Every fall, the Just For Laughs team hosts a festival in Toronto called JFL42! The event took place from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1, 2016 at multiple venues across Toronto including The Rivoli, Second City, Comedy Bar, The Royal, Revival on College, and The Garrison, but this just covers the more popular venues. So if you’re a fan of live comedy shows, haven’t been to the festival, or want to check out a great Toronto event with a lot of amazing options and scheduling flexibility, this is definitely the festival to check out!
I have to admit that I was initially confused by the pass/credit system. A lot of comedians during the festival like to pick on it as well, because it’s not your traditional ticket-style programming. You can buy set amounts of credits that you use to save spots at shows, but are quickly returned to you once you check-in to your scheduled events. This allows you to keep seeing shows throughout the festival, excluding headliners, as they require traditional single purchase tickets. Sounds confusing, but it’s actually a fantastic system. With four credits this year, I (officially) went to eleven shows, and managed to get rush seats for five additional comedians! Four credits are only $79, so it’s really a great system!
The quietly hilarious Nate Bargatze.
Another great aspect of JFL42 is that it introduces you to a lot of fresh performers, unconventional comedy routines, and amazing local talent. One example is Ontario’s own Mark Forward, who can be seen playing Coach on the show Letterkenny. He hosted several sketch comedy shows throughout the week with other local artists, and even included surprises such as legendary comedian Andy Kindler! I would recommend attending at least one of these sample-platter-style events, because then pass-holders can decide if they want to attend a full set later in the festival.
Montreal Comedian Hunter Collins at The Rivoli.
This year, it really hit home that comedy does so much more than simply distract from the everyday by bringing people together to openly reflect upon serious issues. Ian Harvie set the stage so perfectly for Margaret Cho at The Queen Elizabeth Theatre by very openly discussing being transgender in terms of the human condition and the difficult road to self-discovery and acceptance that everyone experiences. Margaret Cho continued the theme by sharing her difficult path to self-actualization and her strong sexual identity by way of a series of incredibly rocky and tumultuous relationships.
Jackie Kashian, Maria Bamford, Ron Funches, and Cameron Esposito had equally open, sometimes vulnerable, rock-solid, and hilarious sets at JFL42. They gave the audience 100% of themselves, and left the crowd excitedly talking to one another about their own experiences. Pictured below: Ron Funches reflects on life as a single parent and the surprising benefits to being a successful comedian.
That isn’t to say that all the JFL42 comedians are going to take the crowd for an emotional rollercoaster, far from it. Big Jay Oakerson is an example of a comedian who does crowd-work and interactions like no other! His entire set felt improvised and left me excited to see him the next time he visits Toronto. Likewise, Craig Robinson played music throughout his entire performance and took the audiences on the greatest sing-along ride I’ve ever seen.
Amanda Brooke Perrin, Ian Edwards, Mark Forward, Sarah Tiana, Langston Kerman, and Matt Bellasai record the pilot episode of VERSUS at Second City.
What I’m trying to say is, JFL42 is an amazing festival! It caters to the widest audience by offering up so many styles of comedians and an incredibly flexible schedule. Whether you’re already a comedy fan, need a break from the everyday grind of life, or just looking for some fun in Toronto, JFL42 is a festival I would highly recommend. I’m already looking forward to the 2017 lineup, and I hope to see you there!