You know who knew a thing or two about comedy? Dante.

I remember exactly when I decided I had to be funny. I was nine years old. My best friend was moving on from primary school into intermediate. My best friend was the funniest person I knew. I was not. I don’t know if I’d channelled the latent spirit of Miller, but I knew that I was liked, while my friend was well-liked. Something deep in my core told me that being liked wasn’t enough. I needed to be well-liked, as my friend was. I also knew innately that my friend leaving would throw off some integral balance in the schoolyard. We needed joy, but with him gone, that got a little bit harder. Someone needed to fill that void. My precious nine year old brain volunteered as tribute. Heavy lay the crown, but I’d worn a kippah, it couldn’t be that different.

I still feel like a fraud. Playing a role with wit coming from the head, not the heart. I’m don’t worry whether or not I’m funny, I worry about the distance between my humour and myself. All these years I’ve been searching for the kind of jokes that fit me, that feel natural. Comedy that tumbles out out my mouth without a second thought. I latch on to puns and word play because they feel safe. I love words and how they intermingle. Snide or sarcastic commentary feels safe. Using intellectualism as a stand-in for wit, because keeping the joke at arm’s length means I have time to back down from it. If I it doesn’t land and I haven’t fully committed, it lessens the sting. It minimises both negative consequences and potential.

I’ve started taking beginner improv lessons as a way to understand how to be present. I want to get more in touch with where my humour comes from and how it takes shape. Improv flies in the face of my instincts. Instead of keeping a safe distance, it forces me to jump in and commit. Instead of comparing and contrasting five different thoughts, gauging how any audience would receive them and ultimately wait for a better time to yield higher impact, improv tells me to grab the first thought and run with it. Instead of sifting through ideas for whatever makes me sound smarter, improv tells me to jump in and make it work. To trust my instincts and not back down. To listen to others and work with them. That creating harmony is a tacit contract that requires teamwork.

Our teacher told us last night, if a scene breaks up, if someone fumbles a line, take a second and get back to it. Don’t remove yourself to comment on it. You’re shifting the onus off yourself to instead point the blame somewhere else. You’re not being accountable, you’re immediately jumping off a sinking ship instead of trusting one another to fix the leak. It resonated. I immediately thought of my propensity for commenting from a safe distance. How on one hand an arm’s reach feels comforting, but also isolating. Being unwilling to fully embrace often means standing alone.

It’s easy to live a life without taking risks. Just don’t complain when things don’t get better. That needs to be earned.

Why do they keep making Oscars even though D2: The Mighty Ducks already exists?

In less than 24 hours, the movers and shakers of Hollywood’s cultural elite will come together to bestow the finest honours upon filmmakers and actors alike for their cinematic achievements over the past year. I ask you now, why? Why do we continue to celebrate the film industry’s output year after year, when the critically underrated 1994 masterpiece D2: The Mighty Ducks already exists?

The story of Team USA’s journey to the Junior Goodwill Games, D2, is a rich tapestry of overcoming adversity through the trials and tribulations of high level competitive sports. A film so emotionally compelling and well acted that Entertainment Weekly mentions it “now includes token members representing both sexes as well as major races, religions, and regions.” Wow!

Sure, Moonlight may have brought a tear to your eyes with its inspired use of Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger” in the diner scene, but For Your Consideration, could anything match the raw emotional catharsis of Emilio et al singing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” around a campfire? I didn’t think so. And with all the hubbub about the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity (anyone remember #OscarsSoWhite?) what could’ve been more diverse than bringing together team members from as far away as Minnesota and Illinois? Heartwarming!

The Oscars have always been a forum for celebrating the truest love stories in cinematic history. Really though, while the budding romance between Jack and Rose in 1997’s indie darling Titanic may have captured our hearts (and The Oscars’ eponymous golden statue), does it really hold a candle to Coach Gordon Bombay rediscovering his enduring love of the game? Or his fiery romance with the steadfastly Icelandic Marria? Or his fatherly affection for star player Charlie Conway? When you actually think about it, it’s a downright travesty that The Academy never brought itself to gild what is unquestionably the greatest love story of our time.

