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.