JUST FOR LAUGHS TORONTO July 26-28. www.hahaha.com. Rating: NNNNN
Toronto audiences did the first Toronto Just For Laughs proud, even if the gala shows weren't as diverse or funny as they could have been. Unlike the 25-year-old Montreal festival, a must-attend event for the industry, the Toronto fest targeted the guy on the street.
The people came in droves, and they laughed. All three of the Massey Hall galas I attended were very full - I'd say at least 85 to 90 per cent of capacity. And each show got a standing O. That's encouraging, especially with no superstar headlining acts. Thousands also packed Yonge-Dundas Square for Friday's mainstage Street Series kick-off.
Here's my wrap-up of the weekend.
It was a brilliant move to get Brampton phenom Russell Peters to head up the outdoor portion of the fest Friday, preceded by some of the city's best comics. Sightlines sucked and laughter was swept up into the ether, but at least the sound system was good. Peters killed during his Saturday gala set with terrific material - it's angrier than before - about experiencing racism head-on in school and tumultuous breakups. His deaf-people jokes take his act in a new direction.
The Late Late Show's Craig Ferguson proved the best host, outdoing even The Daily Show's Lewis Black (who coasted on his grizzled voice and bursts of anger). Ferguson had amazing energy and humility, and his intros seemed genuine. Best bit: his re-enactment of Tom Cruise's meltdown with Matt Lauer. Runner up: his extended riff on watching gay porn. ("This isn't on Will & Grace.")
At Friday's gala, former local boy Jeremy Hotz triumphed during the first part of his set. His stage persona -- the whiner who can barely suppress his rage -- feels as fresh as ever. Best bit: his pilgrim belt and buckle joke. Runner up: his improvised joke about a dog from Acton.
Talk about losing your edge. Opening-night host Howie Mandel 's twitchy, neurotic shtick has been reduced to a lame "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus" rant. He looks good for his age, though.
The street fest included stilt-walkers and gymnasts on Yonge Street. And that's funny because...?
The Ethnic Heroes Of Comedy show, while well-attended, never took off. Sugar Sammy and the Doo Wops provided a bit of edge, and Jo Koy and Frank Spadone added some much-needed physical humour. But the show repeated the same jokes. And what's up with all the homophobic jokes? Let's hope future fests include some sketch, character work or improv. And how come no women?
I repeat: Where were the women? There was a token woman in each gala, and poor Elvira Kurt took an early misstep in her set that turned the audience against her, making me think the crowd was mildly homophobic.
It was totally disrespectful to program up-and-coming comic Jo Koy as the final act of the second gala, especially when much more experienced talents like Richard Lewis (as neurotic as ever) and Hotz were around.