The Manhattan Comedy Project: First we take Manhattan

First we take Manhattan

Shawn Hollenbach, Robert Keller and Paul Case bring the mirth of Manhattan to Montreal

Montreal native Robert Keller treks up from New York City with his Manhattan Comedy Project

There’s something special about playing to a hometown crowd. For comedian Robert Keller, the creator of The Manhattan Comedy Project, though, the very idea of hometown is a bit indistinct. He grew up in Montreal, but hasn’t lived here in almost a decade. Eight years ago he moved to New York City, and judging from his latest comedy creation, NYC has supplanted Montreal in a few ways, including the kind of funny Keller identifies with.

"New York is probably the epicentre of stand-up comedy; it’s where stand-up comedy was born. It’s a very edgy, in-your-face, no-holds-barred kind of stand-up comedy," he says. The Manhattan Comedy Project is about bringing NYC-style comedy to non-NYC audiences, perhaps to influence them as much as he has been influenced.

"I remember when I was growing up and visiting New York with my family, one of the things we always did, in addition to going to Broadway shows and new restaurants," he recalls, apparently having grown up in a Conde Nast magazine, "was to check out the comedy clubs. The people you’d see there would often end up, within a year or two or three, on a network television show."

So why a three-night stand in Monty?

"Montreal [is] a city known for comedy. I wanted people to have an opportunity to see the kind of comedy that they don’t see at Just For Laughs, [which has] become such a commercial venture. It’s really just intended to showcase specific people."

That said, The Manhattan Comedy Project does showcase specific people, they just aren’t household names. This is probably because their comedic stylings fall under the catch-all descriptor "alternative." But what does that mean these days?

"My headliner is Wendy Ho [YouTube: "Bitch, I Stole Yo' Purse"], who is someone who’s already garnered a cult following across the United States." He’s talking about Wendy Jo Smith, whose "alter-ego is [like] an Eminem type character. Her story is that she’s a Harlem hooker, and her music is extremely bawdy and extremely outrageous and definitely not something you could put on prime-time television.

"I’m also inviting a number of out gay and lesbian comedians to be on the show," continues Keller, himself an out performer. "It’s not the centre of any of our acts, really. We don’t focus on it, but we do mention it."

What gets more mention is the show’s namesake, of course: "New York City is a very particular kind of place. It’s a jaded place. It tends to be a tough place. And it definitely affects the way in which you see the world and express your views about it."

The Manhattan Comedy Project
At Théâtre Ste-Catherine (264 Ste-Catherine E.), Aug. 20-22, 8 p.m., plus late show Aug. 22, 10:30 p.m.

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