JFL42 is a comedy festival, not a punk music festival. And yet I ended it by running out of a cab at 3:30 in the morning and puking all over the sidewalk. It was just like being 19 again! Except my parents aren’t newly divorced, I don’t have any baby fat poorly concealed underneath an ill-fitting Final Fantasy 7 t-shirt from Squaresoft, covered in lonely tears, sweat, Pizza Pops sauce, and masturbation splashback. And as an added life bonus I get to go home tonight and sleep beside an actual human girl and NOT a lifesize cardboard cutout of Alyssa Milano in Poison Ivy 2
Speaking of that actual human girl I mentioned, I kinda told her (my fiancee) that I Â¨almostÂ¨ puked last night – not that I full-on cry-hurled all over the sidewalk in front of a laundromat. So let’s keep that on the DL, Scenesters. Actually this will be a great opportunity to find out if she actually ever reads any of this stuff.
This was the 3rd year of Toronto’s #JFL42 – our own answer to Montreal’s mammoth Just for Laughs festival. (Pronounces Â¨Juice for earsÂ¨ en Francais, for all our Francophone readers)
For those still not fully familiar with the idea behind comedy’s most recent, most interactive and most user driven festival of jokes, it breaks down like this – the ‘JFL’ is Just For Laughs (I’m hoping that part at least was pretty obvious). The 42 stands for 42 standups. 42 acts from across Canada and the U.S.A who descended on Toronto and reeked hilarious havoc on bars, clubs, cafes, theaters, art spaces – venues from the intimate to the extravagant, from one end of the city to the other. And the hashtag? Because, the internet. Not to mention the whole festival is designed to be user-driven and insanely interactive.Â
The list of home stages this year included festival mainstays like the mass-scale Sony Centre and the alt haven Comedy Bar. Room spread out in every corner across the city where Comedy happens to happen
That’s also where the aforementioned wrap party happened, which sent my sick ass home in a cab at 3 in the morning like a college kid. Comedy Bar, aside from being my own favorite place to play, is holy ground for all of us on the Toronto comedy beat. It’s kind of like our own version of Cheers – you never quite know who will pass through. And on that night, everyone did. I mean everyone. Half of the festival was there. The who’s-who of who was temporarily in town and Toronto’s creme de la creme of the comedy cropÂ
I cornered Ian Karmel at the bar and picked his brain about his week (and change) on the festival roster. He was doing warm-up for the headliner shows, plus playing the circuit himself – one of the booked 42. Part of the crowd warm-up gig was congratulating ticket upgrade winners, bumped up to cushy front row seats. Â¨Did you get bored of it?Â¨ I asked. Pull no punches! Nah, he had fun doing it. Didn’t surprise me. He’s one of those rare jovial comics who loves his work, every minute of it. No darkness at the edge of town whatsoever!
