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Ken Jeong at WonderCon in Anaheim, California, 2012. Image: Gage Skidmore

The stellar comedians who've shaped Just For Laughs

The Montreal festival has rewritten comedy over its 35-year history

Mimi Nightingale

Just for Laughs Sydney is about to enter its eighth year, a festival that continues to grow as a staple on the world’s comedy calendar through its impressive lineup of comedians— both international and local.

From doctors turned comedians to stand-up disruptors, here are our picks of the best acts from Just for Laugh’s international festival circuit.

The 2018 Just for Laughs Festival Sydney is on at the House from Monday 19 – Sunday 25 November.

Hannah Gadsby

The Tasmanian-born comedian is yet again rewriting the rules of comedy, starting with Nanette, the Sydney Opera House stage show-turned-Netflix special that has become the most talked about comedy act in years. In the unsettling #MeToo era, Gadsby relays her frustrations about how women and queer people are silenced, and the abuse they (and she) endure. Disrupting conventional stand-up, Nanette questions our social norms and doesn’t invite people to laugh at it.  

Gadsby has performed the show 250 times, and unsurprisingly it takes its toll. "I need to spend the next year mostly napping,” she says. Gadsby performed the show one last time at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal earlier this year.

Margaret Cho

Famous for her stand-up routines centered around politics, sex and race, the Trump era and #MeToo movement have provided plenty of material for Margaret Cho.

Like other comedians, Cho’s troubled past has been influential in her work, in particular her battle with sexual assault, and drug and alcohol abuse. Cho is open about how comedy is healing and uses her experiences to underpin her craft and send a strong message to her audiences – laughable or not.

Cho draws heavily on a childhood spent in the middle of San Francisco’s gayest neighbourhood, growing up in her parents’ gay book store and partaking in the city’s annual Pride parade. A reason the brazen comic is openly bisexual and not afraid to talk about issues relating to sex and gender.

Ken Jeong

Before he was Mr Chow in The Hangover trilogy, Ken Jeong was honing his craft in comedy clubs while two-timing as a practicing doctor. Departing from his original career path (albeit in character as the doctor in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up and the sitcom Dr Ken), the now accomplished actor, producer and writer is one of today’s top comedic stars. You’d know him more recently for his roles in Community and Crazy Rich Asians. 

After he performs in his first Sydney show at this year’s Just for Laughs, the Crazy Rich Asians star will grace our Netflix screens in the new year in his first stand-up comedy special.

Hannibal Buress

The American comedian hosts the Handsome Rambler podcast, has had multiple Netflix specials, co-hosts the cult favorite The Eric Andre Show, broken his way into Hollywood (recently, as a coach on Spider-Man: Homecoming) and has had a recurring role on Broad City since it first aired. Not to mention once being a writer for both Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. The guy does it all.

Evolving from stand-up jokes to storytelling, Hannibal has an enviable CV and has earned his title as one of the most “supremely gifted and respected” comics around, as lauded by The New York Times.

Some even believe the Chicago comic played a significant role in bringing the Bill Cosby case to light after a joke he made in a stand up show, with Jamil Smith, a senior writer at Rolling Stone, tweeting “Give @hannibalburess credit. He understood that this remains a country where women making accusations of sexual assault aren’t believed until a man echoes them. One can only hope that Cosby’s conviction is a tipping point in that regard. We must do better.”

Reggie Watts

Blurring the lines between music and comedy, Watts boasts a resume equal parts impressive and eclectic. The musician, beatboxer and comedian has worked with the likes of Jimmy Fallon (and Kimmel), Conan O’Brian and Amy Schumer. He’s featured on Flight Facilities’ song Sunshine’, presented a TED talk, and not to mention is the band leader for The Late Late Show with James Corden.

He sets the stage for spontaneity with his 100% improvised stand up shows—you only need to watch his Netflix special Reggie Watts: Spatial to appreciate his on-the-spot musical composition inclusive of beatboxing, looping and adlibbing, all while making audiences laugh.

Reggie’s unexpected script and daring performance always make for an exciting and entertaining production, whether it’s a concert or a comedy show. After three years the comedian is returning to Sydney for Just for Laughs.

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