If you want to take the portmanteau “meh-diocre” go ahead and run with it. Who says I never give you anything?

It happened last night. After days and days of excitement, exhaustion and incremental sanity loss, I pulled the trigger.

I cancelled my third show of the night in favour of getting eight hours sleep.

It’s okay, I had more than enough of my fill (and heard that the 10.30pm Nick Thune show I cancelled was meh-diocre).

7pm – In Conversation with Dan Harmon

Expecting a fan to be truly objective about something like this is lunacy. If you’re involved on such an emotional level, parsing the information you’re receiving critically is impossible. This time I’m not just talking about me.

The host was a massive Dan Harmon fan, which is great to see. He spoke passionately about the humanity inherent to his narratives, characters. His ability to filter popular culture into identifiable moments that resonated in an audience. He referenced niche Harmontown, Community and Rick & Morty quotes in a coherent manner. He was a well spoken, intelligent host who understood his subject.

Unfortunately this meant he also could not be fully objective and at times had trouble reigning Dan in. Some metaphors ran a little long (the tangents were well expected) and could’ve done with the kind of rallying usually the domain of Jeff Davis, his friend and comptroller. The first 10-15 minutes of the conversation were a little bit muddled, but after that it settled into a cohesive groove.

I’m not prepared to be objective either. I had a blast and alternated between wonderment and hesitation. There’s a level of idolatry that I hold and part of me is terrified of that crumbling. If I came away truly disappointed, that’d cause a wound deep in my core that would fester and eventually play out in some unsanitary fashion. Thing is, when Dan was on point he was on point. One particular notion resonated significantly. He talked about the vicious cycle of narcissism and self-loathing, how one informs the other and they snake around to bite each other’s tail. Am I looking for an excuse to shoehorn in the word ouroboros? Am I ever not? There’s something in hating yourself because you’re not everything you want to be, because you expect yourself to be better, then whipping back around to hatred ad infinitum.

I also got to ask a question about how Dan saw VR affecting the way narratives would be written in TV and film, considering the shift away from locked perspective. He said the nature of everything would likely change. One aspect could be the volume of writing necessary ushering in some vein of procedurally generated content for background voices. Another could be the concept of narrative being thrown out in favour of much more open interpretations. Everyone comes away from a situation with their own view and perhaps in a more interactive environment the content would reflect that.

8.45pm – Todd Barry

Barry was funny as hell. He had this air of affected arrogance and nonchalance that played brilliantly. His crowd work was skewering and scathing. I was in the front row and basically tried to look non-remarkable in order to not get picked on. it sucks, but I felt I could’ve gotten a lot more out of the gig had I not been falling asleep the whole time. I was exhausted and had to quickly gun it out of there to get home and crash. Sorry Todd, it’s wasn’t you, it was me.

Kumail/Harmontown tonight. I may well lose my shit.

At this stage Johnny Five is more alive than I am.

JFL42 day five. We’re at the half way of the festival and my mind has already forsaken sanity for the colourful allure of delirium. Sleep at this point feels like cheating and I’m nothing if not honest. I don’t know if I’m a high functioning destitute or if this is all a dream and I’m chained up in a subterranean lair somewhere freebasing ground ceiling plaster.

Anyway, last night was an excellent night of comedy.

6.45pm – Hasan Minhaj.

I didn’t know Hasan Minhaj all of three weeks ago. I heard him on You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes and followed my instincts. He sounded like a really onto it guy, compassionate, insightful and funny. A Daily Show correspondent with Indian heritage, the idea of hearing from a perspective so different to my own seemed enticing. Seeing his one man show, “Homecoming King” was an experience akin to last year’s one man show by Chris Gethard. I’m already a fan of the format, it mixes stand up and theatre and uses its prepared nature to achieve a balance of hilarity and heartfelt sincerity.

Hasan was outstanding. Something I really appreciated was his inclination towards bilingual punchlines. Every once in a while he’d deliver in Urdu (I think. I hope. I’m sorry if I’m ignorantly wrong on this), to gasps and laughs around the room, then once he’d repeat it in English the laughter would echo as the rest of the room got the joke. It never felt token or hacky, it didn’t interrupt the flow, it purely made sense within the scope of the show. Top marks. Let me be clear, he wasn’t funny because he was different, he was funny and he was different. A standing ovation has rarely been so easily deserved.

