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JFL42 retold in nine jokes

We thought back to every set we saw at the Toronto comedy festival and chose one joke to represent each.

- Oct 4, 2016

After a summer jammed with music fests bleeds into the pomp of TIFF, JFL42 marches festival season in Toronto out towards its cold October death. At least, if you're lucky, it ends with a laugh.

Over ten days at the end of the September, the comedy festival, now in its fifth year, invites the biggest names in yuks (and 42 others that had nothing better to do) from home and abroad into the city's most hallowed theatres and barrooms to crack wise.

There's a lot to see. Some workhorses book themselves silly, playing seven or eight shows in half as many days, like they might make an extra payment on their Kia or something. Fans try to navigate the confusing ticketing system (involving credits and check-ins and endless punchlines about both) to get the most of their passes.

Throughout the festival, we kept our ears (and our smartphone notepads) open for our favourite jokes. Who wants to read a hundred reviews when sometimes one knee-slapper tells you everything you need to know?

Roseanne Barr

You know how they change you from a man to a woman? They tie you down and *slashing motion* cut your pay in half.

roseanne jfl42

You may have heard Roseanne recently endorsed Trump (not exactly). Maybe you remember something about her 2012 try at the Oval Office. Or you recall the ad campaign for her short-lived Lifetime series, Roseanne's Nuts. The question "How will this go?" wasn't just relevant, settling into the seats ahead of her headlining slot, it was part of the attraction.

Roseanne, however, is a total pro. Whenever the setup veered towards icky and uncomfortable territory (as the schtick of an older generation's funnyperson is wont to do for some reason), the audience's toes curling, Roseanne flexed her tough, subversive wit — the same that made her a no-bullshit feminist icon — and pulled up on the punchline, landing to a roar every time. - Chris Hampton

Todd Barry

I've been doing so many amazing jokes that I barely have time for any of my world famous crowd work. I guess I'll just destroy this guy a bit more and then seamlessly finish my set.

todd barry jfl42

If you're not familiar with Todd Barry, it's pretty much all right there.

There's self-deprecation disguised as over-inflation: He'd joke many times throughout the set about how he was playing the Garrison instead of the much bigger Sony Centre, all while playing up his "celeb status" at every opportunity.

There's ironic meta-commentary: When Barry forgets halfway through a buying-sausages-at-the-pharmacy bit, for instance, that he's substituted Shopper's Drug Mart for the American CVS, that becomes the focus. His jokes are signposts, but they're mostly there to point towards his real target: the odd act of making strangers laugh on a Sunday night at a rock bar.

There's his trademark deadpan: That one is more in the delivery.

There's that world-famous crowd work: This might be what Todd Barry is best-known for since his documentary The Crowd Work Tour became his calling card. So he indulged, re-returning to a guy who head-scratchingly yelled "Boston!" when Barry asked if anyone had ever been to New York. "Man, customs must be tough here," he joked. The Boston guy would have a target on his chest for the rest of the set.

There's the controlled chaos: A tight hour went by in a heartbeat, never falling apart despite his many digressions.

There's the spontaneity: This was Todd Barry's fifth of seven (!) sets at JFL42. Conceivably you could have gone to all seven and got a slightly different show each time. A guy in front of me wore a Pearl Jam 2015 shirt, which, yeah, checks out. - Richard Trapunski

Kumail Nanjiani

Tonight, I will be talking to the self-loathing Trump supporter and his mother. The rest of you can leave.

kumail nanjiani jfl42

Kumail Nanjiani, an essential piece of Silicon Valley's all-star ensemble, isn't known for crowd-work the same way that Todd Barry is, but sometimes you find your perfect mark and can't help but return to them. In this case it was a 14-year-old Pakistani-Canadian Kumail superfan named Amir. Amir was a wealth of material for the comedian, from his misunderstood Prophets of Rage-referencing "Make America Rage Again" hat, to the fact that he knew all the Kumail Nanjiani deep cuts (and wasn't shy about requesting them).