At the end of the day, The Academy Awards were created to shine a light on the films that inspire passion, to make us aspire to reach for the stars. Sure, William Wallace’s “Freedom” speech was enough to lead the Scots against the English in the face of almost certain death, but could it have helped them defeat the juggernauts of ice hockey; Team Iceland? Not on your life, son! Just think, if Coach Bombay had been there to teach them that “ducks fly together”, maybe things would’ve turned out differently. Maybe Brexit never would’ve happened. That’s not only the power to change lives, but to change history! If that kind of time travel capability isn’t Oscar worthy, then maybe I just don’t know what is.

Look, I’m not trying to be controversial here. All I’m saying is that if The Oscars really cared about celebrating the best that cinema has to offer, they would’ve seen the futility of subsequent ceremonies from the moment the knuckle puck graced the silver screen.

To think, it all started with a little barksketball.

My plans for today were to sleep deeply, sleep late and rise to visit friends. I would feast, sup deeply from the cup o’ life (why is that a thing in my reference Rolodex?) and revert back to the sleeping thing.

Instead I awoke at 7am and started editing episode 15 of The Air Bud Pawdcast. Because what better use for a Saturday morning could there possibly be? Holy shit was this ever a fun episode. There was the high of having reached the end of season 1. Super Buddies was actually a fun, if ludicrous film and the perfect way to cap off the Air Bud Cinematic Universe proper. Being the end of the year, end of a good run and Christmas time, I shelled out to buy our team branded T-shirts. I told my co-host what I was looking for (since he’s the one with the visual skills) and he manifested my dreams into reality. We also recorded the episode with one of my favourite people. My friend, who hosts monthly bad movie nights in Toronto. The episode was smooth, given that my friend and I already had palpable chemistry, plus the chemistry I’d built up with my co-host over 14 episodes prior.

Like the years, the jokes started coming and they didn’t stop coming (though I bet Steve Harwell wishes they would). I wouldn’t say that we went off the rails so much as that where we were going, we didn’t need rails. We took tangents, took them further then came back around again to where we started. It got silly, siller and flagrantly absurd. In short, it was everything I’ve been wanting to get out of this podcasting experience. The episode rang long, nearly an hour fourty five. The only reason it ended where it did was calling it out of necessity. I could’ve kept going ad infinitum, having found my happy place.

Which is a nice perch from which to give a retrospective. It’s been six months since we released the first episode. We started recording a month or so before that. So many of the early episodes found themselves through trial and error. We saw what worked, what didn’t and got better with each release. My co-host is an expert at making things happen, planning ahead and keeping us all committed. I’m more of the she’ll be right persuasion and having a more rigid structure to work within did wonders for our quality. It was an exciting new pursuit. I’ve been wanting to put together a podcast for years, and seeing it come to fruition stoked some flame of recognition in me that oh, we MADE SOMETHING.

That hard work paid off, resulting in an end product I’m proud of. It was a lot of work and I haven’t felt one pang of regret that it might not have been worth it. Even when I’ve felt the pressure of getting things done to deadlines, to have to work at something that wouldn’t pay off financially, still no regrets. And yes, having the creative outlet of the Pawd has pulled my focus away from I Have My Doubts. I’ve definitely felt like I’ve been phoning it in a bit lately. Then again, I’ve felt like I’ve been phoning a lot of things in lately and it’s nice to look at the list of episodes and realise #notallthings. 2016 has been a hell of a year, but it wasn’t a total tyre-fire.

Not all I got was this fucking shirt.

Yoke-ing around. Towing that line.

