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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Comedy Network kicks off Just for Laughs series with the Muppets


Over the last 30 years, the Just for Laughs festival has landed every major comic on the planet, and many minor ones, too. One might hazard a guess that organizers would place the Bills — Cosby, Hader or the late Hicks — at the top of their acquisitions list.

Yet, let the record show that the act they have been most pumped about signing is … a gaggle of puppets? Not just any puppets, of course. Still, those coveted Muppets could have been a risk for fest patrons nurtured on the comedy stylings of Uncle Milty Berle or Lewis Black.
No worries about that. The Muppets sold out two galas last July at Place des Arts and could have probably done a dozen more.


From last summer’s two Just for Laughs galas, the debut episode
of the Comedy Network’s The Muppets All-Star Comedy Gala
features the entire Muppets gang.

“The Muppets are among the most incredible gala hosts we’ve ever landed,” trumpeted Robbie Praw, head of JFL’s English programming, after inking the critters. “It’s a dream come true for us. Is there a better known ensemble in the world? Their appeal is across the age-map, too.”


 Not surprisingly, the Comedy Network has decided to kick off its Just for Laughs: All Access series with the 90-minute The Muppets All-Star Comedy Gala, Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Culled from last summer’s two galas, the debut episode features the entire Muppets gang, from Kermit (shorter in real life) and Miss Piggy (larger than life) to Fozzie Bear and the Swedish Chef to the curmudgeonly hecklers, Waldorf and Statler.

As a bonus, the show also includes such solid humanoid wits as Canucks Steve Patterson and Pete Zedlacher, Aussie Adam Hill and Yank Jim Breuer.

Kudos must go to the behind-the-scenes slice-and-dice editing gang who have managed to capture the essence and spirit of the live galas on this broadcast. As someone who was in attendance at the first of the two live galas last July, I can’t recall any major Muppets moments that have been excised and not covered in this special. Hopefully, the same will apply in future episodes hosted by Bill Hader, John McHale, Jeremy Hotz, Jack McBrayer, Jason Jones and John Pinette.

And even old cynics will have to concede that the Muppets are magical on the tube for this special, although they do make for strange bedfellows with the aforementioned stand-ups. Then again, Fozzie Bear proves to be no slouch as a stand-up himself here – wocka, wocka, wocka.

Of course, the Muppets, who rarely travel anywhere, are much in the dark about Canada, as is evidenced in their opening tune, an alleged homage to this country: “Canada is part of Alaska, is the capital of Narnia, is 200 miles long and is where ginger ale comes from.” (Well, two out of four ain’t bad, and they did get Narnia.) Highlight for many could well be the Swedish Chef trying to concoct “pewtine” — poutine — and suffering a coronary in the process. Mercifully, there are some defibrillation paddles on hand at Place des Arts and the chef is resuscitated.

Also up there on the chuckles scale is Statler and Waldorf slagging Fozzie Bear’s shtick, then making a tasteless comparison to that and Abe Lincoln’s last theatre experience and quickly silencing the audience. “Too soon?” the old codgers surmise.
What could definitely intrigue our political powers in this province: Dr. Bunsen Honeydew trots out his latest invention, the Immersinator 3000 and transforms his trusty lab assistant Beaker into a shag facsimile of Youppi.

The Great Gonzo pays tribute to one of this country’s greatest cultural exports with his Cirque du Poulet. Hair-raising though it may be, it is later announced that no humans were hurt in the making of this show.

And what would a Muppet spectacle be without Kermit and Miss Piggy playing out their ever-enduring romance on stage? Or Kermie crooning a heartfelt rendering of Rainbow Connection?

Not easy following these Muppets, but the humans hold their own here.  

The Just for Laughs: All Access series launches with The Muppets All-Star Comedy Gala, Monday at 7:30 p.m. on the Comedy Network. The series resumes Jan. 7 at 10 p.m.

By Bill Brownstein, The Gazette, Montreal Gazette


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