9pm – Sabrina Jalees.

Opening for Sabrina was Amanda Brooke Perrin, who delivered one of my top three Beethoven bits I’ve ever heard. She killed. Totally and utterly. I’ll add in “completely” for a secondary redundancy. She’s a local, so I’m gonna make a point of catching a full set when I can. Awesome, awesome job.

I saw Sabrina two years back and she was fucking great, so I knew I was in for a gut-buster. Once again, she delivered. A couple of old bits, but tons of new material. It took a little bit to find her footing, but once she did she was on a solid roll. In a moment that can’t be described as anything less than magical, she made a joke about a dude in the front row’s sperm spilling out “millions of little Michaels.”

“Michael is my name.” He replied.

“You’re fucking with me.” She said “I’m gonna need to see your licence.

Handing it over, Sabrina confirmed his full name and the room lost its shit. “You deserve some kind of prize” she stated. She started running around the stage, then sprinted off stage right and emerged with an unopened beer. It didn’t matter what she did from that point onward, she was a magician and we were under her spell.

11pm – Gary Gulman.

You know, I’d never seen Gulman before, but he’s always had an excellent reputation. A clean comic seemed like a welcome reprieve from performers trying to go for gross-out shit. A six foot six gentle giant, his deliver was slow, plodding and very, very clever. He’d start out with these simple premises, easy to latch onto. Then over the course of ten minutes he’d build and build till your mind had an internal conflict of how did he get here//how did I not expect this? From a darkly relatable bit on picking up ice cream from the store, to an amazing extended piece on the contraction of U.S. State initials to two letters, he destroyed the late night crowd without reaching for a single perverse joke. Masterful.

In Conversation with Dan Harmon tonight and I can hardly believe it. At this stage, I don’t know if snorting ceiling plaster is helping or not.

At what point does spending six and a half hours at one venue become an internship?

Comedy, sleep, comedy, sleep. Oh, and a Magic the Gathering pre-release event thrown in there because why not? In there I had my favourite night of the festival so far.

6.45pm – Danny Bhoy.

This was a gift, pure and simple. Danny Bhoy is a renown internationally touring comedian. Hell, I probably saw him do a sold out show ten years ago in New Zealand. He sells out venues like Massey Hall. Why did he slip in to do two unannounced shows in, as he calls it, comedy’s version of Hitler’s bunker? He’s road testing material for a Canadian tour. Easily my favourite gig in the festival so far, Danny is a fucking charmer. He’s got a really down to earth sensibility with a vibrant physical presence and outstanding delivery. Translation: I’m not a good enough writer to make his jokes work in written form. Quick on his feet, he made himself open for dialogue, doing a fair bit of crowd work, including a pristine moment of a crowd member doing a callback. After the room (and Bhoy himself) erupted into laughter he replied “you do one callback to something that just happened and that gets an applause break? You wouldn’t believe how many callbacks I’ve got stored in here. You’ll see. Later.”

Once again, it was funnier if you were there, but most comedians are.

9pm – Dana Gould.

Remember when I said it sounded like Dana came to the Guys We Fucked podcast with a number of prepared bits? That’s because basically everything he said was ripped right from his set. Bummer. FORTUNATELY they were all better in context. A fucking great hour that spanned from the attack protocol of chimpanzees to how shitty it would be to be a mermaid. Gould did an excellent job of spanning between the irreverence and morbidity without skipping a beat. Also some of the fanciest mic technique I’ve seen in some time.

11pm – Ronny Cheing.

Before this gig I saw some buff asian dude standing by himself in Comedy Bar. I was on my own and knew full well how much it sucks waiting in a place alone when there’s no cell reception, so I started asking him how his festival was going, who he’d seen, etc. He seemed a little taken aback, but we chatted a little, then I saw a friend, said goodbye and lined up to see Ronny.

Turns out I’d been talking to Ronny. Funny.

