Ali Wong could be the top draw at this month’s JFL42 com­edy fes­ti­val.

Ali Wong, Jay Pharoah & more

North Toronto Post - - Arts - By Mark Bres­lin

JFL42, which now hits our city ev­ery late Septem­ber, has evolved into a great­est hits ver­sion of the full-blown Just for Laughs in Mon­treal. There may only be 42 acts to see, but in­creas­ingly they’ve be­come the 42 acts au­di­ences most want to see.

There are gala con­certs at the Sony Cen­tre, but if I had to pick just one to see, I’d go for Ali Wong. Re­cently the sub­ject of a 15-page in-depth story in the New Yorker, Wong hits a sweet spot of race and gen­der com­edy while be­ing both qui­etly sub­ver­sive yet ac­ces­si­ble to all.

She taped her Net­flix com­edy spe­cial Baby Co­bra while vis­i­bly preg­nant, and she also writes for Fresh Off the Boat, an edgier ver­sion of the CBC’s Kim’s Con­ve­nience.

An­other fave con­cert pick is Bill Burr. He is con­sid­ered by many to be the spir­i­tual heir to Ge­orge Car­lin, and it’s ex­cit­ing to watch his high wire com­edy. He’ll take an out­ra­geous premise, dig him­self into a hole with the au­di­ence and then slowly dig him­self out.

Burr is a free-speech type, but he doesn’t waste the no­tion on de­fend­ing ob­scen­i­ties. He’s more in­ter­ested in con­tro­ver­sial ideas, earn­ing him en­e­mies on both sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. If there’s one comic at JFL42 who will have an un­usual take on Trump’s Amer­ica, it’s Burr.

Less con­tro­ver­sial but no less tal­ented will be the con­certs by John Mu­laney and Mike Bir­biglia. Not quite house­hold names, Mu­laney was head writer on SNL, and Bir­biglia has shone in his one-man off-Broad­way shows. Both owe a debt to Se­in­feld and Brian Re­gan: pre­cise and witty ob­ser­va­tions de­liv­ered by a clean-cut co­me­dian-nextdoor.

If you’re look­ing for some­thing more in­ti­mate, there are many venues across the city fea­tur­ing acts with less draw­ing power but still with out­sized tal­ent. Check out Greg Proops, a vet­eran of

Whose Line Is It Any­way? who ex­udes in­tel­li­gence with ev­ery one of his well-cho­sen lines.

If you’re a night owl, Andy Kindler’s Al­ter­na­tive Show starts at mid­night at Sec­ond City. Kindler is a meta-comic who lam­poons com­edy it­self and has ap­peared on Late Night with

David Let­ter­man over 40 times. Kindler hand-picks his comics, and his taste is su­perb.

The rise of fe­male comics is re­flected in this year’s lineup. Janeane Garo­falo will al­ways be one of my favourites with her weary, dys­pep­tic take on life, but check out new­com­ers, such as Beth Stelling, Jen Kirk­man and Rachel Fe­in­stein, or lo­cals, such as Fringe queen Sara Hen­nessey or San­dra Battaglini, voted top fe­male comic by Now mag­a­zine.

And there are at least two bou­tique shows you couldn’t keep me away from.

W. Ka­mau Bell is the host of CNN’s United Shades of Amer­ica, a look at racial is­sues from Bell’s clever and un­con­ven­tional point of view.

You’ll also see me at Jay Pharoah, who toiled at SNL for seven sea­sons as their res­i­dent im­pres­sion­ist. He does a great Obama, Den­zel, Will Smith, JayZ, Kevin Hart and many more.

Ali Wong is one of the big­gest names at this year’s com­edy fes­ti­val

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