Ian Karmel, Chris Distefano, Mark Normand stand out during New Faces at Just For Laughs (Review)

MONTREAL – By the conclusion of Wednesday’s first Just For Laughs New Faces showcase, festival goers were, with good reason, practically drowning in a sea of untapped comedic talent. But drowning in a good way, like if you were to dive into a swimming pool full of Spaghetti-Os. With the affable Neal Brennan resuming hosting duties for round two, things kicked off with an insider anecdote about Barack and Michelle Obama’s Chappelle’s Show fandom. (“I can’t just up and retire like Dave Chappelle did,” the president intimated to Brennan at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Oh. Snap.)

Read our review of New Faces, group one here.

Beyond Brennan were the New Faces themselves, and the second set of comics proved as dramatically varied and refreshing as the first group had done. Getting things started this time around was Byron Bowers, a sharp, ribald talent who wonders why we only saw a small handful of brothers in the Harry Potter movies. You never see black magicians, Bowers pondered. Maybe those who attended Hogwarts only got there on an athletic scholarship. Apparently, there is a way to ride a broom like a gangsta, just as long as you don’t get pulled over by the mops. (Ya know, like flying cops. What a horrifying prospect.)

The next man to grab the mic was Adam Newman, a comedian whose boyish charm served to be offset by a story about his father asking him for the definition of “jizz.” The ensuing awkwardness was palpable, and Newman made great sport out of dancing around the definition with aplomb. His funniest line, however, involved a college acquaintance who made practice of plastering his bedroom walls with pictures of Jesus – paintings, mind you, not photographs. Photographs of Jesus might be enough to make a believer out of even Newman, after all.

In Ian Karmel, people might have an appropriate name for a whimsical British candy, but perhaps not a Portland-sprung doughy comedian. This according to Karmel, anyway, whose overwhelming rendition of an H.P. Lovecraft styled tribute to the “Juicy Lucy” (it’s a Minnesota thing, Google it) brought the audience to an enthusiastic and premature applause break. The praise was well-deserved for the comedian who’s already gained the reputation as one of Portland’s finest homegrown talents. In his short set, Karmel proved to be a versatile and flexibly talented performer – one who will surely to go much farther than the sugary shelves of an English grocery store.

Hailing from the Bronx, Gina Brillon brought more than a dose of sass and class to the mix. As she correctly opined, every Bronx-reared girl seems to have been assigned the standard Rosie Perez-style Bronx accent; every Bronx girl except for Brillon herself, a jubilant and insightful Puerto Rican who can readily affect the familiar dialect to great comic effect, even if she doesn’t speak it outside of a performance setting. Brillon also demonstrated a knack for identifying the subtle differences between female and male brains – namely, male brains can turn off the chatter button and sleep, while female brains also have one more pressing issue in need of discussion before unconsciousness can even be considered. C’mon ladies: who among us hasn’t watched her male significant other snore contentedly with jealous envy? But, Brillon wants you to know, that’s not creepy at all. No, it’s really not.

Following Brillon was Damien Lemon – an overbooked wedding attendee who, despite having dated the same woman for eight years, has no plans to pop any question more significant than inquiring after the location of the remote. Why not? Well, according to Lemon, marriage is like a cell phone contract… for infinity. Once you sign that thing, you just know a hot new phone that’s going to shit all over your current phone. There won’t be any upgrade privileges, either. And don’t even get Lemon started on the subject of corn: to him, corn is the “9/11 of vegetables. You never forget.” I mean, who honestly hasn’t felt the same way at one point of a painful bathroom dash?

Iowa’s own Dan Gill took the stage next, and true to farm boy form, he simply loves scavenger hunts. If you’re confused about this, you should know that Gill assumed that you would assume he’s a scavenger hunt lover, just because, well– who doesn’t love hunting for treasure? Is Gill not a man like any other? Like most people, he’s also wondered if his mortician has been born yet– and as a comic, demonstrates a never-disappointing call-and-response style of joke telling. He also pointed out the fact that, of the best known original Disney characters, Goofy is the only one who is a widower. Yup, Goofy’s wife is dead. Dark choice, Disney. Gill is on to you.

If you happen to be under the age of 18 and plan on ordering pistachio ice cream from an ice cream stand any time soon, be sure to do so out of the sight of Chris Distefano, who considers pistachio to be an unquestionably “adult” flavor of sugary treat. In fact, Distefano just might demand to see your divorce papers if you place such an order, just to verify proof of pistachio-grade maturity. Another funny anecdote from Distefano’s set came in the form of John Travolta, who recently shared the Letterman studio space with Distefano. Don’t look into Travolta’s eyes, Distefano warns. Talk about piercing blue. He actually felt a breeze.

According to Esther Povitsky (aka Little Esther) a half-Jewish, “half regular” slight, girlish comic, nothing moves a relationship forward quite like a pregnancy scare. Which is why she refuses to use condoms in relationships – it’s the only sure-fire way to guarantee that he’ll return your texts instantly and grant you the attention you deserve. But it’s not always such smooth sailing in romantic affairs for Povitsky: she looks like a teenager and her father is 70, so on the East Coast he’s mistaken for her grandfather, and on the West Coast, for her boyfriend. Truer, more uncomfortable words were never spoken, and with Povitsky’s flailing-on-purpose method of comic execution, there couldn’t be a better vessel through which to speak them.

Sadly, not every parent is thrilled at the prospect of fathering a gay son; not so with Mark Normand, a native of New Orleans, who would greet his as-yet-fictitious offspring with wide open arms. “Having a gay son would be like finding a French fry in my onion rings,” Normand pontificated. “It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but hey, I love these things, too.” Here, here. With an easy-going geniality commonly found among southern-bred comedians, Normand delivered some on-point observations about the Facebook ad/Google search correlation, and bemoaned the lack of privacy on the world’s most popular search engine. “Hey Google, I thought that search was between us. Not cool.” Indeed, sharing isn’t always directly proportional to caring.

And finally, closing out the 2013 all-star lineup of New Faces was Andrew Schulz, another comedian with some stirring thoughts on possums. (“The first time I saw one, I thought it was the leader of the Ninja Turtles.”) Schulz also described the vast differences between a national park and Central Park – it mostly has to do with the presence of bears in one over the other – and apparently he met his current girlfriend in Montreal: an admission that allowed the evening to end on a note of “awwwww.” But hey, after a long evening filled with more guffaws than anyone could shake a possum-bashing hammer at, it was nice to transition over to such a feeling.

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Emma Kat Richardson

Emma Kat Richardson is a Detroit native and freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in xoJane.com, Bitch, Alternative Press, Real Detroit Weekly, 944, and Bust.com. She’s enough of a comedy nerd and cat lady to have named her Maine Coon Michael Ian Cat. Follow her on twitter: @emmakat.

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