Highlights from the 2019 Toronto JFL42 comedy festival

While we’ve been capturing some comedians’ heckler horror stories over the last week or so, our team also had a chance to check out a few shows too. Here’s some highlights from what we saw!
Emmy Blotnick (pictured) impressed our writer with self deprecating jokes and a nuanced take on Amazon shopping. (Photo by Mindy Tucker,

Toronto is a city bustling with live comedy all year round and that action reaches a fever pitch every September during JFL42. Named for the 42 shows hand-picked for audiences to enjoy, the Just for Laughs festival presents local, national and international comedians, special events and a jam-packed conference known as Comedycon. 

This year, while our CBC Comedy team was talking to comedians such as Vir Das and Ronny Chieng about their worst on-stage experiences in our "Heckler Horror Stories" videos, we also had a chance to check out a few shows happening around town. Here are some highlights:

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer

Friday, Sept. 20
Meridian Hall

Known as the "queens of TV Comedy," Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer captivated 3,000 Toronto fans on Friday, Sept. 20 at the Meridian Hall with a story of friendship beating the odds: from meeting each other at improv classes where they couldn't get on the stage, to creating and starring in a mostly unknown web series for five years which would go on to be a half-hour series on Comedy Central lasting another five years. 

Bringing the same raw chemistry as the "extreme" Broad City versions of themselves, Jacobson and Glazer showed that comedy can be open and receptive to a changing culture by artfully addressing their own slip-ups with cultural appropriation and political correctness. They cried happy tears as they said farewell to the coming-of-age journey and characters that spoke to a millennial generation, but focused on their excitement to produce new comedy shows, explore self-care, and live out the friendship fans were blessed to see on screen. 

Aruna Dutt, Associate Producer, Digital - CBC

Nick Kroll, Emmy Blotnick

Friday, Sept. 20
Meridian Hall

Also on Friday, Sept. 20 at Meridian Hall Emmy Blotnick, the opening act for Nick Kroll, took the JFL stage by force with her unique style of self deprecating jokes and a nuanced take on Amazon shopping which made me think, "There's no way Kroll is going to match that?" But then he literally made me cry... from laughter.

Opting out of the usual recycled relationship and life jokes, Kroll presented an unfiltered look at his devastating breakup and addiction to sweets during his invigorating JFL stand-up. Masterfully weaving in each joke with the next to create a comical and compelling story, he spared no-one and no topic was taboo. 

Kroll wasn't afraid to take a jab at our prime minister Justin Trudeau with a mid-joke slip: "I can't believe he wore black face." The Canadian content didn't end there, as Kroll noted he knew he had crossed the border into Canada when the radio began playing a documentary about a bear, as well as further barbs about the legalization of pot. 

Kroll then moved on to the topic of Trump, and then ultimately himself, which made up the core of his Middle Aged Boy act... causing the audience to respond with involuntary bursts of laughter and tears, keeping the chemistry going by staying topical and revealing very personal bits of his life. He was simply brilliant, witty and exhilarating.

Vanja Mutabdzija Jasic, Associate Producer, Digital - CBC

Jay Pharoah

Tuesday, Sept. 24
Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Jay Pharoah, most famously known for his spot-on impressions, burst onto the stage bopping to a fierce track from Megan Thee Stallion. His raging bull energy was a stark contrast from his laidback opener, A.J. Foster. 

Pharoah knew his crowd, starting his set off with a Drake impression after congratulating the Toronto audience on being home to the 2019 NBA champions. His impressions were the best part of his set: Tracy Morgan, Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Obama... But the former SNL comedian wasn't all about vocal impressions, his physical comedy and mic play kept the audience on their toes. Oh, and he performed almost the entire set with his pants zipper down. After noticing that his crotch was open to the wind, he looked out at the audience and said something like, "My fly was open this whole time... and none of y'all TOLD ME?" 

Chanel Klein, Associate Producer, Digital - CBC

Eric Andre

Thursday, Sept. 27
Meridian Hall

Eric Andre wanted to talk to your mom. Seeing his set was like watching a fever dream come to life. His tour is called Legalize Everything, and he means it. His absurdist shock-collar comedy touches on heroin, school shooters, police brutality – no subjects are safe from his Rolodex of jokes. 

At one point, Andre passed a mic into the crowd for some golden audience interaction. It was like a mini Eric Andre Show interview. After having the millennial audience rolling in tears, he showed previews of his upcoming prank movie Bad Trip. If the Legalize Everything tour comes to your town, bring a friend who doesn't know anything about Eric Andre. Their response will most likely be, "what the fuck just happened?" Legalize ranch.

Chanel Klein, Associate Producer, Digital - CBC

Toronto isn't the only city to have Just For Laughs roll into town; besides the massive annual summer festival in downtown Montreal, Vancouver will be hosting JFL Northwest from February 14-23 in 2019, featuring the best of the west and much more. Check out their website for more details and upcoming show announcements.