I’m not like them, but I can pretend. A nice suit helps too.

Maybe rich people do have more fun.

A couple of friends and I got dolled up last night and attended a fancy party. I’m feeling pretty fragile today, so don’t expect me to write a masterpiece. But anyway, the party. A super glitzy affair, Hush Hush is an annual library fundraiser, which turns a local library into an all out barnburner. The tickets were super expensive, at $100 each, but the event was goddamn out of this world. Everyone was dressed to the nines and looked dynamite. The essence of cocktail chic. I feel like every time I turned a corner I’d walk into yet another unbelievable set piece, each of which could’ve been an event in themselves.

  • A GIF photobooth. A stack of props and a camera that took four consecutive photos that it then turned into a GIF, which they in turn emailed to you.
  • Two servers walking around with oyster utility belts. Chainmail gloves, a knife, A bucket of iced oysters, a selection of different sauces and a bucket for the empty shells. I’ve never really enjoyed oysters before and I was convinced I just hadn’t tried the right one yet. One server had East Coast oysters and the other had West Coast ones. I couldn’t taste the difference, but they were damn delectable. I tried a hot sauce version and a champagne vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was amazing.
  • A cartoonist who’d draw your portrait. The line was 40-50 minutes long, which seemed like a waste at a four hour event.
  • A robotic hockey game, with little car robots controlled by iPads.
  • Liquid nitrogen cooking. There were cheetos on sticks, which were crazy. When you bit in, you’d get a mouthful of chilly smoke. If you were an idiot and accidentally put the whole cheeto in, you’d get surprised as smoke shot out of your nose. They also did nitrogen infused coffee flavoured ice cream, with little syringes filled with maple syrup.
  • Three HTC Vive VR setups. I didn’t get around to playing, but it seemed pretty rad.
  • Open bars. They had about four different stations set up. Custom cocktails, a couple of Ontario craft beers or wine. There was even a Bloody Caesar bar going all night.
  • They kept the same DJ as the previous year and she fucking killed it again. They had a different spin (pun mostly intended) on it this year, as they’d pulled a bunch of vinyl from the library’s collection. They had them set up in crates by the DJ. You could leaf through them and find songs to request. Lots of old classics and deep cuts, mixed with a little low hanging fruit. It was great.

The event was absurd and a total blast. Servers were constantly coming around to take empty glasses/dishes and offer hors d’oeuvres. The crowd was surprisingly great. One or two finance bros, but mostly chill, friendly people. Everyone seemed to have come determined to enjoy themselves. Super low douchebag quotient. The event ended around 1am and a couple of us were still looking for something to do. Someone my friend and I met on the dancefloor invited us back to hers with a couple of others. I had no expectations or idea of where it was going, but it ended up being this mega wholesome gathering. Six or so of us in the basement listening to music, chatting and singing along as someone strummed on the guitar. I took an Uber home just before 5am, grin plastered on my face. Being rich wasn’t too shabby. Maybe that’s what I’ll do with my life.

When you’re rich, DJs don’t give you shit for requesting Wild Wild West.

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If that wasn’t enough there’s a rain room. A RAIN ROOM.

What an unmitigated joy to have a day off. My girlfriend and I decided to do a couple of errandy things before heading to the AGO’s exhibit on Guillermo del Toro, “At Home with Monsters”. It was amazing. Styled after his country house/workspace, it showcased models, props, art and inspiration to his expansive work. I went in expecting Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim. I hadn’t realised how far beyond that his cinematography ran.

The neat thing about hosting this kind of exhibit at an art gallery was how impeccably staged it was. There was so much goddamn material that instead of little placards, much of the time pieces just had little numbers next to them. Small racks on the wall held lists with all the information of their creators, etc. It was a neat way to leave as much space as possible for the work to speak for itself. There was a great cluster of early Disney work. Concepts sketches and the like. I had no idea Disney so commonly used a combination of chalk and pastels to such stellar effect. The pieces from Sleeping Beauty were particularly impressive.

