The new season of Britain's Got Talent has begun the initial audition phase across the pond, and the early hullaballoo is over the harsh criticisms coming from one of its new judges, stand-up comedian Michael McIntyre.
For those of us in North America who don't know the name Michael McIntyre, the 34-year-old hasn't made much of a dent here, his first try coming in the summer of 2007 when McIntyre was presented to the industry as one of the "New Faces" in Montreal's Just For Laughs festival.
His energetic style caught on in the U.K., however, where he quickly rose to the ranks of selling out arenas -- his second DVD, Hello Wembley, sold more than 1.4 million copies. He won the British Comedy Award for Best Live Stand-Up Comedy Performer in 2009, and followed that in 2010 with the Best Male TV Comic, hosting BBC1's Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow. And now this year, he was named to become one of the new judges for Britain's Got Talent, sitting alongside longtime BGT judge Amanda Holden and America's Got Talent export David Hasselhoff. In past seasons, Holden has sat between Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan. Cowell's working on his U.S. version of The X Factor, while Morgan is busy trying to attract viewers to his 9 p.m. CNN hour that replaced Larry King.
Sources have told the British press that McIntyre is supposed to fill the Simon role. Obviously the Hoff is going to still be the Hoff, so sure, that sounds reasonable enough to assume/presume. The British tabloids jumped all over the notion of McIntyre as Mr. Nasty after he allegedly made a 9-year-old comedian cry during his audition. McIntyre called up The Mirror to explain himself, saying, among other things:
“I am not being ruthless and shattering people’s dreams – that’s the opposite of what I want to do. I took the job because I love the show and I have spent a month trying to make people’s dreams come true. Ruthlessness is not something that comes easily.”
The New Faces of Comedy showcase is Montreal's version of the Best New Artist Grammy. Most of the 16 stand-ups selected for this week's showcases have several years of experience onstage, but they're new in the eyes of industry scouts, because this is the first step up the festival ladder. A few of the acts don't yet have agents or managers. Is that a good thing?
Maria Bamford (one of this year's Masters performers) and I talked briefly about this yesterday. I saw a comedian get an agent and manager -- which quickly resulted in a spot on Conan and headlining club dates -- out of the Aspen fest this winter. Worked out good for him. But Bamford, who once got two new representation offers out of a festival, said it can almost be like last call at a bar. "Who's the hottest one left here?" she said in one of her trademark voices. "And then the relationship has nowhere left to go." So there's that side of the coin, too.
The comics here aren't thinking like that, though. They're looking to be discovered.
How are they doing?
Last night, I caught half of the New Faces, and several members of the first group devoted most of their time trying to connect to the local Montreal audiences at Kola Note (which should be noted, is the most remote venue at the fest -- perhaps another reminder that the New Faces have a ways to go yet). Michael McIntyre (who sounded a bit like Stewie from Family Guy, but not, despite the fact that the FOX show and cast is also at the fest) joked about the local pedestrian signals with his own version of Monty Python's silly walks. Mike E. Winfield said "you guys have the most arrogant homeless people I have ever seen." Tom Segura said: "I was walking in your sex shop district...what do you call it? Oh, Montreal." A couple of the NYC comics in the showcase, Julian McCullough and James Patterson, brought the city with them -- McCullough talking about his Brooklyn neighborhood ("no, not that part") and contrasting the on-field performances of Barry Bonds and Darryl Strawberry ("He'd snort the first base line!"); Patterson on moving to the South Bronx "because my girlfriend wanted to study music -- she played the jazz rape whistle." Nikki Glaser managed to skewer the sponsoring MySpace and won the audience over with some off-color material. Pat Candaras exhibited a Lewis Black attitude if he were a frustrated grandmother. Mike E. Winfield had the look, if not the material. Sheng Wang was a hit with his wit and his closing bit tilting the phrase "you could do better" on its head. Matt Braunger brought this showcase to a close with a very strong personality and a funny bit about killer owls. But really, host Tom Papa had the best sets of the night in between acts, showing the New Faces how it's done.