Just for Flasks, then?

And we’re off. JFL42 is in full swing and it just so happens to coincide with the busiest part of my work year. *Half-hearted cheer*. If by some grace of a higher power (or substance abuse) I manage to not go insane, these next ten days could be quite fun. Or the beginning of severe dependence issues.

John Mulaney was a hell of a way to start. The consummate comic, sure to be a palate cleaner before the cavalcade of straight white dudes thinking that edginess for edginess’ sake is a novel point of view. His opener Max Silvestri was great. It was easy to see why Mulaney picked him to open. He had a similar physicality and vocal playfulness. His punch lines were creative and well set up. I’d be happy to check him out during the rest of the festival, though realistically I’ve already seen half of his set.

Mulaney himself was everything I’d hoped. He’s a total professional and cripplingly funny. There was this bit he had about wanting to be friends with everybody that resonated so strongly with me. For a split second I thought I was the one onstage, but then wondered why I had such an impressive wingspan. His material was excellent, in the sense that it was specific and personal enough to be novel, but broad enough to be relatable. He had this phenomenal extended bit about school assemblies (in particular the stranger danger ones) that was perfect. I finally got to hear the full iteration of his Trump horse loose in a hospital bit, which really sung when taken out of its truncated late-night form. It was impressive to see how much he did with so little too. One of his stories involved a Mick Jagger impression. Thing is, there were no extended diatribes or anything. A few words here and there, maybe a short sentence. The level at which he sold that impression though, was something to behold. Even if it was a word or two, his posture shifted, mouth morphed, voice and demeanor instantly recognisable. I’m sure he spent hours refining it, but he sold the shit out of an impression that at times lasted fewer than three words.

I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not actually doing coverage this year, that this whole festival is purely a leisure activity. I’m so reigned to my previous mentality that it feels like my duty to work the system and try to catch everything I can. To make sure I’m seeing a diverse range of acts and really taking advantage of what the festival has to offer. Without door list privileges this year, I need to expend much more mental energy ensuring I get all the acts I want. Ironically, not doing press almost feels like more work.

Wait, if this is for fun, does that mean I can relax and have a drink? This might not be so bad.

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Of course I wasn’t paid for this. I did it all for the love (and maybe The Nookie. Same diff).

JFL42 starts tonight and it’s basically my favourite time of year. Toronto’s Just For Laughs is still a burgeoning festival, but it’s got the potential to be one of the greats. Due almost entirely to the amazingly unintuitive credit system. If you’re new to the festival or haven’t figured it out yet, I’m gonna lay out a basic primer.

The way it works: Unless you bought a solo ticket, you probably got a couple of credits to play around with. Get yourself registered on the JFL42 website and get started. Go to the “calendar” section. You’ll see all the performances collated under date tabs, sorted by time. If you want to book a performance (non-headliner. Basically anyone not at the Sony Centre), just click the “reserve” button next to their name. You can go ahead and book for any date in the festival. If there’s something you really want to see on the last day, you can go ahead and book that now. Safe, yeah?

Here’s where it gets snazzy. When you arrive at your performance, you can go to the My JFL42 section of the site, go to Reserved Shows and “check in” at your show (up to an hour before the show, I believe) and you’ll get your credit back. You can then use this to book more shows. You starting to see the bigger picture here?

If you’re a filthy casual, it’s entirely reasonable to see the headliner you’ve chosen and one or two other acts over the course of the next ten days. If you’re a true madlad, you can realistically see three or four shows every night for the next ten days. It takes commitment and planning, but it’s very doable. Ready to go down that rabbit hole with me?

Familiarise yourself with the schedule. Learn who’s performing once or twice and who gets a five day run. Plan around your limited acts and smooth out the rest of your fest with the resident comics. Someone like Rachael Feinstein (who you should see. She was fantastic last time around. Amazing Jenny McCarthy story) or the Lucas Bros are playing a heap of shows over the first couple of days, so if you don’t catch them on that first day, you’ll get ample opportunities. There are also fantastic local acts who are well worth seeing. Comics like Courtney Gilmour and Chris Locke are so fucking talented and if you live here you owe it to yourself to catch one of their gigs. Bad Dog Theatre is an awesome local improv theatre and they have a run of excellent shows all bookable by passholders. I paid $15 last week to see Toronto, I Love You. You can see it with your pass for no extra cost this Friday or Saturday. Please do, it’s an outstanding show and supporting local comedy is important. Fringe darlings Sex T-Rex have a couple of shows during the festival too. Catch them if you can.