Of course, a big part of del Toro’s appeal is his beautifully macabre monster designs. The big ones were all present. From Hellboy 2‘s Angel of Death, to Pan’s Labyrinth‘s Pale Man and Pan himself. All rendered in stunning realism. It mentioned how one of del Toro’s design inspiratioons is to shift placement of the eyes. By doing this, he says, it immediately creates a sense of foreboding that tracks back to childhood. Eyes are so often how we learn to connect to others. We read expression and intent from them. Once they’re moved, it subverts our expectations and leaves us unsettled. So take the Pale Man with his palm embedded eyes or the Angel of Death’s eyes lining its wings (apparently inspired by biblical designs). Their sockets aren’t so much barren as absent. The skin is either flat or replaced by a flat plate of bone. Oh, bone. Bone was another thing I noticed in the same vein. As humans we innately expect our skeletons to be on the inside. If they’re not, something’s gone wrong big time. In many of del Toro’s designs you might see a spine pressed right to the skin or even protruding. Or forearms so skinny that the bone pokes through. Once again it’s subverting our assumptions to create unease.

I thought the figure of Pan was especially rad. I saw the movie 11 years ago, so I didn’t have a strong imprint of what it looked like in my brain. It has this sublime asymmetry and fusion of both plant and animal. Its flesh alternates between soft skin and firm bark. Long red tresses flow from its head, but where natural body hair would be it often sprouts moss instead. One of its feet is composed of jagged wood, while the other is a large hoof. It once again hosts an exposed spine, but of intertwining vines. It’s hella cool.

The exhibit also spanned his love of pop culture, Gothic literature and horror films. It was awesome to see someone who, from a young age, continually ran after their passions. Guillermo seems to hold this ardent desire to bring to life the world he found through fiction. It was cool to see, for instance, that he’d been trying to bring Hellboy to the screen for years. Blade 2 was a job taken in order to inch closer towards it. By doing a studio film (still with his own flair, by the looks of it. I’ve never seen it), his agent assured him that studios would be more likely to open their pockets for his passion projects. As the years have attested, it worked.

I know this sounds like a massive ad, but if you’re in Toronto please check the exhibit out. My girlfriend hadn’t seen much of his stuff and loved it as much as I did. There’s so much to take in. We spent about two and a half hours there, but could’ve easily done a lot more if we weren’t already pretty exhausted. If you’re a fan of his work or just want to see dark and pretty things, it runs for aaaages. You’ve got no good excuse not to give it AGO.

Let’s get some gin and Jewice up in this bitch!

I just realised that we have guests arriving for Thanksgiving in 50 minutes. I’m currently in my underwear. I have my 30 minutes of writing to do, plus I need a shower. This is gonna be tighter than that time I tried to remove my polyprops after exercising in them. Serious graft vs host kind of stuff. I thought they were gonna melt back into milk bottles.

The turkey is in the oven! It’s been cooking away for a bunch of hours now. Turkey is my nemesis. This’ll be the third thanksgiving we’ve hosted and I’m crossing my fingers that this is the year we get it right. For two years we tried slow cooking it. It was decent, but not amazing. Last year we did our first oven turkey but it was pretty dry. DISSAPOINTED, as Kevin Sorbo might say. This year I’m taking a mixed approach. I’m pulling aspects of a bunch of different recipes in the hopes that it’ll all come together well. Conventional wisdom tells me that sticking with one method and following it to the letter is probably the smartest idea. Who am I to follow convention? We tried a dry brine, which was basically covering it in a combination of rock salt and baking powder. Here’s hoping it retains all the moisture. After 4.5 days in the fridge, the deepest cavities were still a little frosty. I pulled all the gizzards out, which felt like a daring dance with frostbite. I salted the interior then crammed it full of chopped onion, celery and garlic cloves. I zested a lemon (after years of lusting after a proper lemon zester, I finally got one in New Zealand earlier this year. Fuck all that microplane noise) and shoved it in the gap.