I love dad jokes. As a prospective father to be (at some point, not based on any circumstantial or DNA evidence), I know that I’m part of the prime demographic. They’re silly on a meta level and their use ties into my abiding love of puns. Why wouldn’t I be all up in this dad joke biz? The term “dad joke” has been around for only a smidgen of their actual existence. Constant groan pains were part and parcel of my upbringing, with my dad doing his best to embarrass us at any opportunity. Like any good dad would. They’re hard wired into my very being, but where did dad jokes start?
Did it start all the way back with God? Was Our Heavenly Father the first dad joker? Being all trollish with Abraham?
God: “Yo, it’s God here. You know that Isaac dude?”
Abraham: “You mean my son?”
God: “Yeah, that’s the one. Kill him for me, eh?”
Abraham: “Well I don’t really wanna, but sure. You ARE my dad.
God: “PSYCHE! JK LULZ!”
A humorous, innocent bait and switch for the ages. One where a figure of authority utilised their perceived status to craft a comical misdirect. Is that how far the rabbit hole goes? Or am I digging too much? To be honest, I feel like the fun dad archetype is more recent than we’d think. For years, a father’s role was to put food on the table and a roof above his family’s head. Also to put out a bunch of sperm for furthering his lineage. None of which necessitated dumb quips or light-hearted ribbing. Excepting Adam, of course, but he lived in a garden where there was no need of a roof. Being good natured mattered less than trying to stave off famine and polio. I think back to my parents’ fathers. The word on the street was that they were more dutiful than doting, as was the style of the times.
So where did it start then? My honest guess is that sitcoms played their part in fostering the role of the playful patriarch. Humans are pretty dumb pack animals, all too willing to follow instruction or example. Seeing an archetype of the nuclear family develop on television must surely have influenced a shift away from giving beats, towards doing bits. If you’re told that a happy family behaves a certain way, you don’t want to be the black sheep, right? You’ll flock to play your part and emulate that which is sold to you as success. Is that where dads everywhere began to take their cues?
To be utterly truthful, I have no idea. I’m also unsure why the bar for dad joke humour is so low. Does it have anything to do with making jokes aimed towards young children, then getting settled into that trajectory? If you’re used to shooting at a low angle, does it get harder to adjust your aim higher? Is there a nostalgia to it? Clinging to the formula that engendered love with your offspring back when they still thought you were the coolest? Wishing that they’d stay like that for the rest of their lives? Retreading that pattern in the hopes that it’ll once again work? I really don’t know, I’m just spitballing here. I don’t have any kids.
But by God and his greatest creation (dad jokes, obv), I hope to one day.

I haven’t just been sitting on my arse for the past two weeks. I’ve been doing this, too.

For ten days in venues all across Toronto, JFL42 provided festival-goers with an all-you-can-eat array of comedy. In its fifth year, the festival expanded its roster of stand up, sketches, live podcast recordings and improv to include exclusive close-up Q&As with industry veterans. With more laughs on offer than it was possible to obtain (believe me, I tried), here are the Best Bits of JFL42 2016:

