Published Jul 28, 2016Wednesday night's second Just for Laughs comedy gala of the evening featured comedian David Cross, of Arrested Development and Mr. Show. Hosted at the beautiful Maison Symphonique, the evening featured an array of heavyweights like Louie Anderson and Maria Bamford, JFL alumni Scott Thompson and Todd Barry and up-and-coming favorites Nick Thune, Nish Kumar and Mark Forward.
David Cross was a bit slow to start, thrown off early in the night by fans yelling Arrested Development references, but overall he was a terrific host. Having just finished a giant tour across North America and Europe, one might have expected Cross to be a bit more rehearsed. One might have expected him to be smoother, perhaps a little more eloquent — there were a great deal of ums and ahs. However, despite what came off as a bit of a lack of confidence early on, his comfort in playing things a little off-the-cuff was a great quality to find in a host.
He was hammy and bold with no shortage of the strange wit and perspective that's served him so well throughout his career. His "Hi Hitler" bit brought the house down, and his constant apologies and green room gifts to two front row audience members who didn't seem to be enjoying the show were memorable.
Louie Anderson may have been the biggest name on the bill — aside from Cross himself — but his performance was disappointing overall. Anderson's set began almost incoherently. The first two minutes of his set were groaning sound effects while rambling about drunk teenagers. Anderson had a few brief moments of true hilarity to offer, little flashes of what used to be, but for the most part he just seemed out of it.
The highlights of the evening almost certainly go to Mark Forward, Maria Bamford and the first featured comic Nish Kumar. Kumar was by far the most intelligent act of the night. He was heavily political without being a bummer. Kumar has given a lot of thought to why most comedians fall on the left of the political spectrum. His conclusion is that the left have comedy and folk music, and the right have action movies and board games; he spent most of his set plumbing the depths of this dichotomy. One would be hard-pressed to find a better first act. He had the audience by the proverbial balls almost instantaneously.
Mark Forward began his set with his nonchalant, back-of-the-bus sort of attitude. He began his set with the words "Hey, I'm great." Rather early on in his 10 to 15 minute set, Forward launched into a surreal one-man sketch/drama about an intense convenience store owner set on being a fancy hat mogul. It ended in death, destruction, cap guns and a serious round of applause. Forward was the only performer to receive a standing ovation, not because none of the other performers were just as funny, but because it was one of the most intense, all-in performances of the night, if not of the entire festival.
Bamford was in typical full swing. She was amusingly aloof for most of her set, even when in song — that is to use the word song very loosely. A good third of her set was about halfway between detached chanting and standup regarding the plight of being dragged into monotonous recreational activities she has no interest in doing. She was hilarious, bizarre and entirely on the money.
A strange theme of the gala seemed to be a crisis in confidence on the part of the evening's heaviest hitters, David Cross and Louie Anderson. Cross was able to overcome it. Anderson was not. Aside from Anderson's set, the gala was as solid a cavalcade of funny as one could hope for.