Next up, I got a stew going. Every turkey prep photo I saw from friends had the bird resting on a bed of chopped veggies. I followed suit, chopping carrots, celery and onions to make a nice little meal mattress. I covered it in chicken stock, assuming that the resulting medley would maybe resemble chicken soup at the end? Or at least give some flavour to the eventual gravy. I mixed crushed garlic with the residual lemon zest, pepper and olive oil, then got the gobblemonster all slicked up. Getting right underneath the skin and all around. This was gonna be some fragrantly pleasant poultry. I’m periodically basting it (around every 45 minutes or so) in the hopes that this year we’ll finally get that delicious moist turkey meat we’ve always dreamed of. At the last check (with 45 minutes of cooking left to go) the skin was golden brown. Internal temperature of the breast and outer thigh measured 165°, while the inner thigh was closer to 145°. Things are on track. As advised by the main recipe I’m following, since the breast is getting cooked quicker than everything else, I’ve loosely covered it in tin foil to disperse the heat. Are we on track for maximum moistness? God only knows.

It’s gonna be a more cosy affair than previous years. While in the past we’ve had unruly numbers, this year we’re down to a svelte ten people. My hope is that there’s still room to move in the kitchen. That we’ll be close enough to be able to hear one another talk over the din of dinner. That we won’t end up with a ridiculous overwhelming cacophony. That maybe we’ll create a space where people feel open to sharing intimate conversation. If the point of the evening is to bring together those who don’t have family around, what better than spreading warmth in bellies and hearts?

Plus it’s the best excuse for our traditional Manischewitz appreciation. Because what’s a celebration of rampant and brutal colonialism without a little bit of cultural appropriation?

Would The Land Before Clocks be more apt of a title?

I feel like there are some films I keep coming back to. Not all movies age gracefully (tried watching The Breakfast Club after age 25? It’s pretty rough), but some are so well constructed that they stand the test of time. Maybe it’s well-rounded characters, realistic stakes and proportional drama. A cohesive plot that doesn’t cheapen itself with meaningless throwaway lines in an attempt to get easy laughs. Whatever it is, The Land Before Time still works. Watching it at age 30, it almost makes sense that they produced 10+ sequels. Not 14 though. Hey, not all films can have the kind of deserved legacy that Air Bud does.

Land Before Time goes for the heart strings and yanks hard. It’s brutal. Littlefoot’s mum gets murdered maybe ten minutes in, there are catastrophic earthquakes and all these kids are left alone with little but their misery and misplaced pride. From then on out they slam the pedal to the floor on starvation and racism parallels. These kids need to learn about accepting help from others, belief in oneself, understanding that hard paths must sometimes be taken, faith and love, etc and whatnot. It’s great. It’s still funny, adorable and so goddamn mournful. The score by the London Symphony Orchestra is still so fucking stirring to this day. Heavy as it gets, it doesn’t bask in it for too long. There’s levity galore, and great character moments abound. Petrie may be comic relief, but he still has important lessons to learn. Of course as a child I thought Sarah was an asshole, but as an adult I can see that Sarah’s a great character. As an adult it’s easier to look at the influence of her parentage and understand why she’s too proud to work with others, divisive and headstrong. You can see her journey and its necessity. Of course racism isn’t natural, it’s taught. Kids watching aren’t gonna understand why Three Horns can’t play with Long Necks. It’s so stupid, they’re all dinosaurs. That’s a pretty great legacy for a film to have that’s still alarmingly relevant today.

I still can’t believe it took me until age 30 to realise that I’m not a Littlefoot, I’m a Ducky. Don’t worry folks, that’s great. Sure, Littlefoot is the protagonist and reluctant leader, but Ducky is where it’s at. She’s the heart and soul of the team. Duck’s the glue keeping everyone together. She raises morale, encourages everyone to push through and try their best. She’s caring and considerate, refusing to give up on those she loves. Without Ducky you wouldn’t have a troop, you’d have lonely disparate children going their own way only to perish. Yup yup yup, Ducky’s the MVP.

