We at the Comedy Album Book Club love sharing our comedy nerdiness with people, so in that spirit, we’re going to take you along for the ride of my ten days in comedy paradise. Ten days a year the city of Toronto turns into a comedy fan’s playground. JFL42, an offshoot of Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival, that has evolved into its very own special entity. Growing over the years it has adopted its own traditions and returning shows like Andy Kindler’s midnight showcases at Second City. In addition stable of headliners and “The 42” have continued to diversify with “ComedyCon”. ComedyCon consists of daytime events that include one on one interviews where performers chat about their careers and process as well as podcast tapings where you can join the audience.
This is the 7th year of the festival and the fourth year I’ve attended, at first the festival is a bit of a tricky beast to wrangle. Unlike many festivals, you don’t simply buy a ticket. Instead, you buy a package that has a variety of options including “credits” to use for reserving shows. In prior years the ComedyCon events have been walled off available just to “VIP” package holders but over the last two years these events have opened to everyone. The bundles range from individual shows (for as little as $25 dollars for The 42 and ComedyCon events and $32.50 for headliners), 2 credit passes for $55 dollars all the way up to the VIP pass with preferred seating, a “special gift”, 4 headliner tickets and 12 credits and the assistance of a “concierge” to “help you plan your festival” pricing in at $299.
The VIP pass can be a bit confusing my wife, Heather, loves comedy too but she’s not nearly as much of a fan as I am. She certainly doesn’t want to use her precious vacation time to stay up to the wee hours of the morning to watch comedy. Last year I purchased a VIP pass and she picked up a 5 credit pass. We both love John Mulaney so we decided to book him for our headliner, unfortunately since I had the VIP pass and no direct control over selecting my seat I couldn’t sit with her at first. The headliner seating is prioritized by the type of pass you order so a VIP holder gets preferential seating to a “Classic” pass holder. It took some wrangling with me concierge but we were eventually able to downgrade my seat so I was able to sit with Heather. It was a lot of work, but it eventually did resolve itself. To their credit the JFL42 team were very friendly and helpful over the entire process.
This year, due to some family commitments I wasn’t sure how much I was going to be able to commit to the festival (or even go at all). In the end I picked up “The Classic Pass” 5 credit and one headliner option. When I had a firmer grasp on my availability I was able to pick up a second headliner ticket and a few additional credits carte blanche so now have a pretty full schedule. It probably cost a little more than it would if I had gone for “The Super Pass” (1 headliner and 12 credits) but one of the joys of the way they run the festival is its customizability.
Performances are broken up into a host of different venues around the city with the aforementioned Sony Centre for the Performing Arts for headliners as well as Yuk Yuks, The Comedy Bar, The Royal Theatre, The Garrison and a variety of smaller clubs and bars. Until this year the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on the Exhibition grounds was also one of the main venues. I have to applaud the Just For Laughs organization and JFL42 for standing with IATSE 58 in their ongoing struggle with the Exhibition Place Board of Governors. This year they are adding the Winter Garden Theatre to replace the Queen Elizabeth. This is a double win for me because I’m not only able to support the union by not crossing the picket line it’s also closer to my home which means a lot less of a pain in the ass trip on the TTC to get there!
So far I’m sure this doesn’t sound too different than any other festival but where it gets interesting is when we loop back to those “credits” I mentioned earlier. With your pass you can get a traditional ticket for a headliner but with the credits you can “reserve” a spot to see any of The 42’s shows about the city. So, for example, I want to go to Courtney Gilmour’s headlining act. I purchase my package through Ticketmaster and register on the website. I can then download and install the app on my phone or go to the website and just choose to reserve my spot with my credit. Bang, I’m now on the list to get into the show. Once I attend the show I pull out my phone, they scan the QR code and I get my credit returned to me. Within minutes, I’m then able to take that credit and reserve a spot at a later show like Andy Kindler’s midnight showcase. In prior years it’s required you to go on the JFL42 website but with the addition of the app the process has been incredibly streamlined.
This means, theoretically, you could spend $55 and see comedy every night! Now, as someone who is enthusiastic about seeing certain acts, I get a bit paranoid. The more credits you have the easier it is to book off your “must see” shows. It can get a little bit sticky when you want to book a night with a high demand act and at times it can feel a bit like juggling or gambling with your laughs but the reward versus the risk largely pays off in the favour of the comedy fan. It doesn’t help that there are often additions up until the last minute (for example last week Marina Franklin, Joe Mande, Paul F. Tompkins and Marc Evan Jackson were all added to the schedule). As they say in The Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in your favour when it comes to spending those credits.
So how did I use my credits?
I’ve booked a pretty tight schedule and am hoping to cash in some of those early credits and use them for later shows. On lock items are in black while wish list items are in red.
So, join me on my Comedy extravaganza, we’ll share the ins and outs of the experience and hopefully, if next year you decide to come to the show, some of this could be useful to you too!