Ronny did a great set, veering towards the sarcastic and acerbic. I don’t know why this was such a dumb watershed moment, but I can’t believe it took me this long to realise the extent to which physical expression can elevate jokes. Captain Obvious, right? It’s not everyone’s style, but when it works it kills. Ronny was all over the stage and his presence lifted his performance a ton. An almost Hicks-ian bit about reviewers (okay, like a very sedate Hicks, if we’re being honest) and how shitty it is to judge people trying to create happiness, had my reviewer friend and I giggling profusely. I mean, I’ve always been brazen about why I review, right? I love seeing comedy almost as much as I love not paying for it. Ronny had the last set in the Comedy Bar mainspace, so he took his time and did a couple more jokes. I think tonight (Sunday) might be his last set at JFL42, if you get the chance, take it.

Midnight Showcase.

By this point I was pretty bushed (on a day where I’d had all of 4.5 hours sleep and enough caffeine to compensate), so I was a little spacey here. Any notes I could’ve taken would be supplanted by the fact that I thought a midnight beer would be fun, but was instead a one way ticket to snoozeville. It was a swell trip, if I’m honest.

Hasan Minhaj, Sabrina Jalees and Gary Gulman tonight. One hell of a lineup.

You’d be forgiven for thinking 7pm was my bitching hour.

Last night was my quiet night at JFL42. One show at 7pm, then off to a Harry Potter party that was too good to miss.

Who’d I see? Cameron Esposito. I love Cameron, I saw her two years ago (also at a JFL42 show) and instantly perked up. She has the most chipper, squeaky voice, a bitchin’ haircut and best of all, writes great jokes. She recently got married to fellow comedian Rhea Butcher, which is awesome not only because they’re both excellent comics, but it means they often tour together. Bonus. I’d seen their live podcast Put Your Hands Together the night before and was amped to see a full set.

You know what? 7pm shows are hard. The crowd isn’t in the sweet spot between sober and drunk where laughs come thick and fast (and the loud laughers prompt the rest). It puts the comic off their game (and who knows when they woke up? A 7pm show could be the comic equivalent of 9.30am in a 9-5 job), since they aren’t getting amped by the crowd. The flow all gets messed up and it’s a bummer for everyone. Last two nights I’ve gone to 7pm shows of comics I’ve seen before (who’d killed those other times). Each time, something was missing. I don’t know what this means going forward for the festival. Do I cram comics I’m not as pumped about into that early slot? Hell, half the time I don’t have a choice.

Anyway, how was the show? As you probably guessed, it was okay. It’s fine, I heard she destroyed later in the night. Part of the issue was having seen Cameron and Rhea a few times. A couple of bits were used at Put Your Hands Together the night before (where the energy was massive), so seeing them at a 7pm show under 24 hours later killed the magic a little. My fault, not theirs. I’d also seen a few of the bits on their other Toronto trips. Still good bits, but just unfortunate when you’re looking forward to new material. I’d already seen maybe half the show. Once again, not their fault.

There was new material, which was a mixed bag. Cameron’s a big Hilary supporter, which is great. It should go without saying that I’m already on #teamhilary. She’s qualified, capable, intelligent, and if she ran on a platform of promising never to dab again, I’d probably become an American citizen for the purposes of supporting such a worthy cause. Being a supporter already, it’s a bummer to be turned off by a barrage of strawman arguments and punchlines that were more YAAAS KWEEN than laugh out loud. Fuck yes there should be a female President. Yes, Hilary should be that President. We had Helen Clark as Prime Minister for years and she was fucking great. I dunno. I’m still a massive fan, I’m just ready for this election cycle to be over so I can hear new material (and hopefully stop hearing about Trump fullstop). Towards the end of the set Cameron moved into some really personal shit and did a fucking great job with it. If this is the direction she’s moving in then I’m 100% on board.

Will I be there on the next tour? Hell yeah, when’s it happening?

You can’t live in a bubble and not expect it to pop every now and then.

First night of JFL42 down, ten more to go. But first, here’s a list of free things (in an arbitrary order) I got from work today:

  1. Pizza.
  2. A jar of almond/coconut butter.
  3. A pair of those goofy winter gloves that let you use a cellphone while worn.
  4. Two small toy guns.
  5. Several cans of coke.
  6. A single artisan chocolate.

That’s a good workday in my books. Now, back to our scheduled messages.