Your flexibility depends on how many credits you have. If you have two credits and want to max out your experience you’re basically living show to show. Get in line for your 7pm show, check in and book your 11pm act. Get in line for your 9pm act, check in and book your 7pm act for the next day, lather, rinse, repeat. If you have 4-6 credits you have more leeway. 2-3 credits should be enough for your day by day bookings and anything surplus can be used to book acts that seem like they’ll sell out. Anyone who’s been on TV or has a podcast is usually pretty popular. This year they’ve also opened Comedy Con acts (more intimate Q&A sessions with popular performers) to general passholders, which is amazing. They’re during the day, so if you can take advantage of that (looking at you, students and hospo workers) please do. It’s an awesome privilege. The weekend ones are sure to sell out quickly (Bill Burr already did). So use those 2-3 credits to book your daily acts and anything surplus on those tentpole acts you don’t want to miss. The 2-3 credits can fill in the gaps with those great but frequent acts like the aforementioned Rachel Feinstein. Some venues will fill faster than others too. The Queen Elizabeth Theatre (QET) is pretty damn large, but it definitely sells out for huge acts.

Venue distances. This is important. Comedy Bar, Bad Dog Theatre, The Garrison and The Royal Theatre are all relatively close. You could leave a 7pm show from any of the above venues and public transit to a 9pm show without trouble.
If you’re trying to go from any of these to the QET or vice versa you could make it if the stars align just so, but might want to Uber.
The Garrison to QET is probably quite doable by public transit.
Rivoli is probably doable on public transit from The Royal, Garrison or QET, but might be a stretch for the Bloor Street venues.
Yuk Yuks and Second City are stretching the limits for the 7pm/9pm/11pm split by public transit and might be better to Uber/rideshare or something.
Shows at the Sony Centre and QET often run long, so make it a lot harder to keep that 7pm, 9pm, 11pm schedule going. Going from a 7pm headliner to a 9:30pm show is more realistic.

Special note on The Alt Show with Andy Kindler. The unsung gem of the entire festival is Kindler’s midnight Alt Show. It’s a total delight and really lets comics let loose with bizarre, off the wall material. One of my most treasured memories is having watched Pat Thornton once repeat the words “Cookie Chips” for five minutes, becoming more hilarious with each iteration. There’s no public list of performers, but it’s the place to be for big name drop ins. In previous years it was at Comedy Bar and The Royal, which made it possible to get there after a 10:30pm show. It seems to have been permanently shifted to Second City, which is really hard to reach after a 10:30pm gig. IMHO it’s worth carving out the time in your schedule (even if it means cutting an 10:30pm/11pm show in favour of waiting for the Alt Show) to witness this spectacle.

Hope to see you out there during the festival, or failing anything at the Comedy Bar post fest wrap up on the 30th. Have a blast and enjoy the fuck out of the next ten days.

A good head on my shul-ders.

Just For Laughs is about to begin and thrust my life into chaos. For a basis of comparison, where’s my life at now? Is it any more stable?

Of course not. That was a bullshit premise concocted in order to excuse any bollocks I wrote afterwards. For some reason this morning a memory popped into my head. It was high school. I was running for deputy head boy. Yes, really, I ran on a platform of ‘let’s not shit ourselves. We all know who’s going to win.’ He did, after all. In any case, I knew I was really in the running when my best friend showed up at my front door in the morning before school. “So I put up your campaign posters” he proudly exclaimed. “Campaign posters?” I queried, expecting the worst. He pulled out a stack of papers emblazoned with the image of a rabbi, yarmulke and all. Plastered above the image were the words “I’d vote for a Jew. Wouldn’t you?” Below read “Vote Leon for Deputy Head Boy.” I literally facepalmed, IRL, etc. He’d stapled them up all around the school. I was a relatively known person anyway, but given that nobody else had the audacity (I guess I should include myself in that group) to put together a campaign whatsoever, it gave me a short burst of limited popularity.

