Sorry to be running a bit behind today, last night was a late one and I had an early interview this morning with the amazing Jackie Kashian, it was a delight to sit down and chat with her. Watch for the episode of the podcast in the coming weeks. Last night was a night for the history books, usually it’s about this point in the festival I start to lean into the experience hard with two or three shows a night and midnight shows. Last night was the beginning of the full tilt comedy experience.
The weather broke late Tuesday and early into Wednesday morning with an epic battle of thunder and lightning lighting the sky. The temperatures had cooled back down to reasonable fall weather and there was even the flavour of a fall bite to the air. We grabbed some dinner in a nearby food court and made our way to the Winter Garden for Bridget Everett… at 7:00 in the evening… this was definitely not a 7:00 show.
Opening for Bridget was fellow New York comedian Murray Hill the “hardest-working middle-aged man in show business” who has been called by the New York Times the “current reigning patriarch of the downtown performance community”. Murray’s set was a terrific blast from the past with tones of 60s burlesque troupes, Catskill Borscht Belt zingers and a lively energy that electrified the room. His self-deprecatory humour and his engaging crowd work drew the audience in and was immediately charming.
Murray was the perfect hype man for Bridget immediately engaging the audience as well as using song and dance to keep the tempo moving. In order to raise the temperature of the room and make the audience feel “more like a 9:30 audience” Murray hosted a dance competition where audience members had a dance off to win the coveted prize of hotel slippers. Murray was able to tease and cajole the competitors into giving it their all and it was a blast to watch especially watching the “definition of heteronormativity” appear to do something he thought was the height of comedy and despite it not quite landing take the good-natured ribbing in stride. Murray was able to get the room on side very fast and kept them there.
For those who have not seen Bridget Everett perform, it is a force of nature. She took the stage in a lavish gown and launched immediately into a song about fucking some shit up. Bridget is a New York based cabaret performer who many may recognize from Inside Amy Schumer or Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite. Bridget’s performances are a no holds bard domination of the stage, having seen Matteo Lane’s cabaret performance earlier in the week where he invoked a nostalgic feel of speak easies and 60s Village basement clubs Bridget could not have offered a more different experience. Having attended Arizona State University to study music and Opera the description of “alt-cabaret provocateur” as she described her act in the Village Voice could not be any more an apt description of the night.
She dominated the stage never letting up for an instant, this was a Cher Vegas show if Cher had decided “fuck ‘em all” and started pounding Chardonnay. Interspersed between high energy performances Bridget would take a few moments to launch into intensely personal stories that eventually always circled back to empowerment and ownership in the most natural of ways. The nature of a provocateur is to present something to flip the table of conformity, to provoke thought. In a world where Burlesque has become almost dogmatic in its presentation and so common place it no longer even bats eyelashes to have someone attack the room in such a sex and body positive way knocks the audience back and you are either on board or scared away. I was 100% on board, Bridget worked the crowd like the professional that she is engaging and teasing and also taunting them. There are points where she climbed on chairs, made people motorboat her and got right up into their faces in the most unexpected ways all interspersed with humour and song. Ultimately the set felt like a moment of triumph and I left the theatre energized.
Zipping across town to the Comedy Bar I grabbed a seat to watch Chanty Marostica’s last solo set of the festival. Our interview with Chanty went live early this morning, check it out for a great conversation about their experience in comedy. Settling into my spot at the Comedy Bar the room filled fairly quickly and was full of enthusiastic festival goers. Settling in and sipping my beer I was looking forward to Chanty’s set even before it started.
Opening for Chanty was Ryan Dillon, a local Toronto comedian and friend of Chanty’s. Ryan is a former finalist of the SiriusXM Top Comic at JFL42 himself and has been a part of the Homegrown showcase at Just For Laughs as well as appearing on Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud network. His style was a warm and welcoming one with slow burn jokes that would build over time to really great payoffs. Ryan’s set straddled the line where some jokes would start very dark and then end in very bright and positive places taking you on a journey from start to finish. Tight and funny asides would punctuate the jokes and keep the energy flowing. The set was an amazing pallet cleanser after the earlier show and when he left the stage I was thoroughly entertained and eager for Chanty’s set and feeling that I was not alone in my body hair woes.
Chanty, a local Toronto comedian and familiar to those in the local comedy world, took the stage in a moment of pure joy. The first out Trans performer to be a member of JFL42’s The 42 they were experiencing a moment of triumph and it showed. Chanty’s energy was infectious and powerful engaging with the audience immediately. The room was clearly one that was friendly with them consisting of not just excited festival goers but also friends and family who came to support them. Some people may lean on it like a crutch but Chanty never once let that home room advantage distract from giving the set their all.
