Did you realise Mountain Dew was caffeinated? I sure did

I survived. Better yet, I thrived.

JFL42 is over for another year. What a year it was. As I said yesterday, I opted for quality over quantity this year and it paid dividends. Yesterday I went to a talk on mental health in comedy. There were laughs, naturally, but a lot of wise words. The panel was Byron Bowers, DeAnne Smith, Andy Kindler and Jessica Holmes, along with moderator Allison Dore. Byron was a performer I’d only recently seen for the first time, but a ton of his set involves some intense vulnerability. He talks about his father being a homeless schizophrenic, dealing with abuse, and intrusive thoughts. It was a solid show, and it became pretty evident throughout that he was a deep thinker that’d done a lot of self analysis. During the panel, everyone spoke to different aspects of performance, anxiety, depression, and what worked for them. It was compassionate, and fascinating. The number of times I found myself involuntarily grunting my agreement was astounding.

After the talk, I had some downtime, and I wanted to prep. The next show I had booked was a live reading of Harold and Kumar. I thought it’d only be fitting to get quite high and have snacks. I did both of those things. I pulled out my vape and dawdled along King Street towards Dollarama. On the way I stumbled across a Bulk Barn, which was oh so much better. I got a bunch of candy, then bought a large fountain drink at the cinema. High? Check. Candy? Check. Absurdly sized Mountain Dew? Check. I was ready.

The reading was a ton of fun. They had a fantastic cast assembled. Warren Sonoda, the film’s director was there. The biggest name would’ve been Stephanie Beatriz (Rosa from Brooklyn 99), but the rest of the panel were all super talented. Local comic Mark Forward proved unequivocally that there’s no such thing as a small part, utterly stealing the show as the Elevator Ding. It was a cool set up. Aside from Stephanie and Andrea Bang (Kim’s Convenience) as Kumar and Harold respectively, everyone played a ton of parts. They all had scripts with their lines highlighted, and everyone got a chance to have a ton of fun scenes. Ann Pornel had a particularly inspired turn as a rabid raccoon. The whole thing was such a neat experience. Seeing these actors getting to let loose and have fun with the script was fantastic. Every once in a while I’d close my eyes and try to view it as a film in my mind’s eye, if that made sense. The show ran long, and I had to skip my booked 7pm act. I didn’t care in the slightest, I’d had such a great time.

Late Bad was its usual brand of brilliant bollocks. As the unofficial “last night” of the festival, Comedy Bar went off until 4am last call. Hell, it probably went off for longer, but I had a serious need for sleep. One last Late Bad show tonight, that I’ll check in on after work, then I may sit out the comedy for a week or two. I think I’ve earned it.

No cold, no sweat

It’s not the last day of JFL42, but it might as well be.

I think I’m pretty much done with traditional stand up for a little while. I’ve had an amazing time this festival. For the first time ever, I’ve put this nebulous concept of “value” to the side, in lieu of understanding what value really means. Every other year, with the delights of the credit system, I’ve gone balls deep. It’s been about maximising my experience, seeing a 7pm, 9pm, 11pm and midnight show every day for nine days (it’s a ten day festival, but inevitably I’ll get a cold on day five). This year I’ve been cruising, choosing and snoozing. I cut out a bunch of my 11pm shows and instead got a good night’s rest before work in the morning. This other concept of value is something I’ve been striving for in life, and this has been a pretty good representation of it. What the hell do I mean? I’ll explain for any other dummies like me who took a while.

You know buffets, right? For basically my entire life, anything All You Can Eat has been an excuse for endurance/pain tolerance. A little while ago I realised that this is a weird concept. You’re not gonna beat the house in a buffet. Just not gonna happen. If you do, the cost you pay will be your own discomfort in trying to evacuate your body for the next few days. Sub-optimal. So if eating as much as was humanly possible wasn’t the point, what was? Well, the variety. At a buffet you can do all kinds of combinations. You can try flavours together, or get usually incongruous foods that’d be too expensive to acquire in a normal restaurant. Enjoying the range of options was the goal, and the increased price point represented that.