Last night began with Joe DeRosa at Comedy Bar. I like Joe, he’s charismatic with great stage presence. Being a fan, I’m also happy to admit when a show was just okay. He seemed a little frazzled. Not bad, but not at his peak either. He mentioned that he’d be filming his Comedy Central special soon. As a late addition to the festival it seemed like he was in the process of working out the shape of said special. The central thesis was around internet entitlement and the lack of progress on either side. Some decent ideas, really, that could’ve done with a little polish. There was an especially great bit about a golf course built upon native land that crushed the room. Later in the set he asked for honest feedback on direction, whether diving into morbid territory helped or hindered the overall arc. One joke ended in a punchline involving the word “tranny”, which DeRosa immediately backed up on. “Oh shit” he remarked “that’s why I stopped doing that joke. Yeah, not gonna use that one.” I hope he works it out and sharpens up his set over the next few shows, ’cause there’s a lot of promise in there.

Next show was down at The Royal Theatre. College Street is a little fucky right now, but my walk from Comedy Bar took me right past Revival, one of the new venues for JFL42. I had no idea it was so close to The Royal, almost equidistant between it and Comedy Bar (friends don’t let friends say C-Bar). Well done, JFL42 folks.

The show I saw was a live recording of the Guys We Fucked podcast. Billed as the anti slut shaming podcast, they still managed to use the “T-word”. Pobody’s nerfect, I guess. Everyone I talked to (not a scientific method) were fans of the podcast who seem to have bought one off tickets. While I’m a big fan of the ticketing system, I’m a bigger fan of seeing the festival succeed. It’s all kinds of rad that it’s attracting fans who might not have attended JFL42 otherwise. Aside from the “T-bomb”, the banter was fun and breezy. The hosts, Corinne Fisher & Krystyna Hutchinson were fun and likeable with a smooth rapport. It’s easy to see why the podcast is so popular. They pulled up an audience member, a crossdressing fella (pronouns he/him) in a fetching black gown and anime-blue wig. Despite the promise of something different, the Q&A kind of fell flat. The special guest was Dana Gould, who was fine, I guess. It seemed like he came to the event with a bunch of pre-written bits, killing the feeling of spontaneity I so love about podcasts.

Last show of the night was the Put Your Hands Together podcast with Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher. Real life wives who run a stand-up showcase podcast, they’re dynamite together and always worth seeing. Guests were Thomas Dale (dropped the third “T-bomb” of the night), Mark Little and Jackie Kashian (shit I hope I didn’t forget anyone). Thomas Dale looks like one to catch, Jackie Kashian has earned her stripes after years in comedy, but delivered a pretty lacklustre set. Mark Little is my favourite Toronto comedian (and one of my favourites overall). He has this brilliant alt-comedy style that ditches obvious punchlines for absurd left field hooks. A member of Picnicface (and as such, one of the minds behind Powerthirst), I’ll never stop praising him. NEVER. Aside from my unending devotion for Mark Little, Cameron and Rhea were fucking brilliant hosts. Also downright adorable. Excellent banter throughout the show, plus I managed to sneak in a callback right near the end (you’ll just have to look out for the recorded version. I’m the Kiwi guy).

One day down. Tonight I’m taking a break to go to a Harry Potter party, but I’m still catching Cameron’s solo show. On that note, leaving now. Until tomorrow!

Just For Live and Just For Love were taken.

JFL42 is here. What’s JFL42 you might ask? Just For Laughs Fourty Two, for those of you with a bitter distaste for acronyms. Ten days of relentless stand up, sketch and podcast recordings in venues across downtown Toronto. For a thrifty part-time comedy nerd like me it might as well be Christmas, or Hanukkah, or the TIFF of comedy. It’s the time where I get to forego having a life for watching show after show, night after night. I kiss my girlfriend goodbye for ten days (and probably goodnight late each evening when I walk in before collapsing only to rise for work in the morning like a zombie. What is dead may never day, etc etc) and instead become that annoyingly friendly dude waiting in line outside The Royal Theatre.

The best part of this whole endeavour is it doesn’t cost me a cent. Unless we’re counting time as money, as the maxim goes. I get to review it for Live in Limbo and at the end of ten days, turn in something like this. Is that fair? I have no idea, but I’m not gonna question it as long as the opportunity is available.

