With his sunny disposition and cheery manner, Josh Gondelman charmed Toronto with wry, witty, well-crafted jokes that touched a bit upon a gloomy news cycle but generally showed off his rare skills as an observational, personal storyteller with almost alien levels of hope coursing through him.
A writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Gondelman is a Bostonian living in New York City, and you can hear that duality in his equally edgy and gregarious cadence.
Riffing upon a couple of empty front row seats in an otherwise sold-out room, he made a mild joke about how they represented his parents' tacit disapproval of his career path. When he evoked their hope that he might still consider attending law school, a woman in the crowd muttered "Don't,' which Gondelman, with inspired efficiency, turned into a nuanced bit about her being his "reverse life coach."
It's notable because it was an improvised flourish that highlights Gondelman's vivid imagination, which is one of his greatest strengths as a writer and performer. He didn't simply mention Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders; he discussed their off-the-chart confidence levels in a way that, though absurd, in few words, totally captured them.
He revealed that he recently became engaged and that he and his ladyfriend dote over their adopted pug, Bizzy, which neighbours know way too much about thanks to some paper thin apartment walls. Touching upon such things enabled him to weave in and out of some of the strongest, funniest bits from his stellar 2016 standup album, Physical Whisper, including "Surprise!" and "Lisa, You are a Goddess," which find him employing physicality and vocal impressions to really put these hilarious notions across.
As a standup, Gondelman has it all. He's smart, quick and practices a nuanced theatricality that elevates his funny stuff and makes him a compelling presence. He also clearly loves life at a time where some of us question everything that's happening to the planet, which is actually rather helpful. After all, the world could certainly use more optimists who can write a really smart joke about ridiculously-named vibrators.