Applying this to JFL42 has been a game changer. Every other year, I’ve been champing at the bit to maximise my number of shows. Every other year I’ve been seeing every single act I could, even if I didn’t have a ton of interest. The point was to see as much comedy as I could, which came at the detriment of being more discerning. Every other year I’ve been physically exhausted, mentally drained and borderline ill at the end of the festival. I haven’t been participating in as many shows, but I’ve tried to ensure that the shows I’ve seen are ones I’ve very much wanted to. Konmari-ing the shit out of it. Consequently, I feel so much better. I’m tired, yes, but I haven’t burned the candle at both ends.

That said, once my work rotation shifted and I had days off, I switched into watching my new favourite show: Late Bad. It’s an absurd collection of one liners, live commentary, musical accompaniment, impressions and character work. It’s been a free, non JFL42 show starting at 12.30am daily. Much as I love the festival, Late Bad may have overshadowed it. My desire to sit for an hour and watch one act has been obliterated by this bizarre, fragmented collection of bits. So while I haven’t been going all out to see these traditional stand up shows (and I may skip all of mine tonight to attend my friend’s Erotic Fanfiction Competition party), I’ve very much been staying out late and having a blast.

Weirdly, this may have been one of my favourite JFL42s ever.

Do they call it a commute because people don’t talk?

Good morning everyone!

Aside from the cat, you’re the first people I’ve talked to this morning. Yes, the cat is people, or failing anything, it at least talks back. I’m at the point in JFL42 where each year, I get a cold. It happens annually because, in my rush to see as much comedy as possible, I forget that my body has other needs. Y’know, like sleep, vegetables, and hydration? I’m getting too damn old to go hard for that many days on end. And priapism is a medical condition. Coupled with this new job, where I have to a) pay attention and b) talk for hours on end, I’m feeling constantly exhausted, in a way that’s not chic or advisable whatsoever. Sure, I’m physically tired, but I’m also tired of the mentality that burnout is a badge of honour. You know what’s cooler than being a shambling assortment of loosely connected body parts? Being functional. So I’ve been skipping the 11pm shows over the past two nights. Yesterday I walked in the door just after 11pm, and was in bed ten minutes later. I’m old on an official level. I’m sure my hernia is in the mail as we speak.

I haven’t talked a bunch about the festival this year. I dunno. After doing reviews for so long, it’s been nice to sit back and think about the other stuff going on in my life instead. I mean, I actually have other stuff going on in my life this year. Still, there have been some excellent acts so far, and they’re worth mentioning. It’s odd, but I haven’t set many new acts yet. Roy Wood Jr on day one was outstanding. Long chunks of jokes, really well crafted. I was stoked to catch Aisha Brown’s hour as well. Really talented local. Nore Davis was one of the first new acts I saw, and he blew the house down. Interesting, laconic style with left field punchlines. He had a ten minute bit on Dragon Ball Z, subject matter I’d never heard on stage before. He was utterly outstanding.

Last night I caught Kate Berlant and Ron Funches. I’d seen both acts before, and both killed. I’m very curious to know how much of Berlant’s set was written, because it was expertly done in a manner that made it seem improvised. She was erratic, flitting around stage, stopping and starting bits haphazardly. Realistically, it probably was written in such a way that she could react to the crowd, but who’s to say? She did this excellent fortune teller crowd work piece where she cold read the crowd, assuming all responsibilities for when her predictions worked or didn’t. It’s hard to explain, but boy it was fun to watch. Ron Funches may have done my favourite set so far. His demeanor is so sweet and pure, stuffed with gratitude. He has so many out there premises, that the crowd just ate it up. I almost can’t wait to see him again the next time he tours.

I’ll have to though, cause I’ve still got a full day ahead of me until I’m off shift.

Hustle, bustle, and bike trouble

Is it like this every year? It’s like this every year.