Even when he was running through his set list, Nanjiani found himself tailoring his set to Amir. Before launching into a gruesome first-time-masturbating story, the comedian realized it woudn't necessarily be kid-friendly, but then changed his mind about censoring himself (and then realized how inappropriate that could sound): "You're 14, you've done this. Explore your body."

He might have been light on material (I've never seen a comedian start with a Q&A), but his prepared bits were all great too. Jokes about the disgustingness of men's bathrooms, the ridiculousness of archiving tweets next to great literature, and his mother's lukewarm Amazon review of his last special, all hit harder than they should have, mainly because of his delivery. His bit about how all goats sound like an old man yelling had me gasping for breath.

By the end he'd brought out his wife/collaborator Emily Gordon, and I could forgive the lack of preparation. So could Amir. - Richard Trapunski


"If the Harmontown audience doesn't have Tums, then no one has Tums."

harmontown jfl42

A live podcast taping is a high-risk, high-reward-type situation, like free jazz or lighting fireworks in your hand. This is especially true when your program is essentially three blitzed-up pals gabbing over the bar rail about whatever pops up on the muted TV screen playing in the metaphorical dingy corner, then, when that gets boring, chatting up the poor schlub that takes the stool beside them. It requires bullshitters — the main players on this night being Mayor of Harmontown, Dan Harmon, Jeff B. Davis, Spencer Crittenden, Kumail Nanjiani, and Emily V. Gordon — and it takes bullshit. And while we got a good yarn about the first time Nanjiani ejaculated (it hit the ceiling!), the night was kinda short on bullshit.

There was the guy with the hilariously large, definitely-not-travel-sized bottle of Tums who came out of the crowd at The Man Himself's entreaty for antacids. There was the young couple forced by money issues to move apart. Not much happening there. And then, after checking his watch a time or two, grasping for whatever fertile doody he might, Harmon asked about "the murdered Inuit artist, Annie Pootoogootoo- what is it?" because, he levelled, "I'm white and her name sounds funny." That was the whole joke. Bottom of the bullshit. And it kinda made me feel queasy. - Chris Hampton

Jake and Amir

Isn't it great that we all listen to podcasts?

Jake and Amir jfl42

There's always been something strange and intimate about a live podcast taping. Most people listen to the podcasts through headphones, so attending a live taping turns that very personal experience into something communal where it feels like a big room full of good friends where everyone can recognize the same references and laugh at the same inside jokes. That is, unless you're one of the 10 people there that is almost totally unfamiliar with the podcast or its hosts. People who, say, wanted to catch another show after Kumail Nanjiani and so just stayed at Queen Elizabeth Theatre to see whatever's next.

Jake and Amir have a long history on both College Humor and in this advice podcast If I Were You. I was basically blind to those, so when rowdy fans called-and-response "heh," suggested the name "Crandus," or threw very specific gifts onto the stage, I mostly looked around for cues. What I saw was a lot of frat-centric Jewish humour (Adam Sandler references became a recurring gag), lots of sex jokes (Jake apologized for all the fisting talk, but he didn't mean it), and the easy interplay of a seasoned comedy duo. They answered advice that came in by email, but that was really just the set dressing. And for some reason they ended with a full-audience singalong of the Canadian National Anthem. - Richard Trapunski

Tig Notaro

"Ladies and gentlemen, the Indigo Girls!"

Tig Notaro

The theme is: "bamboozled!" Master deadpanner Tig Notaro scolds audience members for laughing before she's reached the punchline, but you can't blame them; her set is a pied piper routine of seduction, manipulation, and deception. If comedy often operates on the suspension of disbelief, Tig gets her jollies exposing how utterly foolish you must be to believe the premise she's constructed, before roping you back in again.