  1. Best Punchline – Mark Forward: “I miss my dad every day, but one day I’m gonna hit him.”
  2. Best Exit Clause – Dana Gould: “Til death do us part is god’s way of saying I can get you out of this, but it’s a little extreme.
  3. Best Response to Discovering Masturbation – Kumail Nanjiani on his cousin: “His lips moved but no sound came out. Then he picked up a bb gun and shot a crow.”
  4. Best Mourning Routine – Gary Gulman: “I don’t know when waking up and getting up became two separate negotiations.”
  5. Best Anti-Misogyny Check and Mate – Cameron Esposito: “It’s not weird to consider that women could save you. We made you. All of you.”
  6. Best Toronto Man Cave – Amanda Brooke Perrin: “I love Castle Frank station because it sounds like your dad’s renovated basement.”
  7. Best Defensive Remark – Neal Brennan: “My girlfriend’s dad asked me if I owned a gun. A gun? I don’t even own an umbrella. I couldn’t protect your daughter from a drizzle.
  8. Best Justification for an Ikea Trip – Danny Bhoy: “I hate church pews. 8 inches for your back, 2 inches for your arse. Who do they think is coming? Giraffes?”
  9. Best Layoff-er – Ronny Chieng: “Air lines keep cutting costs by cutting frills. People fly with risky airlines if the cost is low enough. They’re just seeing how low the cost can get before you no longer care about the possibility of dying.”
  10. Best Douche-dar – Hasan Minhaj: “I don’t want to talk about politics is the new I’m not racist, but…
  11. Best Resume Key Skill – Joe DeRosa: “What do all serial killers have in common? Success! They’re all really good at what they do.”
  12. Best Display of Dominance – Sabrina Jalees: “You’re gay? I thought you were sporty. What do you say to that? Do you just do a back handspring into a pussy?”
  13. Best New Quiz Show – Mark Little tested the crowd: “Is this a Justin Bieber lyric? Or something a demon says to a small boy he wants to consume?”
  14. Best Endorsement of Canadian Audiences – Dan Harmon: “Is the Adderall flowing freely here? Is that how you have so much energy? You socialise medicine and everyone has ADD.”
  15. Best Beauty Tip – DeAnne Smith: “If you want to look as young as I do, it’s very simple. Have unresolved childhood issues.”
  16. Best Call for Gender Equality – Jak Knight: “No matter who does it, Titty Fucking looks dumb as shit. And there’s no male analogue. No woman has ever been like Boy, get on your knees and shrug your shoulders repeatedly.
  17. Best Logical Phallus-sy – Sophie Buddle: “I ask him why he likes it when I’m choking during a blowjob. He says it makes him feel like it’s big. You know when a box says choking hazard? It’s not ‘cause the pieces are big. People choke on grapes, not eggplants.
  18. Best Silver Lining – Tim Meadows: “The bad economy was really good for Detroit, ‘cause people couldn’t buy guns and ammo.”
  19. Best Navel Gaza-ing – Neal Brennan: “The irony of the word Palestine is how much it sounds like a Jewish last name.”
  20. Best Sails Pitch – Demitri Martin: “Cruises seem like a difficult thing to market. Do you like hotels? What if they could sink?
  21. Best Living Well – Emo Phillips: “I hate being divorced. I’d rather be a widower.”
  22. Best Use of Braille – Moshe Kasher: “Abs don’t actually do anything useful. They just let blind women know which douchebags not to fuck.”
  23. Best 2 for 1 Groupon – Christophe Davidson: “A bed and breakfast is a good place to see the breakdown in a relationship and a small business at the same time.”
  24. Best Family Reunion – Before Kumail Nanjiani told a story, he asked the crowd if anyone there was related to him.
    “Yeah” said a voice. “Your cousin Nather, from Dallas.”
    Kumail got flustered and sighed before going onto his joke. “So this is the story of how I started wearing underwear…”
  25. Best Excuse for Legalization – Joe DeRosa: “Can you believe Phelps smokes weed? I can’t believe he only smokes weed. Drugs make you better at sport. It’s been proven time and time again.”
  26. Best Post Match Analysis – Danny Bhoy: “How did sportspeople describe their emotional journeys before the invention of roller coasters?”
  27. Best “Missing the Point” – Hasan Minhaj: “How many times do we just put our heads down and do what we should, not what we want?”
    An audience member cheers.
    “No, that’s not…”
  28. Best “It’s 2016” Moment – Cameron Esposito: “How can there be such a thing as a wrong bathroom when 2000 years ago there was no such thing as a bathroom?”
  29. Best Lesson Learned – Dana Gould: “Fun size chocolate is the first time kids get dicked over by advertising.”
  30. Best Backup Career – Is Sabrina Jalees psychic? She gestured to a guy in the front row and made a reference to “Michael’s” sperm.
    “But my name is” He replied and showed his ID. The room went nuts.
    “YOU NEED A PRIZE.” She shouted, before presenting him with a full beer.
  31. Best Life Goals – Jackie Kashian: “When I was four I didn’t want a baby. I wanted moccasins and the fuck out of Wisconsin.”
  32. Best “I love you too, Mom” Gary Gulman: “Must be nice is how Jews say congratulations.”
  33. Best Comeback – Kumail Nanjiani (on Harmontown): “The first time I masturbated, I blacked out and came to.”
    Jeff Davis: “So you blacked out? And came, too?”
  34. Best Call Out – DeAnne Smith: “Sinbad, do you realise that as you’re telling me you’re not a pedophile, you’re holding a bag of candy?”
  35. Best Culture Shock – Hasan Minhaj would periodically deliver punchlines in Urdu before repeating them in English. You’d hear tittering or gasps around the crowd before the rest of the crowd got the joke. It always seemed natural, never pandering.
  36. Best Paradox – Mark Forward: “There are two sides to every story. People say that, right? Which also means there isn’t.”
  37. Best Pakistani Marketing Department – Kumail Nanjiani: “We had a theme park called Fun Land. It sounds like a first draft. It’s around the corner from Work Building and Food Place.
  38. Best Downplay – Emo Phillips: “I like the south. Of course, I’m prejudiced.”
  39. Best Use of Sex Sells – Tim Meadows: “The Dyson Airblade feels like I’m fisting a robot.”
  40. Best Sketchy Business – Amanda Brooke Perrin: “I hate portrait tattoos. It’s always of some baby and the story is never It’s super alive and working at Reitmans.
  41. Best Revelation – Demitri Martin: “When they came up with the word invent, that must’ve been a weird moment.”
  42. Best Cut Down – Neal Brennan: “Skrillex looks like he got his hair cut by one of his own songs.”