JFL42 has a habit of striking at the busiest time. Or maybe it becomes the busiest time whenever JFL42 strikes. Likely the latter There’s been a pile of dry washing sitting on the kitchen table for the past two days. You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. I’ve had to hold onto all of my available hours for other purposes. I’m zigging and zagging everywhere. Yesterday morning, for example, I went to a live Why Won’t You Date Me? podcast with Nicole Byer. I left, biked home and did some small work making my bike better for night time. Then I did my writing, while waiting for a call about the internet.

I hummed and hawed over whether to start something. I wanted to do an instant pot dish so I’d have easy grab and go dinners for the next few days. But the internet guy was supposed to a) call and b) arrive, in that order. What was the point in starting when I had no idea if this bloke was coming or not? As his scheduled time rolled by, I started putting together a chilli. I chopped the veggies and defrosted the meat in the pot. As the meat was defrosting, the dude arrived. I had to abandon my meal and give this guy a hand. I remembered that we were supposed to try cable instead of DSL once before, but the Rogers employee said they couldn’t do it, since the cable was cut. Yesterday’s bloke took one look and said “that guy obviously didn’t want to do the work, and made up an excuse. Let’s do it now.” I helped him access the cable from the inside, and pulled it out. He widened the hole and fed me a new cable through it. I pulled it in and up to my computer. We cable tied it up to the exterior of the house. I looked at the clock, antsy about my instant pot meal that I’d timed around my 7pm show. It was 6.05pm when he left. I had to be at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre at 7pm, and that was a 20+ minute bike. I finished up the prep and tossed everything in. The meat was already overcooked, and I crossed my fingers it’d turn out in the end. No time for a shower before I left. On the way down, my chain slipped off and I arrived at the venue with greasy hands.

I just made the 7pm Comedy Bang Bang show, because they were slow loading everyone in. It was great, but I felt exhausted after not really eating dinner. My energy faded, and I felt myself losing touch with the last ten minutes of the show. It ran long, until 8.30pm. I had a 9pm show at Comedy Bar, up the hill. I biked back there and made it at 8.59pm. Aisha Brown, the comic, was awesome. I’d heard a bunch of her bits before, but they’ve never failed to hit their mark. She had a bunch of salient Justin Trudeau blackface bits, which I’m sure are gonna be a dime a dozen over the next week. Rarely that well executed though. Fantastic set, stoked I finally saw a full hour out of Aisha. She’s a local treasure. The show finished 10.05pm and I had an 11pm show to see at The Rivoli. But Comedy Bar was close to home and I had work early in the morning. I thought about sequencing. I thought about the instant pot. I thought about how exhausted I’d be after my 11pm show, and how little I’d want to package the chilli into containers, load it into the freezer and clean the instant pot. I biked home, did all the aforementioned tasks, made myself a bowl and it was very, very spicy. I tossed a couple of TUMS down my gullet, and got on my bike. My chain slipped off again, and my hands got caked in grease.

I made it to Esther Povitsky just in time. She did a great set, with a fun character. She closed by looking through the bag of an audience volunteer. “What do you do?” She asked. “I work for the government”, he replied. “Oh, well I guess security isn’t a governmental strong suit,” she replied. I’d happily see her perform again. She’s got something going. I biked home, uphill once more, and sweat in bed until I fell asleep.

Today hasn’t been any slower, and it’s only 8pm. Every damn year.

I kinda love it though.

My ringtone is the Full House theme. At least I think it still is

It’s JFL42 time! If I celebrated Hanukkah, I’m sure this is what it’d feel like.

JFL42 is Toronto’s version of the legendary Montreal comedy festival, Just For Laughs. In French, it’s called Juste Pour Rire, and it almost sounds like someone telling you to pour butts. Putting the ‘ass’ into ‘class’, those Frenchies. JFL42 is a bit different, in good ways. The credit system is innovative and value packed. You get a certain number of credits (two, four, six, 12) and use them to book shows. When you get to your show you get your credit back. You can then use this to book another show, ad infinitum. IT’S A GREAT SYSTEM. I usually use it to see around 25 acts in ten days, for around $100 altogether. It’s fun to strategise and figure out how to see all your desired acts. It’s gotten harder as more people have figured out how to use it. Still, the sheer quantity of quality comedy on display is amazing.

