JFL42 Review: Michelle Wolf Dazzles with a Viscerally Funny New Hour

Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto ON, September 24

BY Hershal PandyaPublished Sep 26, 2019

At the risk of sounding a bit reductive, Michelle Wolf is really funny. Admittedly, this isn't the most profound insight, but I make this point to draw an important distinction. Wolf isn't "funny" the way certain comedians are, where you admire the "craft" of their jokes, praise the ambitiousness of their premises or submit to the charm of their on-stage persona — though, all three of these things happen to be true — she's funny in a visceral way, where you bellow involuntarily at her jokes, regardless of how desensitized or discerning a comedy consumer you may be.
All of this became painfully obvious just a few minutes into her set. Pondering how incredulous the scientific community must be that Gen Z activist Greta Thunberg is currently receiving so much credit for vocalizing the same climate concerns they've been screaming about for decades, Wolf brought the house down, catching us off-guard by opening with this surprisingly fleshed-out bit about such a fresh topic. Crucially, the laughs in this bit didn't come at the expense of the child herself, so the audience felt free to laugh heartily, unconcerned about whether we were participating in some sort of mean-spirited mockery.
As a rule, Wolf's gift for continuously toeing the line without ever indefensibly crossing it is perhaps the greatest tool in her comedic arsenal. Innocuous topical bits aside, she performed an onslaught of dicey jokes about race, gender and appearance, all of which could have been alienating in the hands of a less delicate performer. Fortunately, the risk inherent to such sensitive material is proportional to the rewards, meaning that whenever Wolf stuck the dismount, as she did with regularity, the laughs were much deeper because the stakes were genuine as opposed to artificial.
Wolf's consistent ability to execute this degree of difficulty was made all the more impressive by the fact that much of the material she performed was new. Early on, she informed us that she'd recently taped a special and that, accordingly, she is still very early on in the process of developing a new hour. The cracks in the veneer showed up a few times throughout the night, like when she unintentionally mistimed a joke or stepped on a punch line, but by and large, they weren't noticeable in the slightest. Given how far along this new material seems already, I can't wait to see what it looks like after a couple more months of polish.

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