Nick Thune / Ben Kronberg / Mark Little / Julia Hladkowicz NXNE Hub, Toronto ON, July 18
Published Jun 19, 2015NXNE's Thursday night comedy bill took place at the NXNE Hub at Queen and Spadina. The lineup was a gut busting blend of the absurd, the embarrassing, the strange, and the poignant.
The evening was presented by retired adult film star Lisa Ann on behalf of Fleshlight, the maker of — among other things — products called "girl sleeves," sex toys designed to resemble the features of a particular adult film actress. Ann's somewhat abrupt introduction was met with mingled applause and confusion echoing such sentiments as "You're who?" and "You want me to what?!"
The odd, brief introduction gave way to opening act Julia Hladkowicz, but not before a brief discussion on the topic of "scissoring" with the apparently unsuspecting comic. After taking a moment to re-center herself — though her sheepishness could have been slightly hammed up — Hladkowicz settled into a brilliantly animated set. The young comic managed to cram an impressive amount of zany material into her ten-minute performance without sacrificing a comprehensible train of thought. She might have been the most animated comic of the night if not for fellow Canadian Mark Little.
Stealing the show seems to come naturally to Little. One of Canada's best stand-up comics in recent memory, the actor, comedian and sketch comedy wunderkind was as innovative, unpredictable and funny as ever. He used very little televised or YouTube material, the only recorded joke being one he led with on his recent Conan appearance regarding bathroom graffiti. He dabbled in prop comedy with such sardonic pleasure as only he can muster. His Bruce Springsteen-inspired song "Jeans Party" teetered on the edge of complete absurdity in a way that harkened back to Little's days in Picnicface. Throughout his performance, more than a few audience members were driven to tears of laughter. If decibels could declare some sort of winner — which isn't to say there ought to be one — it'd be Mark Little.
Ben Kronberg was a jarring change of gears after Mark Little's non-stop chain of shenanigans. Interestingly, his set was made up almost entirely of questions, many of them rhetorical. Even the non-rhetorical ones rarely met any answers. To his credit, the general impression he gave was inquisitive rather than interrogative; a series of have-you-evers, would-you-rathers and the like followed by pregnant pauses. He was funny, no doubt, the sort of "cult" funny one can only imagine being borne in New York (Kronberg lives in Brooklyn). His appeal was in his measured delivery, bringing audiences to the edge of their seats in rapt curiosity — often in anticipation of whether they were about to be amused or appalled.
Headliner Nick Thune appeared every bit the hipster standard. Fresh off the honour of being the first comedian on the new Late Late Show with James Corden, Thune couldn't have looked more comfortable on stage had he dozed off on the spot. While some may have been introduced to Thune as the guitar-plucking, fantastically sharp deadpan one-liner comic, it's a phase of his career he seems keen to leave behind. His somewhat newfound partiality toward in-depth storytelling made for a uniquely personal performance. While he may require a few more runs of the touring circuit to perfect his new approach (he wasn't always riveting), the transformation is a promising one. He was funny, he was real, and he was personally invested in every word he said.