JFL35: Seinfeld and Elmaleh face off at Bell Centre

Who’s on first? Elmaleh points to Seinfeld. Photo: Susan Moss

MONTREAL — Things got real Wednesday night at the 35th annual Just for Laughs Comedy Festival with a return engagement 20 years in the making — by Jerry Seinfeld.

The stand-up specialist teamed with Gad Elmaleh, a Moroccan-born funnyman who has lived in both Montreal and Paris and brought a french flavour to the duo’s two-hour set.

The duo walked out on stage about 20 minutes past the 8 o’clock curtain time, a fact that clearly rankled the famously punctual Seinfeld. Jerry is old school enough to know you never, ever let a crowd cool off — especially in a hockey rink.

Which is where these two performed: the cavernous Bell Centre, home of les Habs. A massive curtain was drawn across one end of the rink, marking the stage. A spotlight shone on a single stool with a single bottle of water.

Seinfeld and Elmaleh came out to great applause from a sold out crowd of probably around 15,000. Patrons on the seats at ice level in front of the stage had paid more than $250 for the privilege.

“Just for Laughs? What Just for Laughs?” bellowed Jerry. “It’s also for the money.”

The two did a little Who’s on first? bantering about which one gets to be the opening act. Seinfeld decided to open for himself. This was counter intuitive, but Seinfeld’s no fool. Two hours is a long time, especially for two guys dressed in the same white shirts, dark ties and dark suits who have similar observational comedy acts.

Seinfeld’s set took a full hour. Once he got the mike level down to his liking, he goofed on everyone’s obsession with their cell phones. “If your phone dies,” he said, “does it really matter if you’re still alive?”

He complained about the show being on a Wednesday night. “Isn’t this kind of a big deal?” he whinged. “Shouldn’t this be on a weekend?”

He gave out his personal information. Age: 63. Number of children: 3. Years married: 18.

“Being married,” he said, “is like being on a game show and it’s always the lightening round.” His wife apparently asks a lot of questions.

The sixties is his favourite decade so far, he says, because he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do.

Not once during the set did he mention Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, my favourite TV show which is moving from Crackle to Netflix in about a month. He did reference a little show he had on NBC a generation ago, kidding that the audience aren’t that impressed at just seeing him. “The other three probably won’t even be there,” he joked.

Seinfeld finished his set and quickly exited, stage left. There was an awkward pause in the arena. The lights dimmed a bit. Some people bolted out of the rink, including the two women to my left in what would have been excellent, rouge level hockey seats.

Finally Elmaleh came out. He won the Montreal crowd over immediately by impersonating how the local francophones speak english. He mocked Parisians and Moroccans. He did a long bit about dating and being single, although he explained he really wasn’t single, he was just doing a bit. He waved to his girlfriend in the audience. He mentioned how in France, the french have a word for mistresses: girlfriends.

He also failed to mention Comedians in Cars, even though he was on the streaming series with Seinfeld. He did, however, drink from Seinfeld’s water bottle.

The 50 minute second set was over, and both men came out at the end to take a bow. Will it be another 20 years before Seinfeld returns to Montreal? Hopefully not, but if he does come back, it won’t be just for laughs.

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