Think Just For Laughs is too rich for your blood? The big-name galas may be, but we know how to get you laughing all weekend long for under $50.
Founded in 1983, Just For Laughs is a Montreal institution. It is the largest comedy festival in the world, and brings some of the biggest names in comedy to Montreal every year. It can also be pretty corporate, like all big festivals, and the high-profile galas can be pricey.
But the real magic happens far away from Place des Arts, at the small venues with the claustrophobic walls and the seating capacity of a little league tour bus. That’s where Dave Chapelle showed up on Sunday night, fresh off a plane, and performed an hour-long set for a shell-shocked audience in a 100-seat venue. Welcome to the midnight surprise!
The festival kicked off on July 8, but the schedule loads most of the bigger shows into the final week. This weekend is the best time to go, and by far the best value for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the JFL experience is the OFF-JFL pass.
The pass offers tickets to three shows of your choosing from the voluminous OFF-JFL schedule (Which includes almost everything that isn’t a gala or one of the festival’s marquee shows). Three shows — each with individual ticket prices above $20 — for $49.50 is a good deal. But the deal gets better. Every day through Saturday pass holders can access a special section of the website starting at 9 a.m. and select another free ticket for a show that night. These bonus tickets are first-come-first served, so get on that computer early, but what it all means is you can go to up to six shows over the next four days for under $50. There are shows going on each night in at least three timeslots, so fitting six into three days isn’t as tricky as it might sound.
This is my second time covering the festival, and I wanted to highlight the affordable options that many people don’t know about. So I’ve spent the past week going to OFF-JFL specials and I’ve assembled a list of the top six shows you should hit this weekend. Pick one, or grab a pass and go to all of them, the choice is yours.
We did an interview with Cenac, known for his role as a correspondent on the Daily Show, in which he demonstrated a quiet brilliance while discussing the problem of police violence, and questioning the limitations of civil disobedience. He told us the new show was about his observations over the past year. “It's a weird time to be living in, and it's a weird time to be living in America as a black man. There's some of that stuff that's reflected in the special, and then there's also some stupid jokes about farting. So it's a fair mix.”
This show will make you think. It’ll also make you laugh. If Wyatt Cenac isn’t the funniest man at the festival, he just might be the smartest.
I saw Feinstein at the midnight surprise and her short set was biting, witty and laugh-out-loud funny. She’s a regular on television specials, and has appeared on Last Comic Standing and worked with Amy Schumer. As the festival’s website says, “If you love Schumer, you’ll love Feinstein.”
Braunohler has been everywhere at JFL this week, and in addition to catching his one-man show, I saw him perform sets at the midnight surprise and at Andy Kindler’s Alternative Show. He’s a tall, white man who acknowledges his privilege and mines it for jokes that had every crowd I saw watch him in stitches. Cenac told me that Braunohler does a similar thing to what he does, but coming at it from a totally different place.
His jokes are outstanding but it’s the “aw shucks” self-deprecation that builds a rapport with the audience.
A veteran stand-up and regular on TV, Kirkman takes no shit. A radio interviewer commented this week on how young she looked. Without missing a beat, Kirkman snapped back, “what is this sexist interview?” A take-no-prisoners badass in an industry dominated by men, she has been described as the female Louis C.K. Kirkman fell ill earlier this week and was forced to cancel her media preview, so I can’t tell you much about her act, but everyone I’ve spoken to who saw it loved it.
The festival describes Adams’ style as “unique.” That’s a polite way of saying that Orny is ornery. Like the second coming of Lewis Black, Adams steals every stage he steps onto with a rapid-fire, booming delivery of jokes about all the things in life which annoy him. His focus seems to be less political, riffing on everyday annoyances when I saw him at the midnight surprise. He’s not for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for high-energy comedy, and a little screaming, then Orny will fill that Lewis Black-shaped hole in your dark and angry heart.
Each night at midnight, Comic Todd Glass hosts a surprise showcase featuring a handful of comics already at the festival to perform shows. Big name comics often drop in to test material on the smaller audience, and the lineup inevitably consists of many of the same comics already performing in pricier shows at the festival.
When Dave Chappelle showed up on Sunday night, he stayed on stage for an hour. Comedy fans live for those moments, but no matter who is on stage the show is varied, it goes on for up to two hours and it features a grab bag of talent. The night I went the lineup included Brent Morin from NBC’s Undateable, Rachel Feinstein, Kurt Braunohler and Ronny Chieng.
Andy Kindler is a veteran comic, and he hosts a midnight variety show which is very similar in concept to the midnight surprise. The lineup changes every night, is not announced beforehand and the show goes on into the wee hours.
I went to the Alternative Show on Tuesday night, and the lineup included Wyatt Cenac, Sean Cullen, Kurt Braunohler and Eddie Pepitone. It went long, and it was amazing.