In the lead up to the “election” students excitedly came up to me. “Are you the Jew?” They asked gleefully. I’d sigh and shake their outstretched hands. I guess I had a platform. It was silly and didn’t matter. I think I went for it primarily because I thought it’d help my chances of university acceptance. Maybe I’d get inducted into a fancy illuminati cult or something. Also I dug the fuck out of public speaking and wanted an excuse to write a speech. Speeches have always been one of my favourite things to do. Don’t ask me why. Narcissism and a captive audience, probably. Anyway. I treated the speech like stand up. It was likely pretty dumb. The only line I remember was “well as my campaign posters indicated, I am a Jew (break for laughs). So I guess I lost all the Nazi votes out there.” I got an applause break and everything. I guess we were easily entertained back then. These days losing the Nazi votes is apparently a deal breaker. It was all pretty tame. As I said, the guy who we expected to win did. I didn’t, but I got some Arts and Cultural Captain role as a consolation. It’s fine, I didn’t need the extra responsibilities. I had a lot of anime to watch and video games to play in those days. Priorities.

Ugh, remember feeling like you were heading somewhere in your life? When Nazis were these extinct concepts we warned our kids about like the black plague? I guess that’s due for a comeback some time soon. Can hope be too?

It’s funny business all the way down.

In short, it looks like I’m gonna drop out of JFL42 coverage.

Less short, we’re two days out from the event and the accreditation process is getting more involved than it should be with dwindling time. The easiest option is to instead buy a pass, go at my own pace and not stress about having to put together daily coverage while working full time. This should ease ten days of the fest a bunch, since nothing’s at stake. Given that I’m not fussed about headliners, the $130 I’ll drop (could’ve done a cheaper pass if I’d had more planning time, but this close to the festival things are getting booked right out) is a small price to pay for that peace of mind.

Speaking of peace of mind, Father John Misty last night far exceeded any expectations that I had. I was pretty late to the game with FJM. I didn’t even know he existed until well after I Love You, Honeybear was released. In fact, I think today may have been one of the first times I heard Fear Fun in full. I’ve been thrashing Honeybear possibly weekly since it was released, the writing is that great. I booked the tickets months ago and had great seats. Four rows from the front, six seats from the aisle. I’d been waiting for months and kind of banking on an amazing live performance. The hubbub before he’d even started was palpable. A cursory glance around yielded a ton of FJM clone sightings. Tall dudes with beards, long hair and shirts buttoned way open. I guess he has a type. Then his band took the stage, each of whom had a certain FJM look to them. A certain type indeed.

Seeing him perform, it’s a wonder Josh Tillman was ever stuck behind the drums of Fleet Foxes, rather than front and centre. With his persona Father John Misty, he’s sardonic, sarcastic and sartorially gifted (I needed something) in interviews, but behind the mic he opens up. Overflowing with charisma, it was surprising I could hear a thing over the sound of an entire audience (granted, I was no exception) ovulating. He has a commanding presence and fantastic showmanship. Dancing, striding, sinking to his knees, splayed out on his back and jumping up to his feet. At one stage he lay down on his belly, propped up on his elbows in a more “approachable” stance. He came right up to the crowd and knelt before them, even jumping down to dance amongst them. His voice was also fucking gorgeous. Something I always appreciate is when artists take risks with alternative arrangements live. Of course I adore the recorded versions, but there were a number of tracks where he tried a different tack that fit like a glove.

It’s funny, because I’ve always seen FJM touted as such a pretentious performer and taken it as a given. In reflection, maybe that’s more about people being unfamiliar with his shtick. He takes the piss a bunch, but when he’s doing a live performance, he gives a hell of a lot. After a 20+ song set filled with recent material and old favourites, he came to the front of stage and knelt there for five minutes. He shook hands with everyone who came to him and graciously thanked them for coming. If that’s what’s considered pretentious in this day and age, I’ve got no idea what sincerity looks like.

Well I certainly won’t be motherbored.

At the moment life looks like a bunch of pixels. My brain is unravelling and I can see The Matrix. It’s not bad enough for my vision to have devolved into binary, but I could be in need of a graphics card upgrade. RAM’s usually pretty cheap. Let’s toss some more in there too. I don’t know if that ol’ 512MB of DDR RAM can keep up any more. It’s been a decade since I last knew anything about computers and it seems like my mind is similarly outmoded. Oh well, it’s not like overclocking could have any severe ramifications…

I still haven’t caught up from my holiday hangover. I caught a cold and instead of shirking it off, I spread it to my girlfriend who begrudgingly held up her end of keeping the contagion going. Thanks honey. So I spent the weekend soaking in the festering putrescence. I’m still congested and my squishy think-y bits are accordingly dealing with my internal traffic jam. Everything’s taking a while to process. Pity, because returning from holiday has meant a significant backlog at work. We’re ramping up to the busiest time of the year, which co-incidentally coincides with the colossal comedy festival, which I’m covering. Cool. Cool cool cool.

