
“If anything it’s shown me how prevalent this stuff is: mental illness, depression, suicide. I cannot tell you the amount of messages I get all the time, sometimes it’s really big overshare. I put myself out there so people relate. I wrote honestly and tried to normalize it and a lot of people are like ‘Thank you because my family went through something similar’ and just share- It’s the power of story, and people seem to really respond to that.”
He said that in some ways the experience made him less lonely, in some ways it made him more so. He says that telling his story has helped nip any shame and awkwardness in the bud.
“It’s 2019 and we still whisper the word ‘suicide’. I’m comfortable with it but I understand the stigma around it.”
His show is called Happy Place because the therapy he underwent to overcome his grief involved retreating to a happy place in his mind when a traumatic memory – in this case finding his sister’s body – became too intense. The show is based on excerpts from his memoir, but Cayton-Holland says you can expect tons of new material as well.
Happy Place is on at Just for Laughs from July 23-25. Check it out.
ShazamFest, a unique outdoor annual summer festival, returns for its 14th edition, and this year with more whimsy than ever. It has perhaps the most eclectic diversity of performances to occur at a single festival.
ShazamFest features a diverse range of entertainment including, but not limited to: live music performances, circus acts, burlesque, dance, theatre, poetry, wrestling, skateboarding, and much more. The festival is set to take place from the 11th to the 14th of July (this weekend), and is to be hosted in the Eastern Townships, 90 minutes outside of Montréal at festival founder Ziv Przytyk’s organic family farm. Free roundtrip shuttle services from Montréal are available, as well as free on-site camping.
The festival is also particularly distinctive for its green initiatives, as part of its dedication to an eco-responsible and sustainable approach. ShazamFest is very encouraging of its zero-waste initiatives, having only produced 12 bags of garbage at its 13th edition last year and aiming to create even less this year by encouraging festival goers not to bring single-use bags, using only reusable or compostable dishware, providing unlimited free local source water, bringing in organic local food vendors, and numerous other eco-friendly features.
The headlining acts of ShazamFest XVI will be Afrikana Soul Sister, Les Hôtesses d’Hilaire, the Souljazz Orchestra, and Susie Arioli. A few additional must-see features include Matthew Silver, Ziv’s Sunset Show, Bibi Lolo BangBang the clown, a burlesque segment by Swell Sisters La PetiteFleur and Queeny Ives, and many more.
Here’s the full lineup:
Visit ShazamFest’s website for more information about the artists and tickets.
That’s right, FTB is giving you a chance to win a pair of tickets ($125 value) to Shazamfest! Simply share this post on Facebook or Twitter, tag @forgetthebox and say Shazam!
We will draw a winner from the entrants and announce it Friday morning.
Ronny Chieng is one of the few comics to bring an Asian perspective to the Just for Laughs stage. He is playing the Just for Laughs festival as part of his Tone Issues Tour but you can also see him on The Daily Show and in Crazy Rich Asians, his first role in a major motion picture.
I had the chance to speak to Chieng over the phone. Being half-Asian myself, I know about the expectations Asian parents often have for their children so I asked if his family had different hopes for him career-wise. Chieng appreciated the question because one of his very first jokes at Just for Laughs addressed that.
He spoke of being sent to Australia to study law but he was a poor student. He became a comedian because he couldn’t get a job in law, and comedy ended up paying better. He even said that he didn’t tell his parents about his new career directly – they found out about it when he appeared in the local press in their home country, but they’re okay with his career choice now.
Since Chieng now works in America and a lot of his comedy is political, I asked him if he thinks Trump is good for comedy. He feels it’s fair to say that Trump is good for comedy.
“He’s bad for life, bad for the planet, and bad for the country, and bad for mental health everywhere. At The Daily Show we talk about him every day, so I’d be hard-pressed to say he’s not good for comedy. Would I want that? No, I would rather have someone else – he has more cons than pros for the comedy world.”
Though Chieng doesn’t like the Trump Administration, he doesn’t feel that comedians working in America should feel obligated to criticize it in their comedy.
