February 23, 2023

WEEKENDER | Adam Pally Live x Just For Laughs x Rio Theatre

"It's nice to step outside into a city and see The Last of Us."
An Intimate Evening with Adam Pally | JFL Vancouver 2023 | Rio Theatre
Adam Pally and son Drake / Photo credit | Grailed
Commercial Drive—(February 17, 2023) I spent An Intimate Evening with Adam Pally last Friday night alongside a packed house full of initially cautious fans of varying levels of inebriation seated inside the Rio Theatre as part of the returning, ten-day-long seventh annual Just for Laughs Vancouver (formerly JFL NorthWest) live comedy festival.

Having long followed the gregarious and versatile comedian's on-screen (mostly acting) work, I was a little more than curious to see for myself how Adam Pally's distinct but silly brand of intentionally orchestrated trainwreck comedy would translate into a live show setting. He and JFL promised an evening of "songs, stories, and jokes [coming] together just like momma used to make," while evidently wondering himself why he was there when he had "TV star" money—his answer: "Desperation!"

If attendees were expecting some trademark antics in the style of his now infamously off-the-cuff, one-night-only guest hosting of The Late Late Show on CBS (right before James Corden took over) during a New York City blizzard without an audience on a morning news set that instantly became cemented as a brilliantly hilarious yet bizarre television experiment in the depths of internet legend, Pally definitely did not disappoint.

He started his 45-minute one-man stage show deadly seriously with some ominously earnest references to illness and aging before subverting the shocked audience's building tension after the questionable opening cover song choice, singing "In the Arms of an Angel" before a medley of more conventionally sombre classic rock hits. In between, he weaved well-placed lies and fibs sprinkled with truths about his lounge singer parents, growing up, and reluctant adulthood.

An Intimate Evening with Adam Pally | Just for Laughs Vancouver 2023 | Rio Theatre
Rio Theatre
Pally's deceptively clever brand of self-aware bro-y humour—often best exemplified by his surprisingly fresh portrayal of gay best friend Max on the criminally underseen cult favourite 2011-13 ABC network sitcom Happy Endings—transferred well in front of a live audience. His brash but jovial comic instincts have long made him a favourite late night talk show guest, particularly when interviewed by Conan O'Brien, where he always showed up dressed in a different wildly elaborate costume in a reoccurring bit all just to make the host laugh.

Without a sidekick on stage (like maybe Ben Schwartz) to play off of except for his tour manager Tom, Pally indulged even further in a dark sense of cringe humour about his own life. It often felt surreally bleak, always on the edge of humourlessness right before breaking into scattered nervous laughter.

Pally is clearly fearless in his comedic manipulation of a live audience's goodwill for tension, only to release it so self-deprecatingly at his own expense. In the end, it was most definitely and intentionally far too intimate an evening for most of us.

Covers setlist:
  1. "Angel" (Sarah McLachlan)
  2. "I Can't Make You Love Me" (Bonnie Raitt)
  3. "I'm on Fire" / "Atlantic City" (Bruce Springsteen)
  4. "You Don't Know How It Feels" (Tom Petty) – with a harmonica rig
  5. "Piano Man" (Billy Joel)
JFL Vancouver 2023 runs until February 25th, with comedians performing live shows at venues across the city.

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