Just For Laughs 42: A Festival Preview

The JFL42 comedy festival returns to Toronto with three major headliners and an impressive lineup of talent from near and far.

Headliner Aziz Ansari. Photo courtesy of JFL42.

  • Multiple venues
  • September 19–28
  • $69–$299

The planners behind Just For Laughs 42 sure do have a good sense of humour. For starters, the name is a little bit of a joke. Anyone thinking that the “42” refers to the number of years the comedy festival has been in operation would be sorely mistaken—it actually denotes the number of events taking place during the ten days of the festival’s run.

This year’s JFL42 will feature three headline events: appearances by Sarah Silverman and Aziz Ansari, and a live reading of an episode of Family Guy—complete with cast members and a 40-piece orchestra. But there’s plenty more worth checking out. Our overview of this year’s festival is below.

The Passes

The system for purchasing passes this year has undergone a bit of an overhaul, apparently in response to complaints about last year’s excessively complicated rules. This year, there are ways of catching all three headliners for as little as $199, and the price for taking in one headliner starts at $69. Reaffirming that this is still a festival where the points don’t matter, the four “credits” that come with each pass will again be returned at every show. Though it’s tempting to look at the whole enterprise as a bit of a chaotic free-for-all, at least people will be able to see a ton of comedy if they’re so inclined.

The Out-of-Town Talent

The headliners are a few of the bigger names in comedy at the moment. Sarah Silverman (September 20, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.) is frequently crass, but somehow always endearingly so. She returned to stand-up after wrapping her Comedy Central show, The Sarah Silverman Program, in 2010. Aziz Ansari (September 27, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.) started out with sketch troupe Human Giant. These days, when not filming the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, he can often be found onstage discussing the pain of finding love at 30. Family Guy Live! (September 28, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.) brings all of the vulgar mayhem of the long-running television show to the stage, complete with the voice talents of creator Seth MacFarlane, as well as those of Mila Kunis and Seth Green.

There are plenty of other great out-of-town acts among the 42 to eat up all of those additional credits. Having ridden the massive success of his WTF podcast to a show on IFC and a book deal, Marc Maron (September 24, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.) is as seasoned and painfully honest a comedian as you’ll find at the festival.

Also worth seeing is Anthony Jeselnik (September 19, 7 p.m. and September 20, 9:30 p.m.), who, after performing at Comedy Central roasts, parlayed his acerbic style into his own show—The Jeselnik Offensive—on the network. Another good option is Boston comedian Bill Burr (September 21, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.), a regular on Breaking Bad, who will be arriving just in time to potentially spoil the show’s final episode. There are also plenty of Saturday Night Live alums (aside from Silverman) among the comics, including former cast members Colin Quinn (September 19, 9 p.m. and September 20, 7 p.m.) and Janeane Garofalo (September 19-22, 7 p.m.) and writers John Mulaney (September 25-26, 7 p.m.) and Hannibal Buress (September 26, 9:30 p.m. and September 27, 7 p.m.).

The Locals

Mark Little and Kyle Dooley, in a still from Picnicface.

Any good festival lives and dies on the back of its supporting players, and the breadth of talent in Toronto’s comedy scene is what makes JFL42 such a great deal. Pass holders will get to see comics like Amanda Brooke Perrin when she opens for Ivan Decker (September 19, 7 p.m.; September 22, 9 p.m.; September 24, 11 p.m.; September 27, 7 p.m.; and September 28, 9 p.m.). Meanwhile, local comic Rhiannon Archer will be opening for Maria Bamford (September 25, 7 p.m.; September 26, 7 p.m.; September 27, 11:59 p.m.; and September 28, 7 p.m.)—and Alex Pavone will be opening for fellow Torontonian Nick Beaton (September 27-28, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.).

Of course, there are also plenty of great Toronto-based acts with top billing. We recently spoke with Chris Locke (September 19, 7 p.m.; September 22, 7 p.m.; September 26, 9 p.m.; and September 27, 9 p.m.). Other Torontonian members of the 42 include Graham Chittenden (September 19, 21, 23, and 24, 9 p.m.), Daryn Jones (September 19, 9 p.m.; September 20, 9 p.m.; September 24, 7 p.m.; and September 26, 7 p.m.), and Mark Little and Kyle Dooley (September 19-24, 7 p.m.), whose madcap sketch duo is as close as you’ll get to seeing a Picnicface show for the foreseeable future.

There are also special events that will be hosted and curated by Toronto comics. Toronto’s favourite hostess Jo-Anna Downey, whose battle with ALS has left her unable to perform, has curated a series featuring local talent like Darren Frost and Rob Pue (September 22, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.; September 25, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.). Match Game Live (September 25, 10:30 p.m.) will feature panelists from the TV show such as Seán Cullen, Colin Mochrie, and Debra DiGiovanni.

Also, JFL42’s programming includes a few things that aren’t comedy, per se. Your pass will get you into things like an axe-throwing demonstration at the Backyard Axe Throwing League. A pass will also get you into members-only tippling association The Temperance Society, and will even bring you discounts on prices at the gourmet food trucks outside the Sony Centre. (We recommend the Gnocchi Poutine from Frankie Fettucine’s, pad Thai fries from Fidel Gastro’s, and the brisket sandwich from Caplansky’s.)

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