Just for Laughs 2010 Steals Montreal's Thunder, And for That We Are Grateful
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Just for Laughs 2010 Steals Montreal’s Thunder, And for That We Are Grateful

Hey Montreal! We’re stealing your comedy festival! Illustration by Kyra Kendall/Torontoist.

If you’ve ever been to Quebec, you know that they take comedy pretty seriously—almost as seriously as they take unicycling and Iron Maiden. Since 1983, Montreal has played home to the Just Pour Rire (Just For Laughs) festival, widely acclaimed as the largest comedy festival of its kind in the world. But a few years back, Toronto pulled the “Hey, me too, right?” card, and in 2007, Just For Laughs set up a satellite fest in our fair, already plenty funny metropolis. And ever since Toronto has acquired its own luxury poutineries and taste for riot-based street carnage, it’s like we’re becoming Little Montreal. (You guys can keep the unicycles and “Take Me To Your Dealer” T-shirts.)
To be fair, the Toronto arm of Just For Laughs still pales in comparison to Montreal’s. They get bigger names and more shows, plus you’re more likely to spot clowns on stilts juggling bowling pins in la belle provence. But Toronto’s lineup isn’t too shabby, boasting scads of great stand-up, sketch, and improv comedy acts taking stages across town between July 6 and 11. In an effort to streamline all the goings-on, we’ve prepared a not-at-all-exhaustive list of some of most worthwhile acts performing at this year’s JFL Toronto. (For the full rundown and ticketing info, head to the festival’s more comprehensive website.)


Just For Laughs can really help a breakout performer like Mike Birbiglia, exposure-wise. Two years ago, he premiered his one-man show Sleepwalk With Me at JFL Montreal, and it went on to become an off-Broadway smash. Now Birbiglia is back, and even further off Broadway, with My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, his latest solo performance. Dealing, like almost all of comedy, with the horrifying sting of male/female relationships, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend opens Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street), and it should be pretty funny.


Aren’t you tired of mainstream comedy? Really, all these jokes about in-flight cuisine and the hassle of setting the clock on your VCR are getting pretty stale. It’s a good thing that in the past decade or so, “alt” comedy has sprung up as a rebuke against the “What’s the deal with…” school of stand-up hacks. The Just For Laughs Alt Comedy show brings some of the funniest alt comics currently working to the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge Street) for two shows on Thursday. Hosted by Andy Kindler, Alt Comedy showcases alt yuk-em-ups Todd Barry and Patton Oswalt, while also inviting a local comic into the fold (Pat Thornton for the 7 p.m. show and Mark Forward for the 9:30 p.m. set). This is all more than enough reason to go to this show and get your alt-laugh on. (Note: alt-laughs are like regular laughs except they’re, you know, in quotation marks.)
Demetri Martin is a pretty hot “alt” comic. But he’s also conventionally handsome (at least by comedy standards) and halfway famous, so that means he gets to host one of the coveted Gala shows at Massey Hall. At 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Martin hosts a string of comics, including Comedy Central regular Gabriel Iglesias and Harland “The Cop Who Drinks Piss in Dumb and Dumber” Williams.


Deep down, all stand-up comedians secretly want to be rockstars. With an ever-expanding list of roles in films like Funny People, I Love You, Man, and Get Him to the Greek, as well as a steady stint on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation (and throwing out plenty of jokes about hanging out with Kanye West), Aziz Ansari is almost there. Ansari’s “Dangerously Delicious Tour” stops in Toronto on Thursday for two shows at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge Street) at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Maybe, if we’re lucky, Ansari’s alter-ego Raaaaaaaandy (the broad, blowjob-loving stand-up he played in Funny People) will make an appearance.
You know you’re at a Canadian comedy show when the same bill features names like Lars Callieou and Trent McLellan. Bridging the gap between laid-back Maritime comedy, Quebecois humour, and whatever the hell west coast comics make jokes about (“How about those stately red cedar trees?”), the Homegrown Comics showcase has plucked a handful of Canada’s best up-and-coming comics and packed them onto the same stage. These comics may not have yet achieved rockstar status, but who knows? One of them could be the next Ron James or Luba Goy! Hosted by Halifax comedian Mark Little, the Homegrown Comics showcase takes the stage at Absolute Comedy (2335 Yonge Street), Friday at 8 p.m.
Also on Friday, Brampton-born Russell Peters is hosting two Gala shows at Massey Hall (at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.), usurping a spot that was originally reserved for Garry Shandling. Shandling—easily the most anticipated headliner announced at Just For Laughs Toronto—dropped out last week. Maybe he was worried that his repartee wasn’t strained enough to warrant a return to stand-up. Or maybe he was watching CP24 via satellite and got anxious that he might get beaten about the head with a police baton for no reason. Either way, now we have to settle with Russell Peters and his stupid jokes about how different cultures are, in fact, different. Actually, don’t settle. Go see something funnier, or stay home and watch The Larry Sanders Show, instead.


That Stephen Harper has had it too good for too long. Thankfully, the seasoned improvisers at Toronto’s Second City are willing to take him down a peg. Bound to have social conservatives squirming in their seats, Second City’s Stephen Harper: The Musical is set to poke fun at Harper’s crappy haircut and dead fish eyes. And there will probably be some G20 jokes too. Topical! Also: songs! Stephen Harper: The Musical takes the stage at Second City (51 Mercer Street), Saturday at 6 p.m.


You know what else is hilarious? Old people! Just kidding. Senior citizens are awesome. They’re full of wisdom and anecdotes about wartime, courtship, and “horseless carriages” (whatever those are). Featured in an award-winning documentary, the Young @ Heart chorus is a choir of men and women ranging in age from seventy to eighty-nine, singing a bunch of rock ‘n’ roll standards from Hendrix to Nirvana. Bridging the gap between young and old (the @ makes it hip!), Young @ Heart can make noisy jams like Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” go down as smooth and creamy as a Werther’s Original. Plus, these old-timers aren’t likely to tell you to turn down that damned rock ‘n’ roll music. So grab some red ribbon hard candy and a warm ginger ale and check out Young @ Heart, performing at Roy Thompson Hall at 7:30 p.m.