Onwards, forwards and upwards. I can see the light.

The penultimate day of the festival is here. Doesn’t penultimate somehow sound more grandiose than ultimate? Will tonight be a bigger night than tomorrow? Who knows? More importantly, how was yesterday?

7pm – Mark Forward.

I have nothing but admiration for Mark Forward. Actually, lies. Admiration, respect and no small level of idolatry. He’s hilarious. You know how people throw around the word hilarious as a synonym for amusing? This guy legit fits the dictionary.com criteria. He arouses great merriment. That’s not all he arouses…

Anyway, his style is silly, absurdist and crazily innovative. He somehow brings you on board ridiculous premises then blows your adherence back in your face. He has small skits, prepared audio tags and interjections, dumb improvised songs and clever crowd work. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone make a great case for euthanising 108 year olds, but Forward’s not far off the Mark. Get it? ‘Cause his name is Mark?

I should sleep one of these days.

9pm – Jak Knight & Langston Kerman.

Young guys, very funny. After hearing no buzz, a friend told me to check them out. It was a quiet sub-20 person audience at The Drake Underground and they still rocked the room. An excellent energy and presence that deserved a larger crowd. Two black dudes who both used and skewered toxic masculinity, police brutality and dominant cultural stereotypes. I’ve never before thought about the lack of a male analogue for “titty fucking”. Hearing a bit on blue balls that managed to be self-effacing rather than slut shaming was charming, and the sets blew by. These guys are both gonna be big deals someday. See them now or regret it later.

11pm – Mark Forward and Friends.

After his solo show I couldn’t resist coming back for Forward’s hosting duties. A summer camp based show, it was great to see who would and wouldn’t adhere to the theme. Mark did irreverent bits between sets, involving praying to the dark lord for a period so he wouldn’t have to go swimming and improvised songs. The whole night was pretty loose, but funny as fuck with a roaring crowd. As a crowd we learned of the perils of “horse girls”, the mentality behind gagging blow jobs and why Dirty Dancing was a misadvertised an abortion adventure. Mark Little shut down the room with a sickly funny career analogue and a list of all new rules for heavy drinking. Forward does these themed shows every once in a while. Look out for them around Toronto.

Demitri Martin, Moshe Kasher and the Alt Show with Andy Kindler tonight. We’re almost there, folks.

If she was a South African zef band, would she be DeAnne Twerd?

After the high of Harmontown, re-entering the real world’s atmosphere was a rough transition. I lurched and grumbled my way through a workday, snappy and irritable. Much as I’m loving the festival, I’m glad it’s tapering down. I don’t think I could handle another week.

Still, there was more comedy to see, so I trucked it out to the bus. Cutting it pretty close, I then waited 20 minutes for a bus. Knowing that I’d be too late with any other option, I summoned an Uber and was on the verge of telling him to step on it. As my driver sped and weaved through traffic, my irritable, snappy mood was only honed by the frenetic classical music playing on his stereo. Was I in a Warner Bros Cartoon?

7.16pm – Neal Brennan.

Okay, so I was a little late, but apparently all I missed was Neal explaining his set up (which was easy enough to work out). He had three mics spread across the stage. One was for so called “traditional stand up”, the next was for emotional stories/monologues and the third was for one liners. What could’ve been a gimmick was an excellent way of pulling the audience in and segmenting a one man show in a balanced manner.

It all flowed, the emotional monologues painted a portrait of depression and how he had dealt with it in an ongoing manner through his life. These in turn informed the jokes he told, springing off his stunted emotional growth or familial issues. Then to lighten things up a tad, the one liners offered quick turnaround. Short segments like “sound racist/isn’t racist” and his bits on the terror of testosterone played with stereotypes from distinct angles rather than falling into hacky social dichotomies. The emotional moments hung in the air and stayed with you. Recounting his turbulent relationship with his father, the line “Dad, I don’t need you when times are good. I need you all the time” hit and hit hard.

When the Netflix special is inevitably released, put it on your Must Watch list.

9pm  -DeAnne Smith.

