As the week-long comedy festival winds down tonight, we reflect on the good, the bad, and the needlessly complex.
Opening for Louis C.K. last night, Todd Barry wasn’t entirely kidding when he called the Toronto edition of the Just For Laughs festival, which ends tonight, “the most complicated comedy festival in the world.” In lieu of the traditional practice of selling individual tickets, JFL sold passes. A basic one, at $99, bought four “credits.” At every show, though, pass holders could “check in” to the Just For Laughs website using their smartphone and receive back the credit they had used for that show to put towards another show. This effectively rendered the entire credit system meaningless.
Fortunately, there was a wealth of great acts to enjoy, which made the confusing system a little more palatable. A $150 deluxe pass got you a prime seat for the festival’s headlining event, a standup show by Louis C.K. The recent two-time Emmy winner put on a performance that lived up to his reputation. With an abundance of material about some of the cons—but, refreshingly mostly the pros—of aging, his material was infused with a hard-earned wisdom that comes from his endless fascination with people. He showed great command over the crowd when he led them in a fun new game that you might want to play at home. It’s called “Of Course…But Maybe…” For example: “Of course we should be careful around people with nut allergies. But maybe if you can’t touch a peanut, you should die.”
Here are some other highlights from the week.
Best Canadian Comedian: Mark Little was all over the place during the festival, with multiple performances on many nights. With the demise of Picnicface seemingly imminent, he’s in the process of becoming the breakout star of the troupe.
Best Local Joke: Patton Oswalt’s take on our newly anointed Canadian musical power couple: “That guy from Nickelback married Avril Lavigne. You know they’re gonna have a child that will be on your money someday.”
Edgiest Performance: Amy Schumer certainly threw down the gauntlet. Her material was suitable for someone who recently released a new Comedy Central special titled Mostly Sex Stuff. But Neal Brennan takes the prize. Tackling race and gender politics almost exclusively, he skirted the line of acceptability by always approaching his pet topics from a fresh perspective. This enabled him to casually say the n-word and explain why men consistently find women’s stories to be boring, all without losing the crowd.
Best Opening: It’d be hard to beat Brendon Walsh: “If you ever get the chance to come out to the Game Of Thrones theme while giving a whole room of people the finger, do it.” Guess what he had just done? It should be noted that he used both middle fingers.
Most Unlikely Cursing: Yes, comedians swear all the time, but there is something weird about David Suzuki dropping the f-bomb.
Best Crowd Work: Todd Barry, to a man immersed in his phone: “Oh, you’re tweeting a photo of me? Well, that can’t wait. ‘Here’s the show I’m not paying any attention to.'”
Best Physical Comedy: The manic flailing of Ari Shaffir as he told a crowd about the time he desperately tried to avoid passing out at a UFC event while under the influence of a pot edible at the front of a concessions line.
Best Warm-Up Act: As a perfect complement to Neal Brennan’s racial humour, Uganda-born local comic Arthur Simeon got things off to an appropriate start. He even delivered one of the best one-liners of the festival, about a girl he encountered: “She said ‘Africans are creepy.’ I said, ‘You can’t put us all in the same boat… again.'”
Most Innovative: While some acts like Skin Jackin’ and YouTube sensation Randall’s Honey Badger stretched the limits of the strict definition of comedy, nobody did it better than Reggie Watts. A true original, he combined music and humour in ways that defy description. His act simply must be experienced.
Best Set: With an undeniably infectious giddiness that was only partially owing to jet lag, Pete Holmes delivered a performance at the Revival on Tuesday that was nearly non-stop laughs. As he riffed on how his mom only knows Celine Dion as Salon Dijon and imagined a heaven where God has a tone-deaf singing voice, it didn’t even matter that Holmes sometimes referred to his notes. Soon, he was obliging audience members’ requests for favourite bits.
Top 5 Lines:
“You think that sharks would be embarrassed if we told them that everyone can see their fin sticking out of the water?”
“Sometimes I watch porn like someone bet me that I couldn’t. And I want to win.”
“I can’t even raise a pot plant. And I like pot. What chance do I stand with a child?”
“Mexicans are the hardest-working people in the world. You know why everything is so old in Europe? Because there are no Mexicans over there. They would have a new Colosseum up in four and a half days.”
“There are two types of berries I know. Regular berries and poison berries. We named one of the regular ones boysenberries. That’s one letter away from a terrible camping accident.”