There was a lot to laugh about this year. The new Just For Laughs T.O. minifest stopped traffic around Yonge-Dundas Square, two local stand-ups (Debra DiGiovanni and Gerry Dee) became finalists on NBC's Last Comic Standing, and the old Yonge-Eglinton Yuk Yuk's space got reborn as a club called Absolute Comedy. It's a shame there's not more improv on this list, but by its very nature improv's hit-and-miss, right?
1 DEBRA DiGIOVANNI
(Diesel Playhouse, November 25)
DiGiovanni capped her breakout year (Canadian Comedy Award, reality show fame) with a laughtastic set of new and classic jokes. She's easily adjusted her performance style for larger venues, but what sets her apart from many stand-ups is her emotional honesty, whether it's recounting her attempts at flirting that (literally) go down the drain or her failed forays into gym life. One of the best.
2 THE SEAN SCHAU
(Drake Underground, March 11)
Seán Cullen's silly observations never go out of style, and he's found the perfect outlet for them in this monthly talk/variety show that gives him lots of strong personalities to spark off and a band to keep him on cue. Cullen's Southern-inflected chat with Maple Leaf Boyd Devereaux (who later joined the band with an electric guitar!) was comedy at its most surreal.
3 NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK VIDEO NIGHT
(Rivoli, July 31)
Jared Sales and Tal Zimmerman's idea of presenting viral videos on a big screen, featuring some selections and raunchy quippage by a panel of funny guests (on this night Pat Thornton, Ron Sparks and Alan Park) shouldn't have worked but did. It felt like hanging out in the basement with your funniest friends, all while making fun of Tracy Morgan, David Hasselhoff and Iranian Superman videos. We left totally wired – in a good way.
4 TOM PAPA
(Massey Hall, November 2, late show)
Papa closed out the Just For Laughs Relationship Tour show with observational bits about fatherhood, nearing middle age and a timely joke about the American dollar. Sounds lame, right? Hardly. Papa's descriptive powers and delivery are breathtaking – we're talking to-the-nanosecond timing. This is old-school comedy at its sharpest.
5 THE DANCE PARTY OF NEWFOUNDLAND
(Diesel Playhouse, November 16)
Takeout vegan, T4 slips, a parody of Guy Ritchie movies – this wildly inventive troupe from the Rock can make funny from pretty much anything. During their T.O. Sketch Comedy Festival set, they taught everyone how to punch up the sketch genre with theatricality, diction and attention to every hilarious detail.
6 DANA ALEXANDER
(Yuk Yuk's Downtown, March 23, early show)
Alexander, the first black female comic I've seen headline at Yuk Yuk's Downtown, has the potential to be one of the best stand-ups, period. She's that good. Great confidence. Delicious dry delivery. And you can tell she's got demons. Her “snatch” joke and her bit about women not wearing makeup are brilliant.
7 THE WELCOME TO THE SHOW SHOW
(Helen Gardiner Playhouse, July 6 to 15)
Who knew that Picnic Face, a young troupe from Halifax, would deliver the edgiest sketch show in jaded old Hogtown during the Fringe? You can see they've been influenced by Lonely Island's SNL video clips, but their energy and savagely funny material – like the sketch about two rapists who meet each other – is all their own.
8 AN INCONVENIENT MUSICAL
(Tranzac Club, July 5 to 14)
The funniest musical at the Fringe – or anywhere else, for that matter – was this send-up of the Al Gore documentary written and performed by the city's cleverest satirists. From the Jesus Camp joke through the Enword (sic) Energy reference and the liberal-Hollywood-type baiting, this show could have powered the city with the audience's laughter.
9 FACEBOOK OF REVELATIONS
(Second City, from July 19)
Three new troupe members and veteran director Bruce Pirrie helped resurrect the comedy institution and introduce something seldom seen on the SC stage: emotional depth. The result was a comedy revue with the highest sketch-to-laughter ratio in recent memory, bookended by two timely musical numbers that beautifully capture the zeitgeist.
10 CRAIG FERGUSON
(Massey Hall, July 28, late show)
The surprise standout at the first Toronto Just For Laughs fest wasn't Russell Peters or Jeremy Hotz, who both delivered great sets, and it certainly wasn't Howie Mandel, whose edge has dulled along with Deal Or No Deal's appeal. Late Late Show's Ferguson earned his salary with his energy and humility, winning over the crowd with his jaw-dropping Tom Cruise-meets-Matt Lauer routine 3
Most consistently funny character comic
Kathleen Phillips, will you please put on a solo show one day?
The Somethingorothers; Andrew Johnston's Bitch Salad nights at Buddies (and his equally bitchy blog)
We want you back
The Hour is so good partly because it's poached talent from T.O.'s comedy scene, including Paul Bates, Carolyn Taylor and Hilary Doyle.
TORONTO IMPROV FEST Despite repeated attempts to get information from this annual fest, some of whose acts have appeared on my top-10 list in the past, no one was home. No publicist + no info = no thank you.
THE JON DORE SHOW The show itself is as irreverent and funny as anything south of the border, so why did T.O.'s so-called mainstream press slam it?