The Joke’s On Me
By: Eric Amber
Summer time in Montreal is festival season. Almost every weekend from May to late September is packed with spectacles of every kind. Events like the world famous Montreal Jazz Festival, the Grand Prix and of course, Just For Laughs. A comedy festival of mostly English comedians run by a people less funny and more racist than Donald Sterling (owner of the LA Clippers).
Where as the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland or the Melbourne Comedy Festival in Australia are open to all who wish to participate, JFL is an invite only event. As the local comics who work all year long in Montreal are mostly excluded from the comedy festival, I decided to run an underground series of comedy shows of my own. So I scheduled the shows, booked the comics and began promoting them, but the day before we opened I got a phone call from one of the comedians on the line up.
It was my friend Levi, then an unknown comic from Calgary. He told me that he had received an email from the offices of Just For Laughs. When they had learned that he was booked to perform at Theatre Ste-Catherine during the festival, JFL threatened to ban him from ever performing at the Montreal Comedy Festival for life, if he didn’t back out.
I told Levi that I understood his decision to withdraw and checked my own emails. Almost everyone scheduled had the same story to tell. As a result, I was left with a block of shows and no comics to do time because they were all afraid of Just For Laughs, the mafia of comedy.
Just For Laughs is not exclusively a stand up comedy kind of festival. It also has a rather big out door presence so when the festival began, thousands of people filled the streets. There were kiosks, buskers, games and art installations of the type you might see at a street carnival. They even have a twins parade. That’s right, a parade of twins. I watched it twice.
Along with all that, just blocks away from Theatre Ste-Catherine, JFL had set up dozens of park benches for weary festival goers to rest. Perhaps I was sour. Perhaps I have a streak of civil disobedience in me. I’m not sure which, but one evening, during the festival, in the dead of night, I stole one of those park benches with the help of a friend.
The next morning, dressed in overalls and hard hats, we drilled holes into the cement and bolted that bench to the sidewalk directly in front of Theatre Ste-Catherine.
I thought I was pretty clever but as I stood there in the door well admiring my handiwork, just moments after installing the bench, I saw a homeless man with white hair and big bushy beard walk by.
Suddenly he stopped and stared at the bench. He seemed confused. He turned and looked back in the direction from which he had come, then looked at the bench again. He scratched his head and approached it with caution, as if it was an illusion. He slowly sat down and felt it with a firm grip. It was real. Then, in a quick motion, he kicked up his legs, laid himself down and promptly went to sleep.
My self satisfaction was short lived. This is exactly why Montreal doesn’t have benches along the sidewalk. I realized then, that my well intentioned anarchy/guerrilla beautification project had gone horribly wrong. Oh dear, what had I done?
As I stood there wondering what to do next, a good Samaritan walked past and dropped a grocery bag on the sidewalk.
The homeless fellow immediately woke up and looked at the sack but at no point did he see me. His focus was on the mystery bag. I too was curious and watched as he pulled out a sandwich, a drink box and a package of cheese. He proceeded to eat it all, in painful slow motion, taking his sweet time and then just tossed the wrappers to the ground.
Finally, when he was done, he took a moment to collect the shoes that he had kicked off in the night and carried on with his life, leaving behind a small pile of rubbish that swirled around like a miniature garbage tornado.
I told her I knew nothing. As far as I could tell, it had just ‘appeared’.
“Well, it’s not supposed to be there” she said, walking away in a stomp.
I suppose she must have called the city to complain because a couple of weeks later, a crew of workers came around to remove it. I watched, without protest as they cut the bolts and tossed the bench into the back of their truck.