Chanty’s material was a combination of observational and story-based humour that highlighted the experience of non-CIS Male performers in a way that was entertaining and illuminating. Able to connect with the LGBTQ+ and women audience members the set was frank and honest about experiences but was positive and welcoming of allies at the same time. They talked about the comedy industry, touring on the road, and small-town Canada but it never felt “inside baseball” or exclusionary. The jokes resonated regardless of orientation or gender identification and were solid fun bits that had me laughing out loud.
Chanty eventually discussed their coming out as trans to their parents, it was a touching and poignant moment that they were still able to mine for laughs and keep the audience in stitches while delivering it. Their love of their family and their joy at making people laugh shone through the entire experience and it was an absolute pleasure to watch. If you haven’t had an opportunity to see them perform there’s still a chance to see them tonight at the SiriusXM Top Comic competition hosted by Maria Bamford. Do yourself a favour and get tickets, you will not be disappointed.
Last stop of the night was at the historic Second City theatre, this was a comedy showcase and the long running Alternative Show hosted by Andy Kindler has become a fixture for me trying to attend all the shows when able. Starting at 11:59 they run late and will see a variety of acts gather and do a 10 or so minute set. Given the nature of this set I’m going to try and keep things short, I’m going to focus first on Andy’s introduction and then do a brief couple of sentences about each act.
I always enjoy Andy’s performances as he has a real joyous stage presence. A Queens New York born, L.A. based comic he brings years of experience to the stage and even when working dark or getting into some heavy material there’s a clown like personae that really hides the barb as he sinks it into your brain and leaves you changed coming out of the joke. For obvious reasons the topic of the alt-right led the show and in a few simple jokes Andy was able to decimate them and thoroughly pants them in front of the audience. He drifted between material about OCD, MS13 and asshole men who take their genitals out. His simple and quick asides were as funny and engaging as his prepared material and you seldom knew where the crafted joke ended and the aside started.
Andy has made many friends and relationships over his years in the industry (as made evident at his annual State of Comedy address during the Montreal Just For Laughs’ industry event). One of those friends was the first act Ryan Hamilton an Idaho born observational comic who started his set recounting, with great glee, a gig he did with Andy where Andy fell off the stage. It was a joyous moment of candour and camaraderie between two comedians.
I’ve watched Ryan’s special Happy Face on Netflix, he’s a tall glass of water who has been working in the industry for over a decade. Based out of New York he remains accessible and positive in his delivery giving the audience accessible self-deprecating humour that was light and bouncy and despite it’s self effacing nature it was bouncy and fun.
Following Ryan was Jeff Ross, comedy central roast fixture and Roastmaster General of the New York Friars Club it’s likely everyone has seen Jeff at some point issue a takedown of someone famous. Fresh from his own solo show Ross had fans in the audience so the room was warm to him.
Ross, to his credit, avoided the roast like material and tried to pay homage to the room (a shrine in the Canadian improv world) by taking suggestions from the audience on material to cover. He was able to tell some great and deeply personal stories about his High school and his first big laugh that he got for doing a joke. It was a side of him I was unfamiliar with and it was utterly charming.
Next up was Courtney Gilmour whom I had seen as my first show of the festival. Courtney, a Homegrown Comics Competition winner and a performer on Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud network is a hot Toronto comedian on the rise and a ray of sunshine on every stage she’s on.
Corutney’s jokey observational humour is very self aware but remains entirely accessible engaging the room and keeping the audience laughing. Universal stories about things like summer camps and dating are mixed with specific details about their personal experiences. For sure an enjoyable show every time she appears on stage and I look forward to seeing her at the taping of the Dork Forest podcast.
Tom Henry, another local Toronto comedian a Yuk Yuks performer who ahs travelled to Montreal’s Just For Laughs, San Francisco’s Sketchfest, the Bridgetown festival in Portland and nominee for a Canadian Comedy Award for Best Stand-Up Newcomer was a dramatic and welcome change of pace.
His energy was very dry, there was a distance between him and the audience that was really engaging. It drew the audience in had intricately crafted one liners that would put Steven Wright to shame. It was a slow and easy set that left the audience holding their sides with laughter especially when he poked back at Ross and his history as a Roastmaster.
Lastly was my big show from the night before Matt Braunger, Matt is a Chicago born L.A. based comedian who has appeared in numerous television commercials, shows like Agent Carter and Up All Night as well as an alumnus of MADtv.
Matt’s set was a fun and energetic one that touched on all of his best material from the previous night condensing it down and hitting all the best moments. His ability to contort and own a character in a bit is truly impressive and the craftsmanship as a comedian to take a piece of a nearly one hour set and pull out those best gems and make them work in the much tighter moment is always impressive.
If you are at JFL42 and haven’t had an opportunity to see it, go to The Alternative Show, you will often be in the audience with a host of comedians and comedy fans plus see some of the biggest acts of the festival playing in a room steeped in history.