When do we get Just For Lives and Just For Loves?

That’s over. Around 4.30am I put my half-finished Guinness down on the Comedy Bar counter, content with ten days well spent. 33 shows between seven venues. So many performers and differing comedic styles. Late night beer, burritos and Uber rides. Half-dead days at work spent replacing bodily fluids with caffeine. Looking at leftover wrist stamps from the previous night’s shows and wondering how long a stamp has to last until it’s officially a tattoo. Plotting, scheming and general sneaky tactics trying to contort my schedule to see everyone I could. Running into friends constantly, or making new acquaintances that I’d constantly see at gigs across the festival. The highs and lows of those ten days, getting to a point of exhaustion and finding my second, third and sixth winds. Straining humour muscles to the point where I wondered if I knew how to laugh anymore. It was a period almost removed from reality, surreal, even.

I remember my initial reaction to this year’s lineup being pretty lukewarm. The last few years have had such big names, that it felt sort of underwhelming. Much smaller acts, lesser known comics this time around. The ratio of female comics however, was a vast improvement. While the 42 in past may have had around 12 or 13 women, this year it was closer to 20. There’s still work to be done, but it’s something. Instead of looking at a colour chart filled with white male comics, JFL42 this year had an array of diverse voices. We got to hear from comics who are known, but not massive. Hari Kondabolu was fantastic, with clever structures and punch lines. I had high hopes for Shasheer Zamata and she fulfilled all of them, adroitly skewering societal stereotypes. Liza Treyger was amazingly sex positive and smartly crude. Keith Pedro, a local doing opening sets, totally crushed it. Gina Yashere had used her awesome niche perspective to bring insightful comedy to her act. Ali Siddiq was a compelling storyteller, offering experiences so far from my own that it was hard not to get pulled in. Morgan Murphy had maybe my favourite joke of the festival. Insanely tight joke structure that began “my doctor told me I can’t have kids”. Outstanding stuff.

As JFL42’s biggest fan, it was hugely gratifying to see the festival go from strength to strength. The app this year for the most part did was it was supposed to. Getting rid of the GPS function and need to check in at venues streamlined the process significantly. Occasionally one of your credits would get stuck in the aether, but it was the exception to prove that the app ruled. The reward tiers for those who went hard were a nice touch. The Master level reward was actually a huge boon. Being able to skip the line at venues was a massive privilege. Earning the reward four days in meant the rest of my festival was a total breeze. It may have encouraged a bizarre (and frankly worrying) burgeoning megalomania, but now that the fest is over I can revert to my plebeian ways once more.

Some thoughts: I know it’s an institution, but is Second City the most frustrating comedy venue in Toronto? Uncomfortable, dinky little chairs at tiny tables in a venue where comedy is leveraged to encourage table service. Having servers constantly moving around (and it’s not their fault, it’s their job) is almost as distracting as hearing the constant beep of debit machines as the show winds to a close. The whole structure does wonders to undo the magic of being sucked into a performance. Can we please find somewhere else to put the Alt Show next year? On a more positive note, opening up Comedy Con to all passholders was magic. The In Conversation chats were like Inside the Actor’s Studio without James Lipton’s ego. Some fans got weirdly entitled during the Q&A segments (sorry Birbiglia), but there were also incisive questions that opened up amazing responses. The Toronto comics absolutely shone alongside their international counterparts. Whether performing opening sets or headlining slots, it proved how lucky we are to have them on tap all year round. If you’re a local comedy fan and still haven’t seen Chris Locke do a longform set, you’ve got work to do.

A huge thank you needs to go out to everyone involved. From JFL42 programming staff for putting together a fantastic diverse lineup, to customer service who were always quick to respond and pleasant to deal with. To ticketing staff and volunteers, putting in late nights and taking everything in stride. We’ve sincerely got something special going on here. See you next year!

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Mansplains trains and automobiles.

Do you ever create a monster? No, this isn’t about that time you grafted bear arms onto a Shetland pony. I mean building someone up to be evil incarnate. It’s so easy to do. We’re increasingly living in a black and white world and simple disagreements can quickly become gaping ideological chasms. I haven’t learned how to deftly cross that divide yet, to build a bridge to common ground. What am I babbling about? Story time!

