Nawaz: Jay Baruchel hosts a comedy contest that will make you LOL

The concept: 10 comedians compete to crack each other up. If someone laughs, they’re out.

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The news is heavy these days. Updates out of Ukraine are so tragic that it can be difficult to keep reading beyond the graphic content warnings.

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Besides the brutal war being waged, the latest IPCC report reminds us of the urgent need for serious government action on climate change, and then there’s the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress of knowing that far too many of us are acting like it’s over when , unfortunately, it is not. When I chat with people about how they’re doing these days, I get the sense I’m not alone in feeling the weight of world events.

So when it comes time to unwind by watching TV with my husband in the evenings, it can be challenging to find something to put on: the latest entrée in the Marvel All-You-Can-Watch Buffet or a probing inquiry into whether things are made out of cake? The various late-show monologues are funny, but I can’t bear jokes about the war, even at Putin’s expense. Plus, so much of the best serial television right now — Better Call Saul, Severance — isn’t exactly relaxing.

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But the other day we watched something that made me laugh out loud. And it felt good. So good that I’ve become almost evangelical about it: LOL Canada.

The initials in this case stand for Last One Laughing, but I did LOL… a lot. The Canadian entrée into a proven format, LOL Canada is based on a Japanese show that has already spawned editions out of Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Mexico, India and Brazil. But it’s distinctly Canadian thanks to the homegrown talent and their unique sensibilities.

The concept: 10 comedians compete to crack each other up. If someone laughs, they’re out. The goal is to be the Last One Laughing, earning a $100,000 donation to a charity of their choice.

It’s a brilliant formula. The reason for the laugh tracks and live studio audiences of (mostly) yore is that laughter is contagious. Finally, something infectious worth catching. Watching seasoned performers trying to hold back a smile while locked together in a studio for six hours, it’s impossible not to join in.

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Host Jay Baruchel is a delight, as is Ottawa genius and ahead-of-his-time comedian Tom Green. It’s a treat to see him thrive in this format. I also like watching Mae Martin outside of her low-key but emotionally complex Netflix series Feel Good (go binge both seasons). Other competitors include Dave Foley, Andrew Phung, Caroline Rhea, Brandon Ash-Mohammed, Colin Mochrie, Debra DiGiovanni, K. Trevor Wilson and Jon Lajoie.

The show is a great way to find out about Canadian comedians you might not already know. For me, it was Lajoie, who I guessed was a Montrealer when I heard him speak French. An early YouTube star for his comedy songs about him, he has gone on to write tunes for The Lego Movie 2 and TV shows The League and The Afterparty.

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There are weird surprises and unexpected guests. The comedians bring along gags and props for some prepared bits, but it is generally unscripted interactions that end up being the most hilarious, especially as the comedians lean in to material that has started to crack their competitors’ defenses.

It is dumb. It is absurd. It is frequently surreal. And I laughed and laughed. It felt like I’d gone for a good run and followed it up with a hot bath — all from the comfort of my couch. It felt so good, I wondered how long it had been since I’d laughed like that … and exactly how much tension and anxiety I’ve been carrying around for months.

Though not as much discussed as Paxlovid these days, laughter is still pretty good medicine. It increases endorphins, provokes the intake of more oxygen-rich air and stimulates your heart and lungs, leaving your muscles feeling relaxed for 45 minutes. It can help you release anger, connect with others, improve your mood and relieve stress and anxiety. Apparently, it can even boost your immune system with the release of neuropeptides via positive thoughts.

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LOL Canada premiered on Amazon Prime Feb. 18 and concluded last month. Now my plan is to check out other iterations and see how well the humor translates. It was recently announced that there will be a Quebec edition of LOL, hosted by Patrick Huard and due to film in French here in Montreal and air before the end of the year.

With the state of the world, it can be hard to feel like you can allow yourself a time out from worrying that everything will be OK. But I recommend watching something that will make you laugh until you almost cry. You might need it even more than you thought you did.

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