One thing I want to clear up before the festival begins (and I’ve got two hours here), is how the pass system works. Headliners are one thing (because the festival organisers have to put bums in seats somehow), but credits are quite another. I’ve seen friends buying tickets to individual club gigs (which is an option) for $25 (plus tax). If you’re just gonna see one show, that’s fine. Thing is, the cheapest pass available is $55 (plus tax) and gives you two credits with which to book shows. You with me so far? Here’s the fun bit. Once you’ve walked into a show you can check in on your phone and you get your credit back. It doesn’t disappear, it goes back into your account, ready to book another show. There’s no time limit on this, you can book another show for the same night if you want.

Are you following me up to this point?

For $55, you can see as much comedy as you can handle. At worst you can pay $55 and see three or four shows or so over ten days. Even better, you can see three to four shows per night if you want. That’s amazing, right? Why would anyone pay more than $55? Well the other side is that the more popular gigs may get booked out early, so while you can see as much as you want, you might not see every single show you want to see if you don’t book in advance. The option? More credits! It’s $80 (plus tax) for four credits or $100 (plus tax) for six. I saw 23 shows last year. Even if you were to push for as many as six credits, is 20 shows for $100 (plus tax of course. You can never forget tax) worth it? That still seems like a pretty great deal. In my seasoned (two seasons) opinion, the four credit pass is more than enough to make sure you see what you want, but if you’re a worrier, you can always pay the extra $20 or so to ease your mind.

In any case, it’s all I’m gonna be talking about for the next little while. Tonight I’ve got Joe DeRosa, The Guys We F***ked podcast and the Put Your Hands Together podcast. Things are gonna get loose around here over the next ten days. Because who needs to sleep anyway?

Unlike A Simple Plan, I’m not sorry I can’t be perfect. I am sorry for getting that stuck in your head though.

Yup, so yesterday wasn’t a great day brain-wise. It happens. As I predicted, I woke up this morning feeling both fine and dandy. It’s a known phenomenon. Whether it’s due to a lack of sleep, an abundance of stress or feelings of being trapped, some days are rougher than others. I’m fortunate and I mean that with utter sincerity. A rough day for me means still getting up on time for work, eating three square(+) meals a day, going to the gym and recording a podcast. I can operate fine while in a mental fog, I just feel terrible about the world while doing so.

I was still way down in the hole on my way to the Pawdcast and resigned to the idea of a withdrawn episode. Somehow being in that environment shook things up. We had a fun guest and the novelty of offloading endless complaints about a children’s movie based around literal Christmas Magic helped somehow. The episode was great, there was a fantastic flow, emboldened as we were with a bond of support akin to wartime brothers in arms. It’s gonna be a fun one when it finally sees the light of day. I left the recording with both spirit and fugue lifted. Maybe I can attribute this one to some early onset Christmas Magic.

After posting something similar on Facebook, I had an outpouring of support from worried friends. Check ins and assurances, which were both welcome and appreciated. It’s not often that I tend to openly and honestly vent in a public space (outside of here of course), which made the surprise from friends understandable. Thing is, I don’t want this kind of thing to be hidden or an unknown quantity. It’s important to me that stresses, fears and existential dread are out in the open.

People can present a picture of whoever they want to the outside world, but I’m big on authenticity and part of that is admitting when things are shutting down. I don’t want to showcase a shiny life without cracks, ’cause that’s not who I am. I’m a very lucky, privileged person and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. That being said, that insight doesn’t preclude my subconscious from seeing everything turning to shit in my hands. I want friends to know that if they hate the world or hate themselves I hear them, because I get that way too. All the light and positivity in the world doesn’t preclude shadows from existing and sweetness means very little without an understanding of bitterness.

We all cope in different ways. Some better than others. Some of us have built up strategies or plans to compensate. Some of us push to the breaking point, then put ourselves back together. Some of us need a mental dusting from time to time, shake out the cobwebs and re-align. Hell, if I’m gonna spend the next ten days watching three or four comedy gigs each night (in lieu of decent sleep) it’s probably better to have gotten this out of the way before Space Madness sets in.