Great stand-up, in his eyes, comes from really authentic points of view and pandering to trendy topics if you’re not personally passionate about them is not going to make for good comedy.
While comedians shouldn’t feel obligated to talk about it, he feels that everyone – comedian or not – has an obligation to say something if they feel that something isn’t right.
Chieng’s comedy centers a lot on being Asian in predominantly white countries so I asked if his work was more about dispelling stereotypes or just about laughter. At first he joked that it was about making money, but then said that he is about fighting stereotypes or at least give them a little more nuance.
“If there’s a stereotype, I would like to explain why that’s a stereotype and maybe take the stereotype to another level – explain the full story behind the stereotype or break the stereotype altogether if I feel a stereotype is unfair. I try to address it because I feel like no one is talking about it in society. I wanted someone to talk about it when I was growing up so that’s the kind of comedy I do. I hope I do the kind of comedy I wanted to see.”
While a lot of Chieng’s comedy is about lived experience, he does research on occasion to make sure he knows what he’s talking about. When it comes to his favourite topics in comedy, he said it’s mostly things that make him angry, saying he has an hour of such examples in his Just for Laughs show.
Crazy Rich Asians was Ronny Chieng’s first film role, so I couldn’t help asking him about it. Chieng loved doing the film because it was shot in Malaysia and Singapore, where he’s from, which allowed him to see family and friends during filming.
The film was considered ground-breaking because it supposedly opened the door for more Asian characters in film when Hollywood still didn’t think it was possible. While Chieng doesn’t consider the film to be the be-all and end-all of films featuring Asian characters, he thinks the fact it was so well-received is amazing.
“What the movie was really good at was not over-explaining Asian things and showing Asian characters as complete three-dimensional characters with complicated needs and wants. Some of them are good guys and some of them are bad guys, some of them are in between, they fall in love, they fall out of love, they have complicated lives. I thought that was very useful. I think it also established a baseline for Asian storytelling moving forward. I think there’s no context for Asian stories usually in the West, so a lot of movies can’t be made because there’s no baseline understanding so I feel like Crazy Rich Asians is a very good baseline story for Asian people in the West.”
There have been criticisms of Crazy Rich Asians as only showcasing paler-skinned Asians. For example, Filipinos like myself tend to be darker. Chieng sees the problem in the fact that in North America, Asian is considered a single voting block despite the diversity in Asian nationalities and cultures among the Asian diaspora.
“You got Koreans, you got Japanese, you got Burmese, you got Thai, you have Filipinos, you have Malaysians, you have Chinese people, not to mention Chinese Indonesians, Chinese Malaysians, Chinese people who live in Japan, Chinese people from different parts of China with all the different dialect groups. Then you have the same number of people Americanized… and each of those groups are very distinct cultures. To expect one movie to cover the entire diaspora of Asia is an unfair burden placed upon it by Western views of what Asia is,”
In terms of criticisms that the film only showcased wealthier Asians, Chieng considers the movie satirical and that it showcases the extreme wealth that’s in Asia right now because that’s how the West experiences Asia in 2019.
Ronny Chieng is playing Just for Laughs from July 23 to 25. Check him out.
As anyone who has attended Montreal Comic Con knows, one of its great privileges – in addition to hobnobbing with creators and celebs – is seeing the best of our local cosplay scene. This year proved no exception, as can be seen in following gallery of costumes covering everything from Star Wars and Disney characters to Horror icons and Burton films. Enjoy!
Alice and the Queen of Hearts Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Ariel and Flounder Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Beetlejuice Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Captain Marvel and Chewie the Cat Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Constantine Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Gizmos Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Esmeralda Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Demona Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Daenerys Targaryen and Dragon Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Goku and Tony Stark Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Jacket from Hotline Miami Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Jason Friday the 13th Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
M. Bison Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Moana’s Island Goddess Te Fiti Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
The Little Mermaid Ariel Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
She-Ra Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Ron and Kim Possible Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Queen Amidala Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler
Poison Ivy Cosplay – Montreal Comic Con 2019 – Photo by James Gartler