(Photo: Karmel. Photo cred… um, the internets )
I caught Karmel’s charismatic crowd-work over the span of a few nights, to a packed house at the Sony Centre. Toronto ate his shtick right up up. First for Amy Schumer, then Wanda Sykes and finally Seth Myers. Schumer slaughtered. Pummeling the house with honed haymakers and lobbing some insanely good new material (even coming back to take a request, not standard practice in the comedy game, but she was rolling like Kanye, glugging white wine straight out the bottle)
Wanda Sykes literally reminded us right from the start that she wasn’t just settling down as an actress. Â¨Standup is still what I do man, this is where I come fromÂ¨ – and launched into a nearly 90 minute show that was part intimate conversation, part storytelling, and part full-on standup assault. Sykes was honest, raw & real as shit – and just comfortable. The kind of comfortable that comes when you’ve been at this for a Â¨long fuckin’ timeÂ¨ as she said
Seth Myers meanwhile meandered between sets & monologue, interspersing his take on the day’s headlines with true to form standup pulled from the pages of his own life. Yes, he wore the suit. He treated us to a few of his own favorite punchlines from his long tenure on the SNL ‘Weekend Update’ desk (the stuff that didn’t make it past the censors) and he ripped on the big news items at hand. But I also felt like he would have been right at home, the way he probably started out – in a hoody and jeans, taking the stage at the Cellar or the Comedy Store
Iliza Shlesinger did an 8-show stint, warming up her next special taping this month on Netflix – the 60 minute+ follow up to her top rated ‘War Paint’, she spent the first half of the festival ping-ponging between the iconic RivoliÂ and the intimate indie have The Garrison, itself a staple on the T.O comedy scene.Â Over the phone from LA one afternoon, before she rolled into town, I called her up to throw a few pre-festival questions her way. In between jabs about the inclement Canadian weather and some salty soundbites for my new TALKHOLE podcast network where she derided the name (Â¨You’re listening to TALKHOLE. What a shit name! Most inappropriately named podcast network everÂ¨ – all on tape by the way!) Shlesinger talked about the playing the same hallowed stage where The Kids in the Hall famously cut their teeth. Â¨The Rivoli, that’s where the Kids in the Hall used to play. I LOVE the Kids in the HallÂ¨
Andy Kindler had his own gushing to do about Toronto. You may have caught our mid-festival interview with Andy, where he professed his love for Comedy Bar. Â¨That’s my favorite place in the world… Gary (Rideout) and those guys have done just an amazing jobÂ¨. Kindler loves Toronto alright, and Toronto loves him back. In the 3rd year of JFL42, Kindler’s Â¨Alternative ShowÂ¨ is a sold-out staple, and more or less one of the festival’s flagship shows
My own festival favorite this year (if you’re going to press a gun to my head and yell Â¨DIDDY MAO!!Â¨) was Tig Notaro. She’s long been one of my favorites (besides, she runs in the circle of Silverman. A whole other article entirely for me) A few years ago, Louis CK called attention (via the Twitterverse) to a landmark set that Notaro laid down one night at LA’s infamous Largo. Newly diagnosed with Cancer, having just coming out on the other side of a brutal bout with c. difficile, breaking up with her longtime partner, and losing her mother suddenly (all within a matter of about 4 months) Notaro took the stage and delivered what CK said was one of the truly masterful sets in stand up.
I wish I was there in that moment. And on-stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I understood what that must have meant. Watching Tig Notaro onstage is watching someone who is so unbelievably comfortable in the strange life of a standup, so unbelievably comfortable and sharp – it blew my mind. Before she came up, I ran into another comic I know, and he was asking me if I’d seen Johnny Pemberton while he’s in town. I said I’ve never seen him, just heard him on a podcast or two… something on Feral, or maybe Earwolf. Anyways, he told me to make sure and catch him if I could – said he just murdered a few months ago in LA while he was there. Sure enough, Pemberton was Tig’s opener that night. He did things with a stool alone that no one could touch. And a bit about the radio-friendly Rob Thomas/Santana turd Â¨SmoothÂ¨, that had me in tears.
(Pemberton. Photo cred? Google search, didn’t even take long)
Pemberton was hanging around Comedy Bar that last night too. Where (almost everybody knows my name). A lot of this year’s 42 don’t maybe. One day they might, maybe not. Probably not. Does it matter?
You know, you CAN go to Comedy Bar and special order your drink out of one of two limited edition Dean Young mugs. Featuring your favorite Comedy Editor onstage in some very minimal briefs. Then again, why would you want to
This year’s #JFL42 all-in-all was very big, and mostly memorable (except maybe for most of that last night… well, anything after that first round of shots anyways) Not that I need any reason to say it, I’m-a ride Toronto till I die. But I’ll say it anyways, it isn’t JUST Montreal that’s for laughs. We can definitely party like the French.
Put that juice in your ears!
We’ll see you next year for festival #4, in Canada’s comedy capitol. Â Â
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