I was looking for a seat at the Jen Kirkman show. I saw two seats open next to this old beardy dude, which was perfect. I had a friend coming and I could hold her a seat. I asked “is this seat taken?” “Well there’s some guy sitting in it now.” He replied. Oh right, he was making a funny. We were at a comedy festival. My grasp on reality at this point was tenuous at best. I smiled. I saw that his JFL42 app was open and that he’d seen 20 or so shows, had 12 credits. Seemed like a comedy fan. I’d never seen Colin Quinn, but I’d had him pegged as my Friday 9pm act. Thing was, Todd Barry had opened up a 9pm Friday show. I’d seen Todd the year before, but I was pretty tired at the time. I thought he was great, but couldn’t remember his jokes. I could see Barry again. Still, Quinn was an unknown quantity. My friend said he was ex SNL. Had a one man show. I love one person shows as an exploration of character and themes. Still, if this guy had seen a bunch of comedy, maybe he could weigh in.

I asked if he knew Colin Quinn’s material or style. “New York” he replied. I inquired further, as New York was a city (and I guess a State Of Mind, depending who you ask), not necessarily a style. “Like Bill Burr, but more of an asshole. Do you like Bill Burr?” He asked. I paused for a second and gave my usual tired “hot take”, that I thought Bill Burr was an excellent stand up who should be doing much better material for someone with his skills. Lots of straw manning, etc. “Well if you think Burr is an asshole, Quinn is more of one.” I sighed and pushed for more. Someone can be an asshole and do clever, thought provoking stand up, right? What kind of material did he do? “He’s New York, that’s all you need to know.” I considered this branch well and truly fruitless, so I moved on. We chatted about what else we’d seen at the festival. He’d loved Gina Yashere, which I wholeheartedly concurred with.

“See” he started “she didn’t do that thing I hate. You know when a gay comic gets up and all their material is about being gay? You can be gay and still have thoughts about other stuff. Like Gina. Your sexuality isn’t your entire personality.” I said I knew what he was getting at. Like when a comic smokes weed and that’s all they talk about. It’s for sure a big part of their life, but they still have a life outside of that. “Exactly. We saw this comic the other day at The Drake. She was Non-Binary something something, but she had sex with women. So I thought to myself ‘you’re just a lesbian’. You don’t want to be defined, but you’ve spent your entire act doing just that. We don’t care about what your identity is as long as you’re making good comedy, right?” I sighed, it was gonna be one of THOSE conversations.

I’m not gonna repeat the conversation verbatim, but it was a perfect exercise in frustration. I tried to open a platform on this concept of non-binary, while also navigating the original treatise on making your identity the whole of your comedy. I explained how I wasn’t there so I can’t have a full understanding of their act, but also knowing how someone identifies can certainly help add flavour to their comedy. It didn’t go well, but if there’s a silver lining, I think I got a greater appreciation of how mansplaining feels. I’d listen to what he said and start to respond, then after about five or six words he’d counter with his ideas without listening to me or hearing mine out. He was incredibly patronising, flat out assuming that he possessed a level of knowledge I couldn’t come close to matching. It was frustrating, considering I do see quite a decent amount of comedy. I quite probably spend more time watching LGBTQ+ stuff than he does (and no, I didn’t get the sense he was really homophobic or transphobic, but rather didn’t understand and wasn’t making the space to) and likely was coming from a platform of knowledge. Because of our age disparity, he assumed the position of wisdom and ignored the notion that I could actually know what I was talking about. I was frustrated and ended up telling him that since we were mostly arguing the same thing but there was still a lack of listening/compromise, we were probably better to cut it there and watch the show. I was sure he wasn’t a bad person in general, but progress was pretty unlikely to be made.

Then 20 minutes into Jen Kirkman’s performance he started chewing gum with an open mouth like a goddamn neanderthal. Fuck that guy. I’m sure he curb stomps newborn kittens recreationally.

And what? I thought I was hot stuff because I’d just bought a sweater?

It’s funny, but I can already feel the quality of this entry declining with each word. This week has seemed like an exercise in sleep deprivation. I don’t know how much caffeine I had yesterday, but it may have exceeded the amount of regular ol’ water I drank. I think back to my early 20s, how burning the candle at both ends was a symbol of pride. I didn’t drink coffee and I slept for around 5-6. hours per night. I don’t know what the appeal was. Maybe it was some misguided desire to make life an uphill battle. Like how some gamers play on hard mode. They’ll die again and again, but the challenge makes it worth it. Come to think of it, at that age every day was one little death after another. I’m not gonna say that at 30 everything’s come together, but I’m getting by.