Why did they call him “Littlefoot”? Why “foot”? Compared to his parents, everything about him is smaller, not just his feet. Are they saying his feet are disproportionately tiny? Way to give the kid a complex. Why not go with Ducky’s superior suggestion of “Flathead”? Ducky all day long. What’s with Sarah’s dad sounding like an accountant? Is it because he spends all day counting horns in order to further his own racist agenda? Do kids movies these days show animals being eaten by other animals? Or is that considered too violent for children’s entertainment? Isn’t calling it “The Land Before Time” a bit narcissistic? Time existed before humans came along. We named it, we didn’t invent it. Therefore this film isn’t set before time began at all.

Failing anything, it lifts my heart to know that when I eventually have kids, this is a movie we’ll be able to watch together. It’ll be nice to share with them something I love so much. Frankly, I think that’s half the reason I want kids. I want a captive, easily influenced posse that’ll listen to all my pop culture based suggestions. Maybe I shouldn’t spawn after all.

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!

After plundering my future happiness, I guess pirates were on theme.

Hey team, I made an adult decision today. This past week I’ve basically been following my cravings. With dwindling sanity, my capacity to refuse urges has been at an all-time low. Is there something delicious I could eat? In my mouth immediately. Could I go for a drink? Why not several? Do I have the chance to go home and get some sleep or stay out for one more show? Meh, who needs to rest and regenerate? YOLO and FOMO combined to create a disgusting cocktail of consumption.

Today though, with five hours between the end of Jen Kirkman’s podcast recording and my next show, I had decisions to make. I’ve had very little downtime in the past week. My body is way beyond the point of crying out for it and has instead resigned itself to blindly follow all of my brain’s baser impulses. I’ve been needing a haircut for ages. I’m back to my default Lego man locks. My beard is haggard and overgrown, to the point where it’s begun annexing my neck. The adult thing to do would be to get a haircut, then go home and relax before my late (inevitably) drunken night tonight.

What I wanted to do, however, was to go out and play Magic. A new set was released last week, so this week a local store is doing $10 draft till you drop sessions. It’s $10 to draft and the winner gets their next draft free. It often ends up with players splitting in round two and going off to play another draft for $5. I figured it might be tight, but I could get one draft in, race home and do a drive by before heading to my 7pm show. Not ideal to set me up for a long night, but more fun for sure.

I thought long and hard and decided to do the responsible adult thing. I was shaggy (it wasn’t me) inside and out, but with a quick chop I could be Mr Bombastic. I descended into the warren of pathways where my hairdresser worked and walked in the door. He was clearly very busy and told me to either come back in two hours or on Tuesday. I tried to do the responsible thing and it blew up in my face.

So I cut my losses (a.k.a my loss of a cut) and went to draft Magic instead. I DIDN’T LIE! I told you all that I made an adult decision. I may not have mentioned that after the adult decision didn’t work out, I reverted back to my hedonistic, devil may care, laissez-faire, debonair affairs. It was just up the road, so I strode up there and registered tout de suite. It was fun. My deck was hot garbage. After first picking a Deadeye Trackers, I ended up grabbing a bunch of grixis coloured pirates. I planned to get a ton of Pirate’s Cutlass and Siren’s Lookout and going HAM. Things were a little iffy and a Lurking Chupacabra came my way. There was nothing else in the pack, so I picked it mostly jokingly. I found another one in the next pack and wondered if I could grab a stack of explore creatures. I got one or two sub par ones to go along with my Tracker and Sirens. It was a mess. I had a Siren’s Ruse for pirate/explore ETB shenanigans. My two Chupacabras did good work if they could stick on the board, but I failed to draw adequate mana most of the time. It was fun, but I got totally stomped by a similar but better deck. I guess that’s what I get for making the adult decision.

Wait, did that sound like a massive consequence? I had fun. I’ve effectively learned nothing. HEDONISM ALL THE WAY.

Now let’s see how I feel at 11pm.

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.