The night after Halloween a cool breeze blew through uptown Saint John. The intermittent rainfall had pedestrians scrambling through King’s Square, over the sheeny, reflective street surface, to the Imperial Theatre entrance. Just for Laughs (JFL), a long time staple of the Canadian stand-up comedy scene was to present their second East Coast performance at precisely 7:30 p.m.
The crowd, made up of mostly middle-aged men and women dressed in expensive formalwear, prattled in jovial expectation as they waited for the doors to open. 15 minutes later, stand-up comedian John Heffron would take the stage to host JFL’s 2012 Relationship Edition comedy tour.
“I was up there once before, I love it. I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to pack clothes-wise,” says Heffron, talking about the Maritimes, “I believe I still have my certificate; I’m an honorary Newfoundlander. I kissed a fish, I said a poem, I did a lot of stuff.”
The set was lit purple and blue, accentuating the LIFE board-game theme. Canadian improvisational comics, Roman Danylo and Diana Frances took to warming up the crowd. Giving away front row seats to two lucky attendees and calling an audience member onstage to play an improv game, Danylo and Frances successfully gave the evening its kick-start, passing their momentum back to Heffron after a short set. It was at this point the night started gaining its unrelenting energy.
Heffron was instantly relatable, speaking about his childhood winters in Detroit. Although most of his set concerned his sixteen-year-old daughter’s texting addiction and the everyday conflicts of marriage, he took interesting positions on reincarnation and technological advances. On the subject of reincarnation, he speaks of his six year old daughter as a “level one human being,” saying in general that everyone can all tell when it’s someone’s first time around the block. The Last Comic Standing winner relied on old material for a portion of the set, but for the most part his take was refreshing and energetic.
Up next was a surprise guest from MTV’s Teen Wolf series, Orny Adams. Having just stepped from a plane after a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles, Adams seemed jet-lagged and intense. He began his set by cracking a string of jokes concerning his confusion between whether he was landing in Saint John or St. John’s. Keeping the crowd’s energy high, Adams bounced from one side of the stage to the other while cynically streaming over germs and proper sneezing etiquette. He talked about life, dying dreams and moved into love and relationships, ending his set with his idea of what real love is.
The final anecdote concerned an elderly couple aboard a crowded elevator: when the wife steps off onto the wrong floor Adams remarks that the husband remains still and lets the doors close only to turn to the remaining passengers stating simply, “She’ll figure it out.” To Orny Adams, this sentiment typifies true love.
As Adams’ time expires, Heffron makes a brief interlude before introducing second-generation Nigerian-American comic Godfrey. Out of all of the sets, Godfrey occupied the most time. He opened with a bombardment of airplane-based humor (unfortunately it had nothing to do with the 1980 Leslie Nielsen film), which felt far less relatable than the preceding sets. After a heavy sound effects performance, he managed to get away from his “life as a single New Yorker” material and regress to his childhood Halloween experiences. Godfrey (although the least relatable of all the evening’s comics) managed to steal the show with his delivery alone.
The night closed with a few shameless plugs, barely heard over the applause from the packed lower seats. Heffron and the comics met the satisfied crowd in the foyer soon thereafter, taking pictures and signing autographs. The rain had let up and the wind died down; laughter reverberated through King’s Square, as the comics prepared for Moncton the following night.
“You can tell when a crowd is going a bunch of a**holes,” says Heffron, “but we didn’t run into that tonight. It was a great crowd to play to.”