Buuuuut, my accreditation hasn’t yet been sorted. Normally I’m all geared up a week or two ahead of time. This year, a combination of poor communication and a new PR firm covering the festival has meant that three days out I still haven’t been told the status or extent of my accreditation. They want me to submit my requests, but they haven’t told me what level of shows I get access to. This means I have to put together requests with contingencies. I usually plan pretty carefully to maximise what I’m able to see. Some comics stay for a couple of nights, others pop in for a night or two. This makes the festival into an elaborate puzzle.

This puzzle is further compounded by travel times. It’s all well and good to book a 7pm show and 9pm show, but if the 7pm show is at the Sony Center and the 9pm show is at Comedy Bar, it can be pretty fucking tricky to make it from the first show to the second in time. Sometimes shows run long. Furthermore, now that they’ve included Yuk Yuks in the venue list for midnight shows, it’s damn near impossible to get from a 10.30pm show to the midnight show in time, even after taking an Uber (RIP the novel experience that is Andy Kindler’s Alternative Show).

So one axis is timing and venue distance, the other is headliner access. If I can see headliners, it’ll change which shows I prioritise. If I don’t, that’ll change the shape of my festival. Without knowing whether or not I get headliners then, will affect the structure of my schedule. If I get Mulaney on Thursday night, for instance, it won’t only change what I see on Friday night, but could affect which shows I opt in for on Friday, Saturday and Sunday too. Which means I need to submit multiple contingencies based on what access I will get, without knowing how this will play out. Anyone else confused?

Then while all this is happening I’ll also have daily coverage, a full time job (which could be in another department with later hours if I get the job (it’s a six month assignment that would start over the next week or two. Fingers crossed) and the necessity of keeping up physical activity (or otherwise truly go insane). Sleep comes in there somewhere too. Is caffeine more effective if I shelve it?

The scary part is, this is what I do for leisure. I think I need to learn what priorities are.

Driving is a hard bargain.

At times it’s easy to forget that I like learning. I know that seems like the dumbest, most backwards sentence you could read outside of POTUS’ twitter, but there’s something in it. We live in a world overflowing with information. It’s almost harder to be wilfully obstinate than it is to update and grow intellectually. Maybe with everything shoved in our face, it’s about being more discerning, choosing what to take in and what to ignore. Still, opportunities to understand everything outside of ourselves abound if we look or keep our ears open. I even got one last night for the low, low cost of $17.

It was late and we’d just finished watching Vampire Clay at TIFF’s Midnight Madness. We could’ve risked the beloved Vomit Comet, but getting an Uber was so much easier. We all piled in and set off. On the way home, I noticed something for the first time. The taxi in front of us had two license plates. One being the usual Ontario plate. The other was a much smaller Toronto plate. Here’s an example. I asked the driver what the smaller plate was. He told me that they were specific plates for registered Toronto taxi cabs. I figured that kind of made sense. Like it was giving assurance to passengers that they were with a registered cab or something. Plus the city would no doubt rake in tax credits (tax-i credits?). He laughed and said I had no idea. That those little cabs went for upwards of $85,000.

I paused. Huh? $85,000? Was that a cost that could be amortised over a number of years, or had to be paid up front? Up front, he said. I thought about it. Drivers in Toronto were often immigrants. Would they be forced to drop all of this money on a license just to be able to get a job? How would they pay it back? How much did they have to earn a week just to break even, let alone start making money? Exactly, he said. Or else they sometimes had it leased to them by the company. Maybe $1000 month or something. So they had to pay $1000 a month for the license? Then they had to pay the company for franchising and all the taxi gear (light, meter, etc)? How did they make money? It was hard, the driver told me. It was a corrupt industry that was cruel to the people at the bottom. Why were licenses so expensive then? I asked. He told me that the city works out how many taxis are needed and creates new licenses accordingly. They may put out 400 licenses or so annually for $6000, but the majority of the licenses are owned by people who made a bunch of pseudonyms and bought out a ton. Plus when new licenses went up for grabs, those who owned many licenses already would likely buy up a bunch more so they could lease or artificially inflate the price. It was basically ticket scalping applied to a different market.

