• Johnny Pemberton, Ron Funches, Carl Donnelly impress as New Faces at Just For Laughs (group two)

    MONTREAL – After the rich and varied display of the comics from the early, 7 pm incarnation of the New Faces show, the 9 pm-ers were left with an order to fill about as tall as first rounder Cy Amundson. (Seriously, have you seen that guy? They don’t call him the Larry Bird of comedy just because he’s white.) But fulfill it they did, and to great success, too. Inter-spliced with the aerobatic antics of host Ryan Belleville, these guys and gal nailed a stunning show with every ounce of zest as their early show counterparts.

    Opening round two was Carl Donnelly, the show’s sole British representative, and a fine, funny fellow, in a vast myriad of ways. Much of Donnelly’s allotted performance time was spent dissecting the idiosyncrasies of Subway – or, more specifically, Subway’s recently established presence as a franchise chain in the mother country. “He let me get through my whole order before informing me the store was out of bread,” Donnelly bemoaned, recalling an unfortunate bakery shortage in one particular encounter. Beyond this mere isolated comedy subplot, Donnelly managed to zero-in on an observational comic nuance that had an audience full of would-be Jareds disolve into stitches.

    Up next came Ron Funches, a Portlander by-way-of-Chicago who waxed philosophic on being the only brother bumpin’ Alanis Morrisette through the rough Windy City streets. “I had to move to Portland,” he smiled mischievously. “It allowed me to try iced coffee and white women.” The highlight of Funches’ act was a cold reading of his personal poetry; a single line sonnet that culminated in the comic’s hilariously timed howl: “I DON’T NEED NO NEW FRIENDS!” New friends may not be needed, but as a New Face, the audience’s necessity level for Funches’ wonderfully crafted comedy was at an all-time high.

    Nick Turner took to the stage for the third performance slot, and immediately launched into a jarring but wickedly fun monologue of self-deprecation. Lost in the throes of the same quiet desperation that has propelled so many comics into the stratosphere of superstardom, Turner bemoaned turning 30. “I can’t have two dud decades in a row,” he reflected, to well-received effect. As if to prove his commitment to embracing personal change, the set concluded with Turner knocking the onstage prop stool to the floor with a hearty thud – a move that, however unintentionally, seemed to define his work as a comic master of his craft, ready to bend the trifle tenants of the stage to his will.

    Halving the second show was Johnny Pemberton, a comic with an angelic face adorned with a delightfully foul mouth. Pemberton’s set was certainly the most experimental of all the performers; he was successfully able to convince the audience that his was an un-ironic gay gangsta persona, before suddenly shifting tone and revealing the act had been, well, an act – all in the span of just a handful of minutes. Indeed, Pemberton exudes the best qualities found in a natural entertainer, and his ill-fated attempts to rap on stage were so well-conceived, it would be difficult to do them justice in this reported re-creation.

    Like some of the best comedians in the game, Sean O’Connor made art out of awkwardness while churning a bit of nervous tension onstage to his benefit amongst a captive audience. During his set, O’Connor repeatedly milked humor from dishcord, at one point recounting the tale of engaging in an ill-prepared menage-a-trois that resulted in more of an uncomfortable make-out session than an evening of unbridled pleasure. Also, expect the word “fag-a-muffin” to enter the popular vernacular at some point, with O’Connor’s particular brand of comic genius at the forefront of its rise to linguistic glory.

    Kevin Barnett opened with observing that none of the Canadians he’d met so far resembled anything close to their racial depictions on South Park, and once he dived down that raucous track, he fittingly found no reason to ever look back. Overall, Barnett’s was a fun and ferocious set, diving around from Mark Zuckerberg’s seeming inability to purchase decent clothing to Barnett’s own inability to cease from Googling images of dragons. (Exclusive comic hint: “dragon” brings up better images than “dragons,” for some reason.) Mythical beasts aside, I’ve got a good feeling that Googling the name “Kevin Barnett” will soon result in a barrage of links that connect back to hilarity, if his zany and irreverent set was any indication of the future.

    From the onset of her stage entrance and microphone power grasp, Beth Stelling kept her audience enraptured with an engaging, thoroughly sardonic wit that permeated each and every aspect of her storytelling prowess. Delivered in a kooky, Maria Bamford-ish type of presentation, Stelling dropped a series of rabid one-liners (“My mom is uncomfortable with sex talk; probably because she’s still a virgin.”) Her sometimes-shocking rhetoric was made all the more delicious by her straight-faced dispatches and impeccable comic chops. It seems fitting that Stelling was intro-ed with the White Stripes’ bubblegum smash “Fell In Love With a Girl” – by the end of her performance, the audience had fallen head over heels.

    Lastly, Dan St. Germain closed out the show with some homespun wisdom on his inability to be homophobic and a childhood performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat, of which he treated us viewers to a sample singing selection. An alternately subtle and intense performer, St. Germain was so versatile in his showing that he managed to run the gamut from his status as a recovering alcoholic to the unnecessary side projects of male porn stars. To paraphrase: “I’ve banged chicks here, there, and everywhere, but I really want to get this improv group going!” But much like the primary means of income for those porn actors in question, St. Germain is damn good at what he does, and probably won’t need to be seeking out any frivolous side projects any time soon.

    If you want to see any of these comics in action, check out our video post here.

    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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