Trevor Noah. Courtesy of JFL 42.

From September 24 to October 3, Just for Laughs, one of the world’s best comedy festivals came to Toronto under the banner of JFL42. Similar to last year’s festival, JFL42 featured 42 comedians and eight festival headliners. I spent the pas t week attending the shows of multiple top-tier comedians and taking advantage of the 4:00 am last call afforded to venues.

Gilbert Gottfried

The week began with Gilbert Gottfried’s midnight performance at the Royal Cinema. Gottfried is now famous for his appearances at the Comedy Central Roasts, and many may recognize his voice as the parrot in Disney’s Aladdin. Unfortunately, I found his performance to be one of the weakest at the festival. With a few humorous exceptions, Gottfried mainly went off on multiple offensive tangents -— spending the first 20 minutes of the show arguing that “midgets aren’t people” — which were more unpleasant than funny.

Al Madrigal

Al Madrigal, on the other hand, put on one of the best performances I saw at the festival. Writer and correspondent for The Daily Show, Madrigal expertly weaved together stories about his Mexican heritage, his experience coming up as a Latino comedian, his anger issues, and a story about an elaborate revenge enacted on his daughter’s dance teacher.   His act was tied together by recurring themes, yet felt completely natural despite the obvious preparation.

Robert Kelly

After Madigral’s performance, I hustled over to the Comedy Bar at Bloor and Ossington to see Robert Kelly’s live taping of his podcast, “You Know What Dude” (YKWD).  Kelly discussed parenthood and marriage with his guests Al Madrigal, Brian Posehn, and local heavy hitters Rob Mailloux and Arthur Simeon.

Trevor Noah 

On Saturday, I saw a performance by Trevor Noah.  While others have disagreed with me, I found these two performances to be weaker than expected. As Jon Stewart’s replacement on The Daily Show, the expectations for Noah were huge. While Noah is doubtlessly a talented performer, I couldn’t help but wish that his material had been more original. Fans of Jerry Seinfeld will probably remember his joke about missing the days when phones had wires because it was more satisfying to slam them down rather than pushing a button. This joke, almost word for word, was one of Noah’s opening lines. He began his set with observational material focusing on the absurdity of modern technology, but the commentary almost felt almost dated.

Following his observational humor, Noah moved to politics. While this was certainly his forté, I still found it lacked the spark one would expect from the new host of The Daily Show. More often than not, Noah would simply express an intelligent political point that, while valid, would elicit applause but not laughter.

Bill Burr

Unlike Noah, Burr’s career isn’t based on TV or podcasts. Rather, Burr is purely a stand-up comedian on top of his game. While Noah seemed to be pandering to his audience and telling them what they wanted to hear, Burr did the exact opposite, provoking confusion and mild frustration. He seemed to oscillate between political stances, alienating the crowd by attacking Caitlyn Jenner, then switching over to climate change and winning the crowd back, before finally turning on them again by endorsing political dictatorship. The main difference between Noah’s popular opinions on politics and pop-culture and Burr’s deliberate ignorance was the way the audience reacted: Noah’s performance received polite applause, while Burr’s performance won the crowd over.

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