JFL42 Review: Tom Henry Lets the Audience Run the Asylum

Comedy Bar, Toronto ON, September 21

BY Audrey CarletonPublished Sep 22, 2019

For a comic who makes a living off if deadpan one-liners, Tom Henry maintained a surprisingly dynamic rapport with his audience at the Comedy Bar on Saturday night.
I've seen Henry perform shorter sets in the past, and while I've always found his bizarre thoughts funny, I wondered how someone could do an hour of short bits without tiring. But he punctuated his sarcastic one-liners with much kinder, more animated crowd work, showing his humanity and demonstrating his ability to improvise.
When an older gentleman in the front row accused Henry of ageism after a bit about senior citizens, Henry went with it. When the gentlemen began talking for longer than expected, Henry remained equally calm, joking that there was, in fact, time for the audience to have their say, because, he said, "I don't have that many jokes."
Throughout each of his ventures into crowdwork, Henry seemed dead-set on learning the first and last name of every person in the room. This was funny, to be sure, and set him up for some interesting interactions. He later invited the audience to suggest joke topics to him (the loudest idea in the room was "pogo stick," to which Henry replied "Okay, pogo sticks, how 'bout these things huh?" then quickly changed his mind: "I'm not doing that.")
Once the room got comfortable enough, the audience began suggesting jokes unprompted, a move many comedians would be offended by, but that Henry handled with hilarious stride: "What has this become, a town hall?" he said before stealing a first-row seater's sunglasses and wearing them for a large portion of his set.
There's something to be said for a comedian who can play with the audience on that level, and allow them to play right back — he ditched the egoistic "I'm the one telling the jokes here," attitude and allowed space for back-and-forth, which was a smart move, because it turned out funny and engaging.
Henry's classic one-liners, were of course, funny as well. His bits are clever and seem to come from a very odd place — he makes observations about the world that have probably never occurred to anyone else, like the fact that the Earth would probably be sketched out to find how many tiny replicas of itself (globes) are living on it, and how, restaurants that list foods they serve on their exterior (e.g. "pizza, pasta, calzones") just "look like some food got together and started a little law firm." His hour was incredibly engaging, deeply funny, and super weird. And the audience loved it.
Henry's opener, Alex Ateah, deserves props as well — her delivery is equally deadpan, and complemented Henry's set perfectly. In one of her funniest bits, she unpacked her dynamic with her parents: Ateah loves them so much that once, as a child, she asked her mother to marry her, to which her mom said 'no,' not because they're blood-related or because she was three years old at the time, but because she was already taken (by Ateah's father). Ateah's comedy is dry, witty, and hilarious — she's someone to keep an eye on.

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