JFL42 Pete Holmes Randolph Theatre, Toronto ON, September 25

JFL42 Pete Holmes Randolph Theatre, Toronto ON, September 25
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"This is one of my favourite jokes," Pete Holmes said of more than one bit in his JFL set, his face already contorted with laughter. Most comedians don't laugh at their own jokes before they've said them, but with Holmes it's different. Pete Holmes is your friend.

Audiences want to like Holmes' jokes, and not just because they're hilarious. He aptly compares his affable demeanor to a "Golden Retriever standing up" and peppers anecdotes with "This is a true story; I would never lie to you!" and "Listen to me, do you hear me?" as a friend would, including audiences in the jokes from the get-go so that when he starts giggling before the punchline, scrunching his face up like Renée Zellweger (his comparison, not mine) at his own upcoming hilarity, they're already laughing, too.

So it was with Holmes at the Randolph Theatre Thursday night (September 25), as he wondered about how to properly appreciate Niagara Falls, fireworks and strippers when all he can muster is bewilderment and, in the latter case, an uncomfortable "Faaantastic!" Holmes dispersed cute, easy jokes about the seeming simplicity of trumpets and Lenny Kravitz's real name among more delicate subject matter, which he pulled off by underlying the jokes with empathy. In an anecdote about Holmes' closeted gay friend Alan, the subject of hilarity wasn't Alan himself, but his tendency to overdo straight-acting, which skewered the inherent silliness of gender performativity in general at the same time.

Holmes' bit about avoiding conversation by "Britishing it" was one of his best moments, but it came just a little too early to be the set's climax. Minutes later, when a light at the back of the theatre alerted him to wrap up, Holmes — ever the crowd-pleaser — flipped through his notes to ensure that the crowd didn't miss out on any of his best material. While a sweet sentiment, the move halted the momentum of the set, especially when he asked the audience if they had any last-minute requests and had to ignore shouts for "Pierce," an old bit that relied on spontaneously silliness and wouldn't be nearly as good two years removed from its original telling.

The bit he ended on was funny enough, but Holmes has proven, as he did with the bulk of his Thursday set, that he's a talented comedian and a gifted storyteller with enough good material to more than fill a set. Why rely on the audience to do it for him?