To that extent, I think that I appreciate little things, but still don’t recognise just how lucky I am to have them. Take yesterday for example. Toronto lately has been going through a peculiar but not unwelcome heatwave. It’s been getting up to 25 Celsius or so, which is much less autumnal than one would expect for late September. I left a show in shorts and a T-shirt last night and I was freezing. It’d dropped about 10 degrees in a few hours. I had time to kill before my next show, so I did something that’d be out of reach for many who are less fortunate. I bought a new sweater. It was 8pm on a Wednesday, most places were closed. While strolling, shivering, I stumbled upon a Winners. Discounted clothes. I didn’t need more sweaters, I’ve got a bunch. I needed one then though. I couldn’t afford getting sick this close to the end of JFL42. Not only did I get to take my time and try on a bunch of stuff, but I didn’t think twice about forking over $23 for something I needed in the moment. Yeah, I’m gonna wear it again, but that’s not the point. I’ve reached a level of comfort where I can indulge a need if I want to alleviate temporary suffering. That’s amazing and deserves my acknowledgement. Not as a pat on the back, but an understanding that things are going pretty well and any complaints should be filtered through that recognition.

With that said, I escaped an awkward situation last night, which was only awkward because I’m a dick. I sat down to a show and was chatting with the people next to me. Then a dude in the row in front joined in. As someone who joins in random conversations all the time, this should be a teachable moment. It won’t be. The guy kept talking to me like we knew each other. He eventually mentioned that we’d met at a previous festival. I vaguely remembered him. A massive comedy fan, he came out each year, bought the biggest pass and saw as much comedy as he could. Once again, this could be an alternate universe me. That’s something I’d do. Thing was, this dude was kind of a dork. Awkward, uncool and I was way too tired to force polite conversation. It was obvious that we were heading to the same gig afterwards and I really didn’t want to spend the 90 minutes between in his presence. I scuttled out quickly and ran into a friend.

We chatted, but when we got to the bus stop he was there. He just joined in our conversation and called me by name. Shit, I had given him that information. What? He asked. I exist with a coronet of male privilege adorning my dome, I’m not used to having to be wary of what information I give to people. My friend and I sat down on the streetcar and kept talking. He kept joining in as if he was a part of the conversation. I stayed on my phone, messaging another friend to at least see if she would be joining me at the gig. When the time came for my stop, I stayed sitting. He got up. My eyes were burning holes through my phone as I ignored his presence. He may or may not have looked back, I don’t know. A cavalcade of equestrians could’ve trod past and I wouldn’t have looked up. He got off. I released the breath I was holding, said goodbye to my friend and got off at the next stop. I killed time at a Subway (almost walked into an A&W until I saw him there through the window.

I don’t know if that’s really a story. If anything, it’s the story of me being an arsehole to a lonely stranger in a foreign city. So basically, I ignored the version of myself in Portland because he seemed chronically uncool.

Geez, karma’s gonna have a field day.

We even had the same book. Can she be my new bestie?

JFL42 has passed the halfway mark. We’re rounding the final four days and there’s still a ton of great stuff to come. The line up this year hasn’t been as strong as recent years, but I’ve seen a bunch of great acts regardless. Last night may have been one of the best nights yet.

Seeing Kyle Kinane at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I finally got to use my “Master” level reward (for attending 12 shows). It lets me skip the line and walk right to the front. It’s pretty great, but also impossible to not feel at least a little like a douchebag. What gives you the right to walk past 30 people who are waiting patiently? A little piece of plastic, apparently. I mean, I had it, was I going to not use it? You know what? On second thought, fuck those plebs. I DESERVE THIS. THE WORLD IS MY TOILET AND I MANIFEST HOW SHIT GOES DOWN. *Ahem* It was pretty sweet though, even if it played into my own latent megalomania.

I got to see Liza Treyger twice last night. She opened for Kinane, then I went off to see her solo show. She was fantastic. Her bits weren’t all super polished, but she had a bunch of gems. Most importantly, she did a great job of challenging existing social structures, which is kind of the point of comedy. She had this extended audience interaction piece that centred on a societal disregard for the female orgasm. She was totally right. It’s absurd that so much ink has been spilled on how to make your man spill, but so little comparatively on how to facilitate female pleasure. It’s one of the many absurd double standards that people rarely challenge, no doubt because a huge proportion of men still consider women to be chattel. She did this little bit where she mentioned that she’d just bought a book on how to help a woman orgasm. She then asked the men in the audience who’d read one. Mine was the only hand that went up. I looked around, dumbfounded. People giggled to themselves, as if it was sort of a silly notion. Seriously? That’s some exception proves the rule sort of shit.

Tonight heralds the first midnight Andy Kindler show. I’m burning the candle at both ends and it’s reaching my core. Pray for Mojo. Given my fragile mental state at the moment, I’m sure it’s gonna be bonkers. But do you know the best part? I’M GONNA WALK STRAIGHT TO THE FRONT OF THE LINE. SUCK IT, DWEEBS.

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?

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.