For the final 20 minutes of the show, her elaborate shell game turned to plain fucking with the audience. She has a surprise waiting backstage, she says. "Ladies and gentleman, the Indigo Girls!" Only, the folk rock duo never materialize. "If you want to see the Indigo Girls, buy a ticket to their next show," she wags. Of course they're not back there. "But really, ladies and gentleman, the Indigo Girls!" She runs more or less the same exchange 10, 11, a dozen times over and the crowd falls for it every time. - Chris Hampton

Jim Gaffigan

I eat unhealthy, but poutine? That's irresponsible.

Jim Gaffigan jfl42

Jim Gaffigan was one of the more classic-style comedians to headline JFL42. His bits about food (okay, one specific food) have made him a household name in certain circles, and his family-friendly observational style — take something small and obsess over it until it's lost all meaning — has even landed him an old-school sitcom on TV Land. It also got him one of the more age-diverse crowds of the festival. When opener Nate Bergatze joked about a Starbucks-order-gone-wrong —  a glass of milk with ice — an 8-year-old kid turned around and declared proudly to no one in particular "I put ice in my milk!"

Jim Gaffigan delivered professional, well-delivered observations about binge-watching television, the tragedy of leaves in autumn, and paleness. His pure craftsmanship kept it all relevant, but at times it felt a little bit rote, a bit backwards-looking in its lazy "men are like this and women are like this" punchlines. A chunk about saunas took a turn when a couple of Finnish audience members yelled out an alternate pronunciation, which eventually became the joke — how to pronounce "sauna." It also became the high point of the set, getting funnier with every "sow-na."

When Gaffigan returned to the stage for an encore someone yelled "Hot Pocket" ("the blessing and the curse") and he obliged with an updated set of Hot Pocket jokes. For Gaffigan's sake, you gotta hope they keep coming up with new varieties of Hot Pockets. He's going to be doing this bit until he retires. - Richard Trapunski

Craig Robinson

Yes, all lives matter. Black Lives Matter more.

Craig Robinson jfl42

If you know Craig Robinson from The OfficeThis Is The EndHot Time Time Machine 1 or 2, chances are you've seen him singing at a piano. He pretty much finds a way to shoehorn it into any of his roles, so it wasn't that surprising his set involved a lot of singing. "A lot," though, is an understatement. His set at Queen Elizabeth Theatre was essentially a singalong with a few jokes thrown in.

This isn't a complaint. Craig Robinson's set was one of the most purely entertaining shows of JFL42. Though the crowd started out reserved ("it's 'stomp your feet' motherfuckers!" he yelled as he led the audience in "If You're Happy And You Know It"), he got everyone singing along to songs like "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," "Eye of the Tiger," "Don't Stop Believing," and, to get the white people joining in, "Sweet Dreams."

A few of these were used to deliver one-liners, like the Black Lives Matter line above, strewn into his version of "Imagine," but most came as non-sequiturs. "My girlfriend answers the phone during sex," he said. "Imma stop calling her."

Robinson also played his signature song "Take Your Panties Off" and then inserted the titular phrase into just about every other song. Yes, including The Office theme song. - Richard Trapunski

The Alternative Show with Andy Kindler

Sorry, I was double booked with Nuit Blanche.

Mark Forward

Andy Kindler's Alternative Show has by now become as much of an institution as his State of the Union at Montreal's Just For Laughs. He opens the door to comedians to drop in and do 8 minutes, and you never quite know who will show up. On the final night the line stretched out the door at Second City, but it still felt spontaneous and loose. Very loose. That's probably why comedians enjoy it so much.

Craig Robinson dropped by unannounced for some banter with Kindler that hilariously never found its chemistry. Moshe Kasher lost the thread in a Radiohead bit that found itself buried under about five layers of crowd work and digressions that he had to dig out from. Mark Little kept his composure for some best-of-night bits about "beer before liquor" and spiders (you had to be there), while Tom Henry managed to combat the drunken vibe with some of the driest deadpan at the festival.

Mark Forward, with the final set of the festival, battled with a loud fan in the front row until it just felt like bullying, though maybe I would just have preferred him to go after the obnoxiously laughing guy behind me. That feels mean in retrospect but, hey, it was late. - Richard Trapunski

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