Founded in 1983, the festival is a major cultural event, showcasing comedy in all of its forms, from leading performers in stand-up comedy to the very best in performance artists, and everything and everyone you could imagine in between. For the festivities, the street in front of Place des Arts turns into a pedestrian mall, a feast for the senses with food and beverage trucks, buskers, mini stages for performance art and any number of things you will only see at a comedy festival. I could have sworn I saw a character that looked like “Polkaroo” from the kids’ TV show… or maybe it was the wine speaking… in any case, there are plenty of sights you won’t see anywhere else.
When we attended Just for Laughs two years ago, we thought that the stars had lined up so perfectly when we had the privilege of seeing a parade of fine stand-up comedians in three gala shows hosted by Kristin Chenoweth, Kathy Griffin and the legendary Joan Rivers. How could anyone do better than that?
The icing on the cake of our 2013 visit, was a one-woman comedy show starring the fantastic Canadian comedienne Debra DiGiovanni. Debra’s style of humour resonates with me on so many levels with her high energy delivery, her great references to pop culture and her excellent timing when it comes to relaying stories of observational humour.
By the end of that weekend, my cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so much. It was a weekend of really great memories while crossing events off our bucket lists… but could JFL top that?
This past spring, when the emails started hitting my inbox, announcing the galas and headliners, it looked like the stars were lining up again for a spectacular season, so we took the plunge and bought tickets.
Our weekend began with an unexpected brush with celebrities as a few National Hockey League players and their buddies were having a grand time, partying at our favourite restaurant, Bâton Rouge.
Then after dinner, with very full stomachs, we hiked up Sainte-Catherine Street 15 minutes to Le Théâtre l’Olympia De Montréal (Olympia Theatre) for another bucket list show, featuring the brilliant Margaret Cho. I guess that buying tickets early paid off as we were only 2 rows away from the stage, and able to get the full effect with every sight, sound, gesture and change in Margaret’s facial expressions. I must admit I laughed until I cried… twice. We both enjoyed her performance and would highly recommend seeing Margaret if the opportunity presented itself.
Our next stop was back to Place des Arts for the JFL Gala hosted by Ellie Kemper (Star of the Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”). The ever-positive and upbeat Ellie had a lovely opening monologue that veered off a little into the darker side of life, which made it that much more entertaining given her sunny delivery. She then assumed her hosting duties, leading us through a great set of comedians that included Pete Holmes, Debra DiGiovanni (YAY!), Reggie Watts, Chris Hardwick, Michael Che (“Saturday Night Live”), Wyatt Cenac, Thomas Middleditch and to our surprise, Margaret Cho!
On Saturday morning, we took a break from the comedy world to take in a different cultural event, the Rodin exhibit at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). As much as The Thinker is one of his best known works, I was truly blown away by this piece, The Death of Adonis. Something stirred within me that defies words. I was very impressed with the staging and presentation of this exhibit and I highly recommend it. If you would like to catch it, the exhibit runs until October 18, 2015.
On our way to dinner, we ran into another “Saturday Night Live Weekend Update” anchor, Colin Jost, just getting from one venue to another. We seized that serendipitous moment to gush… I mean, shake his hand, express our appreciation for his great work and chat about the JFL festivities. He was very kind and generous in taking the time to chat with us for a couple of minutes.
Saturday evening, we capped off the weekend with the JFL Gala hosted by one of our Broadway favourites, Alan Cumming. I really could listen to this man’s delightful Scottish accent and inimitable story telling style all night. His stand-up in this show was no exception. After his monologue, he led us through a show featuring comedians Joel Creasey, Dana Gould, Todd Glass, Jen Kirkman, Shaun Majumder and Orny Adams. For me, Joel Creasey stole the show… check him out on YouTube!
At Just for Laughs, there really is something for everyone. There are so many shows to choose from, our challenge was trying to align the shows that appealed to us most over the shortest period of time possible. We would have loved to extend our weekend to include Jane Lynch a few days earlier or Neil Patrick Harris a few days later, but with peak vacation time at the office, extending the vacation into the work week (that wasn’t already pre-approved back when the snow was just starting to melt), it becomes a bit of a scheduling challenge. But even though we spent just two evenings there, we maximized the laughs per minute with those shows and returned home feeling like we had really been taken out of our element. What a great mini-vacation!
One warning: the stand-up comedy routines at Just for Laughs are not the G-rated stand-up comedy routines you might see on network TV shows. The comedians will discuss topics that might be off-limits on TV and they use words that would get bleeped out on TV, such as swearing or discussing genitalia. If you are completely OK with that, enjoy the show.
For us, Just for Laughs 2015 did not disappoint, but if I had to pick a low point to the weekend, it has to be with the etiquette of some of the audience members at the Margaret Cho show. A comedy show is indeed a shared experience between the audience members and the artist, bonding over those storylines to which most can relate. But if a story doesn’t resonate with everyone, that’s OK. As humans, we all have different triggers and our funny bones are different. While it is perfectly natural and welcomed to respond to a comedian’s stories or punchlines with huge laughter and the occasional snorts, what is not welcomed is running dialogue that competes with the stand-up comedian. And we had an earful of that from a couple behind us who had a lot to say throughout (often unrelated to the joke being told).
Also, across the aisle was a young lady who needed to have current event jokes explained while the show was going on. In doing so, she as well as her neighbours missed out on the next jokes and then followed with “what’d she just say”. People if you don’t get it, let it go and ask questions later after the performer has left the stage. Your neighbours will appreciate it. Thank you!
I also would like to extend a tip of the hat to the beautiful host city, Montréal, a city so rich in history, culture, art, design and style, something as mundane as a club sandwich can be a feast for the senses and a cultural event on a plate! Montréal always knows how to throw a fantastic party, no matter what the occasion, through the warmth of its people and the romantic charm of this picturesque city. It has always been one of my favourite places to visit.
If you are ever looking for a weekend of fun and non-stop laughs, the Just for Laughs festival in Montréal is a great destination for a (grown-up) summer getaway. I would suggest getting on their mailing list at hahaha.com and keeping a close eye to the announcements over the spring months. You never know when you might be able to see your favourite celebrities and comedians performing in person. Don’t forget to book your hotel early as well as the downtown hotels book quickly.
As someone who enjoys writing stories and blog posts that sometimes have a comedic twist to them, I wholeheartedly appreciate the hard work that goes into being a stand-up comedian. I can’t help but walk away from a weekend like this with a sense of validation, a renewed sense of purpose and the inspiration to continue on this journey of storytelling with an occasional side order of comedy.
Did you enjoy this post? If you did, please know that there are plenty more where that came from! If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.net. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,