Here I was thinking a plastic book was called a Kindle.

After a hectic but enjoyable weekend, it’s time to rejoin the work week and discover the limits to which I can push my sanity. If I thought it was silly getting home at 1am on a work night, that silliness has been redoubled after our noisy cat made sleeping a quest and a half.

We visited an open home yesterday because it was maybe two doors away from us. We were curious to see what prices in the area were like. It’s a lovely area that, if we were looking for somewhere, would fit the bill. I’d for sure expected that something in our street would be close to a million, because I’ve been conditioned to expect anything that’s not out in suburbia to be absurdly out of reach. It wasn’t. I mean, it was more than my brain tells me homes should be (because base prices in my mind haven’t been updated since the 90s), but not by a lot. It had 2.5 bedrooms upstairs and an unfinished basement. The basement was furnished and everything, but the concrete floors were uneven, the wooden floor in the basement bedroom wasn’t 100% sealed, and the books in the bookcase were fake plastic books. Like some kind of ridiculous Anthropologie serving suggestion. The place was also pretty cute, the porch had glass doors for protection from the elements and there was a sun room in the back leading out to a grass lined path that led to the laneway. One day. Maybe. Is our generation allowed that? Or do we need to massage our expectations down to finding a nice rental? Reach for the skies, not the stars.

I’ve seen 14 comedy shows since Thursday. I’d say it’s getting ridiculous, but honestly it was ridiculous by day two. It’s become an art just getting around. Yesterday I managed four and a half shows. I’ll explain. My friend and I saw Jenny Slate together at 7pm. Rachel Feinstein at 9pm. Maybe ten minutes into her set, my friend turned to me. “She’s doing her special. I just watched this before interviewing her last week. I’m gonna get out of here and see if I can catch Roy Woods Jr.” It dawned on me that the reason why her material wasn’t killing for me as hard as it had been last time was because it was the same material. Damn Rachel, that’s a bit of a faux pas. We caught an Uber at 9.40pm and managed to get into Roy’s 10pm show. Aisha Brown was opening and destroyed like she always does. So fucking talented, I’m surprised she hasn’t left for LA yet. Roy had been sold pretty hard by one of my comedy encyclopedia friends and he didn’t disappoint. A solid set the whole way through. So glad I managed to sneak him into my lineup.

We’d both booked into the 11pm Ali Siddiq show and didn’t want to lose our credits, so we caught another Uber and sped over there. It was so hot and sweaty. The fan was working overtime and sounded like am airplane about to take off. Ali was more of a storyteller than strict stand up. I got pulled in quickly, but he lost me on his second joke, a rape joke that was unnecessary roughness for very little payoff. It took a while to work back into his set, but it was pretty fucking fascinating. He talked about growing up in a culture of violence and his experiences in the prison system. He was a riveting storyteller, and I found myself being won back over. Then at the end of the show, he started “rating” individual audience members on their performance. It was a super novel and enjoyable bit. The Garrison is one of the few intimate venues where comics aren’t blinded by the lights and can actually see the crowd. Ali’s post script showed that he was paying attention to how people were perceiving his act, something which audience members often neglect to appreciate. It created this unique aspect to his set that bonded that specific crowd with their memories of the night. Altogether, quite great.

Tonght is a light night. Maybe I’ll just see the one show. I was gonna tap out entirely, but a 7pm show opened up that I was raring to catch. I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t pounce on the chance. I’m sure my sanity can stretch that little bit more, right?

Advertisements

Personally I think I hit a house run.

Well folks, turns out I’m old. I had a spicy burrito and got heartburn, which was mildly irritating for the rest of the night. Alas, my youth has fled and with it, my innocence.

I swear I never used to get heartburn before I reached my late 20s. Perhaps New Zealand had a natural invisible barrier that protected me. Or maybe my body, before growing ancient and feeble, produced the necessary antacids on its own. Now we just have Tums, which honestly I’m kind of fine with. If my reward for suffering mild heartburn is to eat candy, then SEND ME THAT HEAT, BABY. However last night as I was out and about to watch comedy, I didn’t have Tums on me. I sort of wanted ice cream to combat the burn, then I started questioning a world where my desire for ice cream stemmed from anything but a desire to be eating ice cream. Ice cream is like frozen joy. It’s the laughter of a child distilled into a foodstuff. It tastes like refracted light, but also sometimes you get weird flavours like garlic. Ice cream should be the reason for anything, rather than needing a reason for ice cream.

N. E. Weigh.

If it wasn’t apparent by now, I’ve reached the point of the festival where my rational mind has fled. Perhaps due to sleep deprivation, alcohol or too much caffeine, last night I went on a dumb Full House joke tear. It started out so simply:

Already reached the point of the festival where I’m doing bits in regular conversation. May Stamos have mercy on my soul.