Even though Carrot Top was absent, props go to all the organisers of this amazing annual event. The atmosphere around the festival engendered a sense of community, with fans eager to share their favourite acts or suggestions on who to see.  If you’re into a world-class comedy festival on a local stage, check out JFL42 next year. Or don’t, I’m not your dad or anything.

Do you know that the band Sugar Ray’s official website is markmcgrath.com? Is that the definition of vanity?

I started on the JFL42 wrap up article this afternoon, but it’s gonna take more futzing about than I can accomplish in 30 minutes. One hell of a festival. Having to truck all the way over to Second City for Andy Kindler’s Alt Show was a bit fucky, but outside of that, it ran like a dream.

4.15pm – Versus.

A trial filming of a comedy game show would’ve well fit the word “madcap”. A great cast of comedians local and international. It was nuts, while a bunch of jokes had obviously been pre-written, comedians let fly with a flurry of improvised material and antics obviously fuelled by the wine filled coffee mugs at their table. The format was really fun and with a bit of polish, it looks like the show could take off. Fingers crossed.

7pm- Tim Meadows.

To be honest, I didn’t know Tim Meadows. Turns out he’s an SNL alum and he’s done a few movies over the years (The Ladies Man, Mean Girls, etc). The crowd certainly knew who he was though. The set was fine, but not mindblowing. He had some fun visual gags and a few good lines. You ever go to a stand up gig where you find the performer really affable, but not crushingly funny? That’s how I felt about Tim Meadows. He was without a doubt talented, but after being spoiled rotten with talent for the past 9 days I was getting a little performance fatigue. He had a couple of great lines about Detroit, where he grew up. Towards the end of the set, however, he started to lose steam a little. I dunno, maybe the Ladies Man character bit he did would’ve hit harder if I’d been familiar with the character and that’s on me, not him. Enjoyable enough, is the best approximation.

9pm – Emo Phillips.

Emo Phillips on the other hand was mindblowing. Emo was another act I didn’t know, but knew that he’d been kicking around for a while. 60 years old, he’s still at the top of his game. Plus it’s because of him that I just learned the word “paraprosdokian” (which I’ll forget in 20 minutes). One liners. All clever one liners that played on the premise they introduced. There were a couple of rolling gags and pseudo clowning aspects, but goddamn did he ever have the crowd in stitches. Examples:

  • A religious person is like a Civil War re-enactor. They’re harmless until they start believing it’s real.
  • I like the South. Of course, I’m prejudiced.
  • The bellboy asked if there was anything I needed. I said “more pillows”, so he brought some. How much do you tip on sarcasm?
  • I hate being divorced. I’d rather be a widower.

Etc, etc, etc. He showed a film he made back in 1992 and provided musical accompaniment. Emo was a fucking legend.

11.59pm – Alt Show with Andy Kindler.

More like 12.30pm, it took a while to get everyone in. Once it started though, holy shit. A surprise appearance from Craig Robinson to give Kindler musical accompaniment. Sets from Moshe Kasher (who called me “young and fuckable”. I’m taking that one all the way to the bank), Mark Little, Dawn Whitwell and the always colossal Mark Forward (have I raved about him enough this festival?). Things got loose real fast. Hecklers were taken to task, particularly the mouthy dudebro at stage right. It was an insane show, the kind that leaves you sweaty from laughter. I couldn’t think of a single better way to close out JFL42 for another year.

