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New Faces Emerge At The World's Biggest Comedy Festival

Dewayne Perkins performed in one of the New Faces showcases at Just For Laughs.
Tristan Brand
Courtesy of Just For Laughs
Dewayne Perkins performed in one of the New Faces showcases at Just For Laughs.

At this year's edition of Just For Laughs, the world's biggest comedy festival held annually in Montreal, the headliners included Wanda Sykes, Kevin Hart and Hasan Minhaj. But at the other end of the spectrum, a new crop of hopefuls sought to get their names out into the world.

At the popular and long-running New Faces showcases, the performers get only six minutes each. But they perform in a small theater packed with agents and other industry professionals scouting for new talent.

The comedian Pete Holmes, who was once himself a New Face, introduced the sets from the stage. "This matters to them," he said. "It doesn't matter to us."

Just to get a New Faces slot is a big deal in comedy circles. Jimmy Fallon was a Just for Laughs New Face. So were Hannibal Buress, Ali Wong and Kevin Hart himself.

There was plenty of strong talent in this year's batch of New Faces — a program that now also features digital content creators and character-based comedians — but here are 10 standouts. Unfortunately, recording wasn't allowed at these events, but some of the performers' bits have been filmed elsewhere.

Do note: Some of the videos below contain profanity and adult humor.

Hannah Einbinder

Hannah Einbinder opted out of the usual "So I'm from so-and-so" setup and instead went with a noir-musical retelling of her childhood. (Her mother happens to be Saturday Night Livefounding cast member Laraine Newman.) There's a self-aware, 1930s vibe that Einbinder played with throughout her whole set — it's not so much that she romanticizes that era, but it's a ridiculous premise that lets her shift around her voice as needed.

Shane Gillis

Shane Gillis gives off post-jock energy — like someone who used to play a sport in school, then had the self-awareness to realize he wasn't cut out for it and stopped — but he isn't bitter about it at all. His friendly demeanor distracts you, while he sneaks in just a whiff of social insight within a barrage of self-deprecating sex jokes.

Shapel Lacey

Shapel Lacey walked on stage emitting a doe-eyedness that was a perfect setup to talking about anger issues. He is relatively new to the comedy scene in Los Angeles, having come from Phoenix, Ariz., and a lot of his material comes from that dissonance — he closed with an alternate version of Oasis' "Wonderwall" that perfectly captures how out-of-step he feels.

Dan Licata

A description of Dan Licata's stage persona would include the words nervy, overconfident, Italian American, dumb and scheming, but the order depends on whatever Licata needs at the moment to keep the momentum going. It's an absurdist tack that Licata runs through with enough charisma that you even start to feel for "Dan Licata."

Taylor Ortega

Taylor Ortega's best character was a 911 phone-sex hotline operator for white people to call in to complain about people of color going about their day. It's also probably the only premise from the New Faces: Characters sets that might actually be a good idea?

Rachel Pegram

You know those confusing laughs where a comedian brings up a horrible fact of reality that we all have to deal with daily (some more than others)? The ones where your mouth and stomach make the laughing motions while your eyebrows curve up, maybe worried about the fact that you're laughing? Rachel Pegram got two of those.

Dewayne Perkins

The two-word punchline to Dewayne Perkins' joke about the exact moment he realized he was gay absolutely crushes. It's an awkward-sounding phrase that's difficult to get your mouth around, but just evocative enough that you can just ... taste it.

Lael O'Shaughnessy

Lael O'Shaughnessy self-deprecating humor would come off as a bit much if she weren't so confident about it. There's a way she throws her voice and arm into a joke about what kind of person is allowed to give what kind of handshake that is so assured that you forget for a second how hard she's roasting herself.

Andrew Stanley

There was an endearing stiffness to Andrew Stanley's set. He told the audience he was home-schooled for the first 10 years of his life and still involved with his church, but he doesn't lean strongly on the gee-whiz-golly of it all. Instead, he takes his shots at the same Christian institutions that usually hire him.

Tacarra Williams

Petty revenge stories are great because everyone can agree that nobody comes off great here, and we can all just enjoy the ride. Except Tacarra Williams' bit is her enacting some sort of revenge on her three kids, and she's more than happy to luxuriate in playing the heel.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.