This year, I have a bike. It’s in a conditional condition right now. I took it over to a friend’s place yesterday so he could do some maintenance. A few things got better, but in trying to fix my gears, there were mishaps. My gears are now non-functional, and the one gear I’m stuck on is higher (faster spinning) than the one I’ve grown used to. I actually have to build up a cadence instead of relying on strong pedalling. It’s not ideal, and I’m getting a workout. While this is great on one hand, I’m also getting to shows late. Sub optimal, but still workable.

I also have the house to myself for a few days. My girlfriend has gone away for the weekend, so I get to sleep really deeply. I love having the bed to myself. To this day, I still sleep better alone. Will that ever change? Who knows? I use f.lux, I take magnesium citrate before bed, and wear earplugs. It’s not like I haven’t been training. I’m about to do my first day shifts in the new job. It kind of sucks to have that during one of my busiest, late night periods of the year. Still, at least I can still see the shows at night.

I’m waiting on internet people. They were supposed to call, which is why I’m at home and not seeing daytime JFL42 stuff. They haven’t called. They were supposed to call between 2.30 and 3.30, and it’s past 4pm. They were supposed to call to check that I was home, and if I didn’t take the call, they wouldn’t come. They haven’t called. They’ll probably called, but as of yet, no call. Zero ring. If only they knew my dedication. I turned my phone off silent for the first time since I bought it. I’ve been waiting for this call. This call is my sole raison d’etre at home right now. I just want faster internet. Is that too much to ask?

I have no idea, because they haven’t yet called for me to ask.

Sifting for gold so you don’t have to

I just realised that Toronto’s JFL42 is mere two weeks away. A friend asked about acts worth checking out, so I thought I’d go through the “42” (A.K.A. Club Acts) and give some thoughts. These are all acts who are bookable with tokens, rather than headliners. In alphabetical order:

  • Defnitely try to see Aisha Brown. She’s a local who’s fantastic. She rarely does long sets, and this is a great chance to see her in her element.
  • Take any chance for Kindler’s Alt Show. It starts at midnight and runs late, but it’s one my favourite things about the festival. A lot of drop in sets, sometimes from big names. The comedy gets weird/absurd, and it’s a total joy.
  • Comedy Bang Bang live should be neat. It’s a hugely popular podcast, all improv, but high quality. Getting to see this as part of the 42 bundle is a huge bargain.
  • Esther Povitsky has been excellent in every show she’s been in. I haven’t seen her stand up, but I know she got one of those Top 10 comics to watch a few years back.
  • I like Jen Kirkman a bunch. She’s pretty sarcastic, but a delight. It’s rare that I skip her if she comes.
  • Jim Norton is great. He’s old school, but had a great special that leaned heavily on his love for trans women a few years back.
  • Joel Kim Booster has been consistently excellent on Twitter. Haven’t seen his stand up, but I expect good things.
  • Kate Berlant is weird and wonderful. She does almost exclusively crowd work, but with an interesting twist. It might not be your thing, but if it is, she’s something special.
  • Mark Little and Andy Bush I’m definitely gonna check out. Mark Little is my favourite local, and the two of them have made great TV/Podcasts together. CBC’s Cavendish was one of my favourite recent Canadian shows. Please catch up on CBC Gem. My Gorgeous Son is a super fun podcast too.
  • Michelle Wolf, obviously.
  • Nicole Byer is a delight. Riotously funny.
  • Ron Funches is a pure and sweet human being who’s too funny for his own good. Feel good humour in abundance.
  • Roy Wood Jr was hilarious last time he was in town. I didn’t know him prior, and was left thoroughly in stitches.
  • Threedom has three huge name improv folks. All feature regularly on Comedy Bang Bang, and guest on a ton of podcasts. I’m not a big fan of improv, but they’re so good at it you’d be missing out if you skipped it.
  • Todd Barry is ludicrously funny, but I’d recommend staying a few rows back. He’s been known to roast the audience.
  • Tom Henry is a local. Great dry setup/punch stuff. Please see him. I don’t know that I’ve ever caught a long set, but I’m a big fan.
  • Vir Das is an excellent Indian comic who did a fantastic Netflix Special. He cut between the same set back home and in the US, to show the comparison with how audiences connected to the jokes. Worked like a treat. Would recommend checking him out. I know I will.

