Best of JFL

Published on July 19th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Sarah Silverman & Friends, JFL Toronto

Sarah Silverman

Sarah Silverman

Friday night at Toronto’s Massey Hall, Sarah Silverman summed up every audience member’s thoughts in six words:

“Can you believe this lineup? Seriously.”

Just For Laughs Toronto indeed blew its alt-comedy load in twin 90-minute shows with Silverman as host, and featuring John Mulaney, Arj Barker, Todd Glass, David Cross, and Louis CK.

Silverman kicked things off with straight standup, opening with the requisite reference to the local municipal workers’ strike:

“They’re making us feel so at home here. They feed us, put us up in a nice hotel, put all this garbage in the street to make it feel like New York…”

In true Sarah style, she recounted a story about her pubescent niece, and mused bout the power of the word “pussy”. At the midway point we were treated to a few songs (3 in the early show, just 2 in the late show due to some red light disobedience in the first half).

Mulaney, in his first visit to Toronto, mused on crime investigations before the days of DNA, why drag queens’ perception of what a woman looks like is based on a housewife from a Far Side cartoon, and provided the night’s best throwaway line:

“…In my spare time, when I’m not trying to figure out who Tyler Perry is…”

Barker started off his 12 minutes with a meta bit about a hack airplane joke, leading to a Star Wars themed variation on it to prove “my shit’s fresh and original!” Barker’s Toronto reference du jour: contemplating the amount of pot he’d have to smoke in order to enjoy the Bata Shoe Museum.

Introduced by Silverman as her favorite comic, Glass opened both sets by toying with his relative lack of name recognition. For the early show, he had the band play him on at great length as he “modestly” acknowledged the long-ago petered-out ovation. Late show, he simply asked “where are all the people I drew here tonight?” His fantastic rant about how making rape jokes doesn’t mean a person endorses rape only made it into the first set. A shame, considering how many rape-related jokes were indeed scattered throughout all the comic’s sets. It couldn’t have been more relevant.

Cross displayed his Toronto research while recounting his search for poutine earlier in the day, which he figured he’d find by walking up Yonge “’til it peters out.”

During the early show, Cross mocked the festival’s hour-long rehearsal that afternoon, noting how useful it was to confirm his ability to shake hands with Sarah, and to prevent him from going to the side of the stage and taking a nap in the middle of his set. My favourite Cross bit of the night centred on how Coors Light treats their customers like “retards”, making cans with a bigger mouth and making the mountains on the can turn blue when it’s cold (“Thanks, I was using some of my other senses.”)

The man himself, Louis CK, closed out the show to the loudest ovation of the night. It’s been 6 months since he was last in Toronto, so of course he unloaded material I hadn’t heard before. When he’s back in Toronto in October, he’ll likely have a whole new hour (presale password for those tix is “cklive”). Hell, when I see him in Montreal next week, he’ll probably have a new hour. An hour from now he’ll have a new hour. (Dude writes a lot, is what I’m sayin’.)

The only negative moment of the evening? The genius in the balcony during the late show who yelled out “Jimmy Kimmel!” to Silverman. In what state of mind does this seem like a good idea? She handled the shout-out to her ex-boyfriend well, responding with “thank you for breaking my heart on stage….You must be an awesome friend.”

It should be said: Toronto galas are far more enjoyable than Montreal or even Winnipeg Comedy Festival galas, purely because they aren’t televised. At taped galas, the house lights are kept half-up to capture audience reactions. Slightly counterproductive, as people laugh harder in the dark. Massey Hall is a great venue for comedy, even though the venue staff seem to live on a whole other logic plane. But that’s a story for another day.

All photos by yours truly. Full set of 42 shots available here:

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

7 Responses to Sarah Silverman & Friends, JFL Toronto

  1. Julia Somerville says:

    Hi Sharilyn,

    I gather you enjoyed the shows. Glad to hear it!

    But I’m left with a question: At the end of your article, you hint at the “other logic plane” Massey Hall staff live on. As someone who works there, I’m curious about what this means.

    Thanks for your feedback,

  2. @Julia – Without getting too far into it, the venue had created brand new rules re: the laminate system that very morning, which – surprise! – prevented members of the JFL staff from getting the access they needed to escort us into the hall. Instead of working to come up with a solution (ie. circumvent the 6-hour-old rules for the sake of the festival’s needs), they fought the JFL staff tooth and nail. Lots of snarkiness and power trips. It was a bad scene, and a miracle we were “allowed” into the hall at the last second.

  3. (And lest anyone imagine me as a naiive little blogger girl, I’ve been doing this a long time, and this was definitely a first.)

    On the flipside, I should take the opportunity to heap praise on the folks at GAT who handled publicity. Nancy was a contact of mine back when I started in radio several years ago, so I was aware of her greatness, but it was my first time working with Erik and Ingrid, who were both incredible to work with as well. If not for Ingrid so effectively running interference on Friday night, the only photos to exist of that Gala would’ve been from cellphone cameras, so y’alls should be grateful!

  4. Kelly says:

    Hi Sharilyn. I’m another Massey staffer reading this article, and although I didn’t work that night, I’d still like to speak in our defence. In the 10 years that I’ve worked there, I’ve NEVER heard of the venue creating or changing pass rules. We get told at a security briefing which passes are valid, and we’re required to uphold those rules. If changes were made, they came from JFL and were perhaps not passed on to the hall. There are a LOT of people involved in the Massey JFL events, I can see how things could easily get dropped like that. We always seem to get blamed for these things because reviewers never want to bite the hand that feeds them, but have no problem biting us. Please try to imagine how many people attempt to get in to see shows like this with fake media passes…. you can see why we might need to be strict. We’d love a little appreciation for the hard work we put in and the abuse we take in order to make these shows happen.

  5. @ Kelly – I’m hesitant to get into specific details publicly, so please forgive my vagueness.

    You’re absolutely correct that communication breakdowns can be the result of people on either side, and that it was not fair for me to put all the blame for the pass changes on Massey. It happens.

    But when those breakdowns do happen, the solution should be handled with professionalism and common sense.

    “imagine how many people attempt to get in to see shows like this with fake media passes”

    Yes, I can imagine. But when accredited photographers are being escorted by the festival’s head of publicity, who herself has an all-access laminate and is the person responsible for vetting media requests in the first place, logic should dictate that this isn’t a case of psychotic fans trying to break into Sarah Silverman’s dressing room.

    Yet, the whole lot of us were treated as if we were exactly that.

    This problem could have been solved calmly and professionally in 1 minute if someone had stepped up and acknowledged that the process was to blame, not the people trying to follow it.

  6. Don’t want to do this, but too much has already been said about the Massey situation for my comfort. Comments are closed, but anyone is free to contact me at or track me down at JFL Montreal starting Wednesday.

  7. Pingback: Third Beat » Blog Archive » JFL Toronto: Alternative Show feat. Patton Oswalt

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