James Acaster JFL42, Toronto ON, September 20
Published Sep 21, 2018Assessing James Acaster's JFL42 performance in Toronto last night, the question is how to effectively capture the proverbial lightning in a bottle. On the page, it doesn't sound particularly impressive to say that Acaster's big closer was to put a pair of sunglasses on a cabbage and sarcastically present it to the crowd as a new character he's working on, but when you take into account that this finale occurred after several failed attempts to leave the stage, a heckle from the crowd during which Acaster was gifted this cabbage, and an unplanned encore he was unwittingly forced to perform, the moment became downright hilarious.
The tone of the show was similarly loose throughout, with Acaster showcasing a deft, if slightly unexpected aptitude for crowd work. To paraphrase his own words, "I've been working on this new show lately, and I'm going to level with you: I've performed less than half of it tonight in more time than it usually takes me to perform all of it."
One of the night's best running gags came at the expense of a particularly hard-to-please audience member whom Acaster spotted in the first few rows. Determined to find a way to penetrate his steely demeanour, Acaster asked him a question about his favourite band, promising to work it into a joke at some point in the evening. When the audience member replied, indicating that his favourite band is Rush, Acaster seemed genuinely stumped at first, making it all the more gratifying when he fulfilled his promise later in his routine, sparking uproarious laughter from the crowd.
True to form, the portions of Acaster's new hour we did see were precisely written, with pitch-perfect observations about "edgy comedians," dependence on technology, toxic online discourse and the meaningless distinction between "xenophobia" and "racism" factoring heavily into his material. As usual, these bits were punctuated with cleverly constructed non-sequiturs and committed act-outs that elevated the material to new heights.
Without spoiling punch lines, the best way to indicate the quality of the performance is simply to express how rapt the audience was throughout the night. With the exception of the lone, aforementioned audience member, the crowd hung on Acaster's every word, indulged his every performative whim, and even laughed heartily when he playfully disparaged our country.