"Welcome to JFL42, the world's most confusing comedy festival. Hey, you know how you usually buy tickets to see shows? Yeah, we're not gonna do that." - Todd Barry
JFL42, for those not in the know, is Toronto's brand spankin' new comedy festival, serving as an offshoot of the regular Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.
Going off the path of more traditional festivals, JFL42 aimed to make a big impact out of the gate with a new way of presenting its 42 performers and attractions to the public. First, you buy a ticket to see Louis CK, and then you are given the option of getting either 4 or 8 "show credits". These credits are then used to reserve spots at whatever other 41 shows you planned to see over that week. After "checking in" at the venue when you show up, you get your credit back.
You read that right, cheapskates. Play your cards right, and you can gain access to pretty much EVERY show at the festival, so long as you keep checking in and hoarding those credits like the good little comedy consumer you are. I ended up seeing 18 shows in 8 days, filling my evenings with laughter and burning through those credits like the greedy little comedy troll I was.
Oh, and what a time it was to be greedy little comedy troll. Those who booked the festival knew exactly what kind of event they wanted, and the performers they booked delivered the goods with gusto. In total, I saw saw Patton Oswalt twice, Reggie Watts, Mark Little, Amy Schumer, Pete Holmes twice, Todd Barry, James Adomian, Todd Glass, Big Jay Oakerson, K Trevor Wilson, George Stroumboulopoulos, the Nerdist Podcast, a live You Made It Weird, Andy Kindler's Alternative Show twice, and Louis CK.
So yeah, that was fun.
As a comedian, and more importantly a comedy nerd, it was the best comedy festival-going experience I've ever had. I had every intention of reviewing shows night by night for Showbiz Monkeys, but let's be honest, I really do not see any point in doing that. Reviewing a comedy show that already happened is like trying to tell someone a funny story that they had to have been there for. That's not fun for me to write, nor for you to read. Just take my word for it: All those things I just said I went to up there were great. You should have been there.
I have nothing bad at all to say about the shows, the performers, or anything else associated with the fine men and women who made this year's JFL42 possible.
All right, well I guess if I had to, there are some tiny bones I'd like to pick with JFL42. Nothing big, because I do truly want it to return again next year, and hope other cities take note of what they did right and unscrupulously rip them off in the future. Since going on any further about the cool crap I saw will only come off as gloating, and since the festival seemed to be all about "fan involvement", here are three things JFL42 needs to take into account if they want next year's festival to make this past one seem like a steaming pile of hot, wet trash.
Lose it. Lose it entirely. Todd Glass opted to do his own introductions rather than have to endure it. Mark Little summed it up perfectly on stage, mimicking the smarmy laid back nature of the voice that instructed us: "Show your appreciation. With your hands. In the form of clapping. I dunno, it's just the thing we've devoted our whole lives to. Whatever."
The voice sounded like a hipster Ben Stein on quaaludes, and it started every show off with a supreme deficit. I get that this was a "cool" festival and all, but your announcer should not act like he's too cool for the show he's introducing. Comedy Bar played it smart by having their sound man warp his voice, so at least a moderate amount of joy could be squeezed out of it.
Also, mix up the music playlist that plays before every show. I had to hear "Slide" by the Goo Goo Dolls over a dozen times. There's no excuse for that. What favor do you owe the Goo Goo Dolls that required we all had to endure that, JFL42? What does Johnny Rzeznik know about you that we don't?
Do you know what an "FAQ" is, JFL42? It's a "Frequently Asked Question". If the question, "I don't have a smartphone, can I still get in to shows and get my credits back?" has been asked FREQUENTLY enough, I'd say you should put away your sassy-pants and come up with a real solution to this problem.
I don't have a smartphone. Yeah, I know, it's 2012 and I should get with the times, right? You don't need to tell me, since the douchily-worded FAQs on JFL42's own website said that exact same thing to me. Their website was clearly designed by someone who fancied themselves a bit of a comedian in their own right, with an odd sense of detached irony towards the whole business of "letting me know what the hell is going on".
I was seeing shows with friends who had smartphones, so thankfully the whole check-in thing was easily circumvented. I also figured out, without the JFL42 website's help, how to print off my barcode. I know I got a lot of judgmental stares on the first night walking into shows with a white sheet of paper with a barcode printed on it, but by the end of the festival, people in line were asking me where I got it. Many of them had issues during the week with bad WiFi connections at venues, or, if you can fathom this, the batteries in their phones dying.
You know, batteries? Those things tickets don't need?
I felt like some wise old relic from a bygone era, teaching the children (ie. people 2-10 years older than me) all about the wizardry of poor people. Hard copy paper tickets are not an old world tradition that we need to demolish, JFL42. I admire you shooting for the moon with newfangled technology, and sure, it worked out pretty well for the most part. If, however, you had turned me away at the door because my theoretical iPhone died and I missed the Nerdist Podcast because of it, I'd have punched your festival in its theoretical neck.
Next year, make printing your barcode an easier to option if people want it. Also, have the option to have the credit return system work via e-mail that we can redeem at home, not exclusively through checking in. This way us non-smartphone-having troglodytes can still get thier credits back without having to borrow one from a friend at the show. Keep in mind, a large chunk of your target audience is comedy nerds. "Friends" are not always part of the equation in certain scenarios for us folk.
Every time I reserved a spot and checked in to seeing a show at JFL42, that action was posted to my Facebook wall. Every freakin' time. After seeing 18 shows, and after reserving and checking in to all of them, that's 36 wall posts. 36 things I had to go back and delete off my wall, because I was certain that all my friends who were not able to come to the festival had either blocked or hidden me in spite.
I traveled to Toronto for JFL42. I'm not sure if the festival banked on anyone doing that, but it happened. 95% of my friends on Facebook don't live in Toronto. They could give two sh*ts about what I'm up to. If I feel like saying I'm having a good time at your festival, I can do it myself, thank you very much. I found out later on that I could "turn off all app activity" from JFL42, but that's incidental to the point that a grand majority of the marketing of this festival seemed to rest on the shoulders of ticket buyers.
Sure, social media is a dandy way to get the word out about all these cool things, but why do people need to know that I have arrived at the show that I already told them I was going to see? Now I'm just rubbing it in. Not only that, but you're MAKING me rub it in. It's too late for any of them to come to the show, so what the hell is the point? I can see the point in saying, "Hey guys! I'm going to see James Adomian! Super excited about it!" And even, "I just saw James Adomian! He was hilarious!" But forcing me to say, "Ha ha, losers! I'm five minutes away from seeing James Adomian, and you're not! Blow it out your ass!" is not the most effective use of crowd sourced social media.
But yeah, that's it. Beyond that, everything else was perfect.
Truly. Solid shows, beautiful venues, great local talent represented, and good vibes all around. I'll be there next year, for sure. I guess I just felt the need to let the coolest thing that happened to me all year know that I'm not above poking holes in it for the sake of making myself feel important.
I'm so alone.
J.D. Renaud is a writer, comedian, and producer from Oakville, Ontario, now living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He runs and curates The Placeholder Show (www.theplaceholdershow.com), an up-and-coming comedy empire that features live sketch, improv, video programming, stand-up, and game shows. He is in this way too deep to go back now.
J.D. Renaud is a writer, comedian, producer, and visual artist originally from Oakville, Ontario. You can follow his weird thoughts on Twitter at @jdrenaud.