And with that, I’ve stoked my enthusiasm for this year’s festival more than I thought I would. There are a ton of other acts I still don’t know, and I can’t wait to discover them. It’s gonna be a good year.

What’s my wrangle?

Egads, I’ve been staring at this for long enough that I need to start by any means possible. What’s on my brain?

I’ve got this “bit” percolating at the back of my mind, but I haven’t worked out all the beats yet. The set up is probably something like:

“I’ve never been to the rodeo. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
Apparently your first one is quite the doozy.”

But I don’t really know where to take it from there. Mostly I think it’s funny that a rodeo, something of very little consequence to most people, is used as the benchmark of proficiency. “Not my first rodeo” implies some level of skill, but what’s happening at all these rodeos that’s empowering a myriad of people in their varied lives? Also, it’s usually really banal stuff that seems to have very little with roping a steer or riding a bucking bronco. Furthermore, I highly doubt all the people who use the phrase have actually been to one. Why is a rodeo so important? Does it hold a different status in rural communities? I’ve got the phrases “Cowboy Cathedral” and “Draw Pilgrimage” in my head, but I don’t know what to do with them. Do rural folk have an equivalent expression showcasing an activity they rarely take part in? “This ain’t my first pride parade”? Education rally? Abortion clinic? PC party protest? It’s kinda judgemental. What’s some more benign stuff that city slickers do but country folk probably wouldn’t? Traffic jam? Pop up sale? Brunch line? It’s all a bit mediocre.

I dunno. Just ideas at this stage.

So here’s something. I’ve been struggling lately creatively. Honestly, it’s been since I started on the meds. In no small manner, they’ve been a game changer. They’ve given me resolve to get out and do things, and stop me from going flat every time I hit a bump. I wish I started them years ago, they’ve truly been a positive step. The buoyancy they’ve allowed me is a big deal, and I’m thankful to be taking them. I’ve also found it hard to be creative. My brain isn’t making those quick connections it once was. I’m struggling to have answers on hand like I’m used to. It just feels like there’s gum in the works that keeps them fluid, but lacking some of that deeper grind. I don’t know if this is a side effect that will level out with time. I’m sure hoping it is. They say it takes 4-6 weeks for all the effects to settle, and there are definitely potential side effects I haven’t seen sign of yet. I know that while I was in my depressive depths, I had this almost desperate creativity and I’m having trouble accessing it. This is not a full on complaint. I’d much rather have my life back in the way that these meds have enabled. It’s also kind of ironic that while they’re giving me the push to go out and try stand up again, I’m limping along at attempts to write/edit new stuff.

Perhaps I’m missing renewed perspective that could be helpful. I’m reading Chris Gethard’s Lose Well at the moment. I very rarely read self-help books, but Gethard has a familiar voice and his content is generally not patronising. I do find that I need to take it in small bites, to register ideas and consider how they’d fit into my life. The chapter I just read was about finding new comfort zones in grey areas. He shares advice his therapist gave him, which is to never take the same way home twice. I don’t know how literally actionable this is, but the gist was to find new ways to see the world. Try getting off the subway a stop or two earlier. Take side streets and be open to opportunities. Perhaps there’s a cute neighbourhood cafe or bar that you’ve never seen. Maybe you’ll come across graffiti or scenes that challenge you. There’s no telling what’ll spark synaptic connections. Now that the weather has warmed up, it could be easier to venture outside and explore. I could find time to visit subway stops I’ve never taken. I could look at the city from an unintuitive vantage point. Who knows what I’ll find?

I could even figure out what city slickers do but country folk probably wouldn’t.