Dark Comedy Festival: Dave Attell Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, November 1

Dark Comedy Festival: Dave Attell Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, November 1
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For the third annual Dark Comedy Festival in Toronto, festival founder Rob Mailloux served as host for the opening night showcase featuring Dave Attell, and was heckled about 30 seconds after he got on stage. "Really, already?" he asked incredulously. "I mean, I don't give a shit, I'm just surprised you're already having a bad time — we just got here." He did a solid job of both curating this year's lineup and of hosting this show, although he'd leave Attell hanging later in the night, but more on that later.

Opening the show were the hosts of the Legion of Skanks podcast — at least Big Jay Oakerson and Dave Smith, since Luis J. Gomez failed to make it across the border. Both Smith and Oakerson did excellent opening sets, diving headlong into the idea of "dark comedy" with cringe-worthy material that got hilariously explicit. Oakerson in particular went on a run of pussy jokes and then dove into a rant of just how he would have sex with his best friend Smith.

Headliner Dave Attell is hands down one of the finest crafters of jokes in the business, but whether it's his often filthy material or his unwillingness to compromise, he's probably not destined for comedy superstardom. And this was a weird night for Attell, possibly because of uncertainty with the audience.

Canadian audiences are a not-uncommon problem for American comedians on two fronts. One is uncertainty about cultural crossover, which results in a lot of "Do you guys know who Honey Boo Boo is?" and "I know you have a different government here, but did you hear about the shutdown?" (Note to all visiting American comedians: We may not have all the same stuff, but we all know your business. The whole goddamn world knows all your business.) The second challenge is with Canadian politeness, and the Dark Comedy Festival brings this challenge to the fore: what will or won't offend our delicate Canadian sensibilities?

It's this second front that Attell seemed to struggle with — at several points he wanted to take the crowd's temperature in terms of tolerance of certain taboo subjects, in some cases skipping through entire chunks of material to get out of bits that didn't seem to be working and at other times aggressively moving forward, reactions be damned. None of his material ever seemed to get a negative reaction but his casual homophobic language choices (fag, twink, etc.) did and that seemed to confuse him. (As it rightfully might.)

As a result, the show had some great highs but lacked cohesion and lost momentum at several points. To end the show, Attell brought back all three openers, ostensibly to do some onstage riffing, but this seemingly unplanned event left the openers standing — mouths agape, clutching beers — with little to offer. That might have to do with the after hours podcast recording they were planning at a local pot-friendly underground cafe.