I love DeAnne. I think DeAnne is so goddamn funny that I’m intimidated by how goddamn funny she is. She might be coming on the Pawdcast, which threatens to become a new take on the Troy/LeVar Burton classic.

I can describe DeAnne and how funny she is, but it doesn’t do justice to seeing her live. She has this inimitable energy and timing that are nigh impossible to put into words. Turning from bombastic bits to quiet asides on a dime, she effortlessly transitions between prepared bits and crowdwork. There’s something that feels inclusive about her performance, while simultaneously understanding that she’s five steps ahead of you at all times.

This may seem like erroneous ego fellatio. It’s not. DeAnne is a fucking treasure.

Almost as a gift, an errant bit of crowd work (intended as a transition between bits) threatened to derail the show. On her way to a bit on strip clubs, DeAnne discovered that a man in the front row was born underneath one. His daughter, seated next to him, confirmed.

To close out the show, DeAnne took the crowd on a journey through a bizarre text exchange she’d had. What could’ve been an amusing anecdote in anyone else’s hands became an increasingly intense adventure with a truly shocking ending.

I should probably close this out and get off her dick. If you’re not gonna get a chance to see her, maybe buy her album?

THREE MORE NIGHTS.

Is that what Campbell called The Meeting with the Goddess?

Let’s skip the bit when I wank on about my withering mental acuity. Last night was magic.

4.30pm – Harmontown pre-show meetup.

Not an official anything, there’s a Harmontown fan group on Facebook, organised by the amazing Earthshine Janne. A known personality on the podcast, Janne brews her own Earthshine (moonshine, but for a podcast whose premise is leaving Earth to start a moon colony) and Absinthe (of Malice, as it’s known). She travelled across the border with a few fans and about 30-40 of us met up at the Brazen Head.  It was something special to meet up with fellow fans of a show that’s niche enough to appeal to a select few. We had some drinks, laughs and tried the infamous Absinthe of Malice. Smooth stuff. It was cool to make some friends and build a sense of camaraderie before heading off to Kumail’s sold out show.

7pm – Kumail Nanjiani.

Kumail’s long been one of my favourites and this show was a barn burner right from the start. Kumail writes great jokes, but it’s his delivery that really kills. He has this beautiful, lilting voice, and he has a way with sarcasm and incredulity. There’s also something about his turn of phrase (like calling an emu an ostrich with the eyes of a sad human being) that’s unique and makes him stand out.

With an already great set, a perfect moment arrived when he started to tell a personal anecdote. “Wait, there’s nobody from Pakistan here, is there?” A small cheer rang out. “Shit.” He replied. “I don’t know anyone here do I?” Some guy called out that he’d gone to the same school, but one year younger. “Oh gawd. I’m not related to anyone am I?” A voice called out, his cousin Nather who’s been living in Dallas. Visibly flushed, Kumail started fretting. “I can’t tell this, I just can’t. Oh fuck.” After a roaring cheer from the crowd, he relented. “I’m gonna regret this. But this is the story about how I started wearing underwear.”

9pm – Harmontown.

Insane. A brilliant show from start to finish. Celtic, vegan, Mennonite improv, a quick spate of rapping, breakdancing and striptease. Former therapist (and Kumail’s wife) Emily V. Gordon doing some couple’s therapy on stage (and very well, I might add). Audience gifts, an audience member delivering Dan an absurdly large amount of Tums. Kumail completing the anecdote he was too bashful to tell after learning his cousin was in the crowd at the earlier show. Crazy amounts of riffing. As a real fan, I couldn’t believe how great the show went. I talked to a couple of people who’d never heard an episode but just liked Community/Rick and Morty. Chatting post show, it’s safe to say Harmontown has some new fans.

Post show a bunch of us went to Cabin Fever on Bloor for a few drinks. Dan, Jeff and Spencer came along to talk with fans and it was a blast meeting a bunch more Harmenians. Testament to the sense of community was how nobody was particularly interested in interrupting Jason Sudeikis from playing his pinball tournament in order to grab a selfie.

Like I said, a magical night.

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?