Fuck, does this mean I need to be a contributing member of society again?

That “utimate day” thing will make no sense without reading yesterday’s entry. Have I been watching so much comedy that I think callbacks work everywhere?

The LAST DAY of JFL42. Does that make it the ultimate day? Well the acts will determine that. It’s been a ridiculous nine days so far. I’ve been spoiled with the sheer amount of talent I’ve seen. It’s not something that’s been done alone either. Having informed friends to suggest worthwhile performers to watch has made this fest what it is. Going in with some idea rather than stumbling blind has meant that of the 21 shows I’ve seen so far, 95% or so have been excellent. I haven’t done the math there, obviously. Four shows today, then tomorrow I’ve gotta write one big article summing up the whole experience. Before that, how was yesterday?

7pm- Demitri Martin.

A friend of a friend offered me two tickets so I brought my girlfriend along. Demitri was Demitri, as Demitri is. A ton of clever one liners and illustrations. The fun thing about Demitri is that little pause that comes between the end of a joke and peals of laughter as recognition sinks in. Demitri was great, but our seats weren’t. As an addendum, they were also free, so I’m not shitty about it. Usually this wouldn’t matter so much, but it made it kind of hard to hone in on some of the jokes drawn on poster paper. We did that thing where you close one eye and make a hand telescope thing over the other. It helped a little, but that was the level of eye strain required.

Demitri is one of those performers who fills me with awe. Maybe a smattering of awww too. He’ll deliver these jokes and you’ll wonder how hasn’t anyone done this premise before? His mind just works differently to most (his early special “If I” is a nice summation of his origin story). Testament to this quickness was his response to a call out from the crowd. “Do something about hyperglycemia.” He paused “Some people have hyperglycemia, but why doesn’t anyone ever talk about those of us with glycemia? There are so many of us.”

Fun show. Many, many jokes.

10.30pm – Moshe Kasher.

I could see Moshe Kasher multiple times at the same festival. He does so much goddamn crowd work and he’s quicker than a fucking cheetah. His was also the longest line by far I’ve seen for any show. Stretching all the way down the block. Two openers: Sarah Tiana (who I’d booked and skipped three times this festival) and Natasha Leggero (who also happens to be his wife). Great sets but sadly enough seeing Demitri meant I had to push Emo Phillips to tonight, meaning I’m skipping Leggero. Anyway, preamble.

Moshe’s material circled around the idea that he used to get around a lot and now feels strangely uneasy about being able to raise a child. Also, how invasive is it to ask a couple of they’re “trying” for a kid? It’s basically asking them about how much they’re fucking. Weird, especially when the question comes from your grandma. His lightning quick delivery and ability to incorporate crowd work into his act was mindblowing and damn near brought the house down repeatedly.

11.59pm – Alt Show with Andy Kindler.

Kindler’s Alt Show started late and ran late. I think we were out of there around 2am after an onslaught of bizarre sets and uneven crowd.

An aside. I know Second City is an institution, but it’s a shit place to see stand up. It’s a wide and scattered room plus you’ve got servers coming around throughout the show to take drink orders. It’s disruptive as hell. Second City is so fucking far away from anything and it really shits on the rest of your night. Loving the festival, Second City Alt Shows were a terrible fucking idea.

Yeah, weird crowd. Sometimes tepid, sometimes monstrously responsive, even overly so. A few overenthusiastic dudebros got reigned in very quickly by Kindler who had no time for their shit. Surprise drop in sets from Emo Phillips (who is still amazingly clever) and Anthony Jeselnik doing a strange rivalry bit, with Nathan Bargaze playing the punching bag. Sets from Mark Forward (who I’ve gushed over enough for one festival), Leggero (whose material didn’t quite land with this crowd), Chris Locke (Great comic, but how does he seem to move at 1.5x human speed? It’s mildly unsettling) and some others that my foggy 2am mind couldn’t remember.

Got home around 3am and collapsed into bed. One more night (which coincidentally coincides with Nuit Blanche). It’s gonna be a weird one.