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!