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#JFL42: Todd Barry Works the Crowd in a Festival Preview

07/22/2014 03:26 EDT | Updated 09/21/2014 05:59 EDT
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It's not often that I wish the months of summer would go by faster -- after surviving this past winter, that's the last thing on my mind. But my favourite Toronto festival, #JFL42 (Just For Laughs comedy fest for the TO crowd) happens to fall in September. Total bummer.

Well, the good folks at JFL must have felt my sad brainwaves, because they offered up a taste of the festival -- an amuse-bouche, if you will -- just this past week. And it was enough of a taste to both tide me over and whet my appetite for the main event.

The event consisted of "hilarious preview shows from our upcoming festival as well as special bonus shows from a couple of our favourite JFL42 alumni."

I was ever-so-lucky to see one of the best in the biz, festival alumni Todd Barry, on Saturday night at 11 p.m. at Comedy Bar, his last of six shows for the mini-tour.

You probably recognize Barry for his trademark slow, almost disinterested patter, and his multiple appearances on Louis C.K.'s show, Louie, as some kind of caricature of himself.

Barry recently released a new comedy special called "Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour," available for $5 on Louis C.K.'s website -- the first time C.K. has promoted another comedian's work on his site.

True to the name of his special, work the crowd he did. Barry sprinkled audience observations throughout the show, creating characters out of patrons and checking in on them over the course of the hour and 15 minute set (the woman who laughed at everything, the couple who sat with a friend separating them).

He also made sure to play with the Canuck factor, referencing six whole Canadian cities, including Winnipeg, to demonstrate his Canadiaknowledge. He also made fun of Pizza Pizza, which is fair seeing as he's from New York where way better pizza slices are five times less expensive than they are here. And he kindly translated a joke about Walgreens to a joke about Shopper's Drug Mart. Cute, cute, cute.

Crowd work is one of the most risky forms of comedy. You could have a really boring audience, your improv'd jokes could run dry -- but Barry is such a master of off-the-cuff that his sets feel exciting. Who knows what will happen next? There's nothing worse than a comedian telling the same jokes with the same intonation and pauses over and over. Because of his ability to riff, Barry's work stays fresh.

His shtick, though, is why I keep going back to him. His constant references about being hilarious, how he's the best comedian ever, makes $900k a year, and only tells hilarious jokes is my favourite part about him. He's telling you he's funny and it's making you laugh. That's a true professional.

A lot of people must feel the same, as all six of his shows were sold out. This festival preview proves that #JFL42, now in its third year, is gaining traction. The city of Toronto is hungry for more good comedy.

With this little treat under my belt, I won't have to wish my summer away, but September's not looking so bad after all...

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