Third time proved the charm for the biggest Just For Laughs Toronto festival yet.
Spreading out over the city and claiming space at pretty much every comedy venue (you just had to look for the fat green guy chalked on the sidewalks), the fest brought in some big talents and garnered decent crowds. (Most of the shows I attended were about 80 per cent capacity.)
Of course, Toronto's JFL isn't the industry event that Montreal's is. But that made the shows looser - which is always good for comedy. Another good thing: the gala shows here, unlike in Montreal, weren't being taped for broadcast, so crowds didn't have to suffer under lights so their reactions could be recorded for posterity.
Alas, a bigger and more spread-out fest also means it's impossible to see everything. But here's my list of the highs and lows of JFL 2009.
ARJ BARKER and MARK WATSON (Yuk Yuk's, July 18, 10:30 pm)
The Headliners series continues to be my favourite way to see comics do their thing. Two international comedians get 30 minutes each in the intimacy of Yuk Yuk's with a knowledgeable crowd. Barker riffed on Alzheimer's, World Of Warcraft history and cheesy radio ads applied to relationships - all delivered in his self-conscious bombastic style. Dude knows how to use a mic. Londoner Watson's hyperactive act was a case study in getting an audience on your side, especially his improvised bit with an audience member's eager high five.
JOHN LEGUIZAMO (Berkeley Street Theatre, July 15, 8 pm)
Character actor Leguizamo presented a work-in-progress about the ups and downs of his career, recounting some hilarious anecdotes and painful truths along the way. And who knew he had such great dance moves?
LOUIS C.K. (Massey Hall, July 17, 7 pm)
In a star-studded show hosted by a disappointing Sarah Silverman (um, you might want to practise that guitar before playing it in front of 1,000 people?), the funniest pessimist around, Louis C.K., ended the show with rants about kids, dead puppies and airplane exiting etiquette. The guy's one of the great comic observers of all time.
NOT SO FUNNY
BO BURNHAM (Second City, July 16, 7 pm)
The teenage Internet sensation had a crowd stoked to see him, but he stumbled through an unfunny set of songs and patter, forgetting lyrics, blowing punchlines. Even when he didn't slip up, his puerile jokes about genitals and being mistakenly identified as gay were derivative and obvious. Guess they work better on YouTube.[rssbreak]
NICK DI PAOLO (host) and PATRICE O'NEAL (Panasonic, July 17, 11 pm)
Listen, dudes, I love the idea of The Nasty Show, and the other guys on the bill - including Jason Rouse, Jimmy Carr and Big Jay Oakerson - know how to make crude comedic. But just because it's gay- and women-hating doesn't make it funny, ya know? For that matter, JFL, why not hire a woman or some proud raunchy queer to help balance out the lineup?