I was shocked. Why did people continue to buy into the taxi market then, if it was like some kind of mob protection racket? Because people didn’t know anything else, the driver said. Or they’d invested so much that pulling out seemed like a waste of what they’d already put in. Good ol’ sunken cost fallacy. There was also a mass market vs local market mentality, he said. Uber was this big Wallmart style corporation. You know how in small towns all those local stores got killed by Wallmart? Uber was threatening the same thing. But if the local stores were leaving the local people worse off, then what was the point in sticking to their guns? Wouldn’t it make more sense to let that local industry die and have the larger corporations fight it out if it meant fairer wages for those at the bottom? That immigrants weren’t being taken advantage of? Letting them choose their own hours? Not having to pay into some cruel system that used them?

Who knows? He answered. But why else did I think he drove for Uber?

Counterpoint: The world is a genuinely shitty place for many, many people.

In a truly unexpected turn of events, it was harder returning to Toronto than I thought. Emotionally, that is. It’s not like I got held up at customs for excessive contraband suppositories or anything. It was strange, because I genuinely love this city. Toronto has a capacity to surprise me. It often takes a lot to deal with living in a busy city, but Toronto often gives more than it takes. So after all that fellation, what’s my deal? I’ve had one large gripe, with no idea how to structure it. I’ve been searching for a way to lay it out that doesn’t make me sound whiny, entitled, or privileged to the brim. It’s been hard to succinctly state it and still come off as a reasonable person. So instead I’m gonna own that fact that I often live in a cartoon world of whimsy and barrel through it. Here goes.

People in Toronto don’t smile.

It sucks, and makes a wonderful city feel oppressive and unfriendly. You can see how this reads, right? Straight white cis dude upset that his path isn’t paved with yellow bricks? I expect people to smile because it makes me feel better? I’m expecting strangers, irrespective of the machinations of their life, to cast off their frowns and bring my Toontown fantasy land into reality? To serve my interests because I don’t want to admit that there’s darkness, inequality and suffering in these streets? Or am I just one more dick in a landfill of bros telling women they should smile more?

I’m not an idiot, I get how this sounds.

It’s such a contrast from Portland, where almost everyone I smiled at on the street would smile back. If I saw someone heading out of a cafe, I’d smile and they’d nod or wave. Drivers that stopped so I could cross the road would smile at me. People walking past would wish me a good day. Kids would beam at everyone who crossed their paths. It was unreal. The more smiles I’d see, the more I’d give, until we were all swapping sunshine and joy like Oddbodz cards. There was this alluring small town charm that was impossible to resist. Would you stand in the way of strangers spreading happiness?

In Toronto if you smile people automatically assume ill intent. It’s a time poor city and everyone’s in a hurry. If you’re smiling and making eye contact, it probably means you want something from them. They’re late for a very important date and you could be an unwelcome distraction that digs them in deeper. Or you could be a legitimate threat in a physical or emotional manner. I’m by no means mitigating this. Just because I rarely have to put up with harassment, that doesn’t change that fact that it’s rampant. If I smile at a child, parents often assume I’m bad news. Like I want to molest their kid instead of just thinking kids are funny and cute sometimes. If I smile at a woman, I’m sure it triggers a response built up over years of encountering unwelcome encounters. If I smile at a guy, I dunno, he thinks I’m into him, which makes me unwanted detritus. If I smile at most anyone they think I’m unstable in some fashion.

Please understand, my disappointment isn’t with the people who don’t reciprocate. It’s a systemic issue. The structure of our society tells us that we need to be cautious of those around us. That people have the capacity to harm or threaten us. That if we’re not vigilant we’ll be punished for our carelessness. We’ve been enculturated into a mentality of fear that tells us not to let our guard down. It sucks. I don’t know how to let people know that I’m harmless, that I come bearing no ill will. I wish there were a way to salve those rampant worries and culture of defensive behaviour. I wish that Toronto’s denizens had good reason to assume the best rather than the worst. Most of all I wish that people wouldn’t have to feel the way they do, because mostly it’s likely a learned response to past shitty experiences. I want to let go of all of this and smile, but Toronto isn’t giving me much reason to.

Can’t everyone just chill out and buy a coke?