Top 10 comedy shows of 2016

A lot of terrible things went down this year, so is it any wonder it was a good year for.


A lot of terrible things went down this year, so is it any wonder it was a good year for comedy? Here are some terrific shows that made us laugh even when we wanted to cry.


1. Dana Gould

Empire Comedy Live/Comedy Bar, February 18

Gould’s been doing comedy in one form or another – stand-up, podcast, The Simpsons – for decades. That experience showed in this effortless set in which he riffed on pop culture, his recent divorce and a grab bag of bizarre situations, never missing a punchline even when it seemed he would never get there.


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Lindsay Mullan (left), Ann Pornel and Becky Johnson cracked us up in Come What Mayhem.

2. Come What Mayhem!

Second City, from August 30

Second City‘s strongest revue in ages got a big boost from first-time director/SC alum Carly Heffernan and some new cast members. Ann Pornel‘s “fat” sketch and booty call scene are destined for classic status, while Roger Bainbridge didn’t pull his punches as the snide host of a current events quiz show called You Oughta Know. And Pornel and Becky Johnson‘s scene set in a kindergarten classroom is the sharpest, and most cutting, response to the Ghomeshi verdict I’ve seen.


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3. Jo-anna Downey wake

Spirits, December 7

It’s fitting that much of the same comedy community that Downey nurtured when she was alive came out for this event at the room she helped establish, sharing stories and getting laughs in a way that she couldn’t in her last years with ALS. After host Cal Post put down the mic, Boyd Banks yanked off his clothes and streaked, providing a ridiculous gag that would have earned Downey’s distinctive laugh from the back of the room.


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Mark Forward is one of the best stand-ups around.

4. Mark Forward

JFL42, Revival, September 29

On a miserable, rainy night near the end of JFL42, Forward commanded the Revival stage like some demented prophet, berating us for our social media habits, hauling out ridiculous props and even faking a fall (complete with ketchup blood) to shock. Somewhere, Andy Kaufman was smiling.

5. Jim Jefferies

JFL42, Sony Centre, September 24

One of the comedy world’s most divisive stand-ups killed at his JFL42 headlining spot, joking about race, gun control in the U.S. and his sexual shortcomings before launching some inspired Canadian material (thanks to touring with his opening act, Canuck Tommy Campbell) and then taking down one drunk heckler without missing a beat.

6. Ten years of Laugh Sabbath

Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival/Theatre Centre, March 12

The centrepiece of SketchFest was this variety show featuring alumni from the influential alternative comedy night. Who could top Tim Gilbert‘s dance sequence? Or a very pregnant Kathleen Phillips-Locke‘s description of a placenta? Or Tim Polley‘s jingoism? Obviously only a video sequence featuring Nathan FielderKatie Crown and James Hartnett and an impromptu urological inspection.


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7. Hasan Minhaj: homecoming king

JFL42, Royal Cinema, September 24

Daily Show correspondent Minhaj delivered one of the sharpest and funniest takes on growing up as a hyphenated American and wanting to be white. He also proved that revenge is best served up in a sold-out comedy show, complete with Facebook posts.

8. Josh Gondelman

Empire Comedy Live/Comedy Bar, November 18

The week after Trump was elected, no one was in the mood for snark or cynicism. Who knew that Gondelman’s sweet, optimistic and hopeful act – while also very smart – was just what we needed?

9. Tony Ho

Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival/Theatre Centre, March 5

I’d been hot and cold on this troupe until this breakthrough show, in which the trio (Roger BainbridgeAdam Niebergall and Miguel Rivas) dug deep into dark material, not always going for the obvious laugh but taking us on a ride full of uncomfortable, relatable truths.


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After raiding the wardrobe closet, Stacey McGunnigle and Jason DeRosse check their great Fringe reviews.

10. Tonight’s Cancelled

Fringe Festival, July 1 to 10

Second City alums Jason DeRosse and Stacey McGunnigle explored getting older and dealing with the fickle entertainment industry in this standout Fringe show. Whether they were chronicling their career crashes or dealing with despair in a sketch set in a Subway restaurant, they always dug deep. May this be the first of many collaborations.



Comic coups

DIVERSE DRAWS

JFL42’s lineup was the most diverse yet, with lots of women and non-white comics. 

DEANNE DESTROYS

DeAnne Smith has been on this list several times, and this year she released her first album. I didn’t see her headline this year, but saw her host or open half a dozen times. She’s a machine.

ELECTORAL LAUGHS

I didn’t see it, but I’ve been told by reliable sources that James Adomian and Anthony Atamanuik‘s Trump vs. Bernie debates were hilarious. This was way before Trump won, of course.

Comic crap

AWFUL ASIANSPLOITATION

The all-Asian sketch troupe Asiansploitation celebrated its 10th anniversary with a Fringe show that lacked energy, internal logic or humour. 

PALTRY PLAYERS

Billed by the Toronto Sketch Comedy Fest as “part keg party, part rock concert and part sketch comedy,” the March 6 show by PLAYERS (formerly Queen’s Players Toronto) was full of bad wigs and silly premises. At least the performers seemed to be enjoying themselves.

glenns@nowtoronto.com | @glennsumi

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