Cute, right? Because Stamos’ catchphrase is “Have mercy”? I thought so. Primarily I just liked the idea that Stamos would be so method that to this day he still said his catchphrase in everyday life. Don’t worry, things got worse:

At Thanksgiving is John Stamos all “Have Merci”?

Do you think if Dave Coulier had a tumour he’d go to the specialist and be all “cut it out”?

If John Stamos was a Colosseum editor, would his judgement be “Half Mercy”?

To be honest, I had to do a little bit of research for that one. I didn’t really know the veracity of the film Gladiator and whether or not the emperor would judge the games. Turns out the title was called “editor”. The moar you know, eh?

Do you think if Mary Kate/Ashley Olsen were Westworld hosts working at the brothel and a guest asked for A Sex they’d be all “You got it, dude”?

I’d always remembered that Dude Ranches existed, but I had no idea what Dude really meant in this context. Was it just a cowboy? Once again, I did some more research (okay, so I went on Wikipedia) and discovered that Dude is another name for city slickers. So then I needed to figure out some kind of scenario where MK&A would not only be in the (wiki wiki) Wild Wild West, but in some kind of service position. I’m watching Westworld at the moment and it clicked. Then I realised that despite them being fully formed adults with realised existences, the world might cringe a little at the idea of former child stars being sex workers. Which is stupid, of course, sex work is real work and people are overly too averse to sexuality. So I softened the language to the childish “A Sex”. Also because it sounded funny to me.

Do you think if Jodie Sweetin asked some guy for his daughter’s hand in marriage and he said no she’d be all “How Rude” and marry her anyway?

I just wanted an excuse to think about this sublimely written article about why that song is such a pile of fuck.

Also maybe I need to go get ice cream now.

Someone in Toronto has the tagger handle Faygo Freak. Hey, if you know what you like…

Day three of JFL42 and the past 24 hours have been, in the words of the great philosophers Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent Jay, pure motherfucking magic. In all my plotting and planning pre-fest, the constant back and forth with PR, my anxiety over seeing all the acts I wanted to see, I think I lost sight of the quintessential truth: I love to laugh.

I know it sounds ripped from a terrible dating profile. Who doesn’t enjoy laughter? Really though, being totally enmeshed in stand up comedy does something fundamentally good for my heart. I remember being on a cruise once and going to a seminar held by a comedian on the importance of laughter. He said something about one minute of intense laughter being equivalent to 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise. I’m sure that’s bro science more than anything, but he led the entire crowd on joined, sustained laughter for a minute. It started out fake, but soon enough the small giggles became real laughter. Roaring laughter. By the end of the minute, I was sweaty and tuckered out. Maybe there was something to this.

When I get stuck into stand up that resonates with me, I’m a sweaty laugh-er. I’ll rock back and forth, I’ll shake uncontrollably and sometimes just vibrate, my body humming as I gasp for air. It actually helped me meet some good friends on my way to Toronto. I saw this couple taking a selfie and asked them if they wanted me to take a nice photo for them instead. I took the photo and they asked me “were you just in Pete Holmes’ podcast recording?” I replied in the affirmative. “Thought so, we noticed how hard you were laughing and thought this guy gets it.” I haven’t seen those two in ages, but they’re awesome people who I’m so stoked to know.

Chris Locke induced that kind of laughter in me last night. He’s a Toronto local with a rambling style. Brilliantly scatterbrained, he has structured material, but also is content to follow random thought patterns to find the funny. He’s a total gem and well worth checking out. Morgan Murphy also had a bunch of great bits. I was impressed by her ability to put jokes together and subvert audience expectations. One of her jokes started “My doctor told me I can’t have kids” and followed it through to a great punchline without denigrating the medical profession, pregnancy or parenting, all through the magic of clever wordplay. She had this great bit about how we tend to judge people with voices we’d deem stupid (say Vocal Fry or Valley Girl kind of stuff) when it has no bearing whatsoever on their intelligence. It’s so true and can easily be seen in those who treat non-native English speakers like idiots. Of course they’re not stupid, they just have a whole different hurdle to reframe their thoughts through than you do.

This morning I had the pleasure of seeing an In Conversation session with Jenny Slate. She was a wonderful guest, thankful for her success while giving rambling heartfelt answers that obviously weren’t pre-written soundbites. She was candid and it was fascinating listening to her chart how her career had changed as she’d aged, the environment in which her standup flourished (I had no idea she was a contemporary of Aziz, Mulaney, etc) and how she found herself actually having a voice in her work. A great way to spend an early Saturday morning.

I’ve also been appreciating seeing so many of my festival friends. Going to a gig and discovering someone I know is there too. Catching up and hanging out, comparing festival experiences. As always, when I go alone I love talking to strangers about their perspectives on comics they’ve seen. This year has been no exception. It’s such a pleasure making acquaintances that I see throughout the rest of the fest. It’s my favourite time of the year for a reason, after all. For all the stress getting here, it’s been well worth it.

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.

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.