The annual comedy festival captained by Andy Nulman reflects the Spirit of Montreal

Enter Stage Left With Sharman Yarnell

It’s that time of year in Montreal where we are inundated with festivals. And a good thing too, because after a sometimes dreary winter that blends into an equally dreary spring, a diversion of music, theatre and some comedy is just what the doctor ordered.

Did I say comedy? The Just for Laughs Festival is on throughout July with a plethora of comedians providing the belly laughs for us all. Indoor events, galas, and on the streets of Montreal – Just For Laughs is celebrating 30 years of laughter.

Over the years we’ve seen some pretty eclectic acts, some racy acts, some tame, many outrageous and irreverent, some downright rude and even lame, but all providing us with a much needed break for the funny bone to burst free.

Founded in 1983 by Gilbert Rozon, The Just for Laughs Festival was originally a two-day street event for Francophones. In 1985, Andy Nulman arrived on the scene and brought in some Anglophone comedians. It was under his guidance that the festival stretched throughout the month of July. The Just for Laughs Festival has snowballed from that two day street event into a top notch affair that has welcomed some of the greatest acts in the world of comedy: Dame Edna, John Cleese, Joan Rivers, David Hyde-Pierce, Kathy Griffin, Russell Peters and Whoopi Goldberg have all blessed Montreal with their own particular style of hilarity.

In fact, let’s get serious here – some of the big names in comedy claim the Montreal JFL Festival was where they were first noticed: Ray Romano, Tim Allen and Jerry Seinfeld, all played the Festival in their early years and went on to become sitcom stars with their own shows.

Even characters from animated television shows have made the grade – Homer Simpson and family as well as Peter Griffin and his motley crew.

So who better to headline the 30th anniversary of The Just for Laughs Festival than a group of irrepressible, muppet-ational, critters molded out of foam, and then covered with fleece or some other soft, pliable material. Oh heck, I can’t stand it – It’s the Muppets with Kermit the frog whose fame would make any human green with envy, and his ever devoted lady, the most divine of swine, Miss Piggy. Along with them will be Waldorf and Statler, Gonzo the Great, Fozzie Bear and, hopefully, Rowlf the Dog. (Sharman the writer is having a hard time keeping a straight face here.)  In other words, the whole fam damily will be in tow to host a couple of galas on July 26. (Not for children under 12.)

Also on the docket are many of the usual favourites. Bobby Slayton is back hosting the ever popular (usually a sell-out) Nasty Show. A show that brings out the worst in us, with comedians spewing that “bitter, angry, disgusting” type of monologue. This is not a show to take ‘granny’ to, or to attend yourself if you are sensitive to ‘expressive’ language or life in general. I gather that isn’t much of the population here, as the show always has a great attendance, this year with a run from July 10 – 15 and July 27, 28.

Another note on the dark side is Bob Saget of America’s Funniest Home Movies, who is hosting a gala headlined as “the rawest, most uncensored gala ever”, on July 27. Who’d-a-known that the man who reaches out to the all-round American family in his TV series could…but then again, you have to be a little dark to laugh at some of the dangerous stunts that some people get into on their ‘home videos’.

Howie Mandel returns, almost expected every year, now.  Imagine, from doing an impromptu comedy routine on a dare at the Legendary Comedy Store in LA, to an extraordinary career in television, film and stage, an animated children’s series called Bobby’s World, to penning his memoir Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me, based about his OCD and ADHD, to hosting galas at JFL. This year on July 28.

Some time ago I opened up the lines on Showtime asking who the favored boy at the JFL Festival was – it was a resounding John Pinette. He has a huge fan base here in Montreal. I remember being told if you see just one person, it had to be him. Pinette is back with the favourite Irishman (who, in my opinion, should have his own gala), Tommy Tiernan. July 24, 25.

It wouldn’t be a JFL Festival without the ‘names’ from Hollywood. This year, it is the sharp wit of Joel McHale. He’s the star of Community, the television series about students in a community college. He’s hosting a gala on July 28. And JB Smoove from the very popular Curb Your Enthusiasm – as his character, Leon Black. July 24 to July 28.

The very popular Ethnic Show: Ethnical Difficulties is one irreverent, tongue-in-cheek salute and blast of commentary to the mosaic of cultures here in Montreal. No one culture is safe from a knock at its customs and traditions. So whatever background you come from, just suck it up and laugh. Hosted by Maz Jobrani, it’s on from July 19 to July 22 and July 26.

Can’t overlook the always popular Brit Com with Danny Bhoy (A Scot with an Irish sounding name, of Indian heritage, in Brit Com!) and true Brit, Jimmy Carr. Two shows on July 26.

A couple of locals that deserve your attention:

In My Head and Out of My Mind is a show by Montreal’s own Joey Elias. This is his third year at the JFL Festival and if you’ve not seen Elias before, now’s the time. I have seen him a number of times at The Irishman of the Year Breakfast and he never, ever disappoints. July 23.

Another Montrealer to watch out for is Johanna Nutter. We stray from stand-up comedy here and are presented with a bona fide play. In fact, you might want to run and not walk for tickets to My Pregnant Brother, the true story of Johanna’s life growing up in Montreal with a hippie mom and her younger sister. The younger sister eventually becomes her brother. Promoted as a “universal tale of love and survival, told with mesmerizing honesty and humour” the show is a compelling story about family. It is deeply moving and…yes, very witty.  The show has had rave reviews wherever Nutter has taken it. A must see, on from July 17 to July 27.

Remember, The Just for Laughs Festival is not just about the galas and indoor comedy events or Hollywood names, but also that original street concept that Rozon had in mind when he first created the event. St. Denis and surrounding streets are full of impromptu acts, with street performers providing everything from acrobats, mime and parades. And kids love the Parade of Twins that has become an annual event.

Montreal streets become a wonderful showcase for undiscovered talent just waiting to be the next John Pinette or Howie Mandel. And what a great time can be had wandering those streets, watching the entertainment and stopping at one of the many cafes for a meal, or an outdoor terrace for a drink.

This is the spirit of Montreal. This is The Just for Laughs Festival.

Laugh, eat and be merry – then laugh some more.

For more information:

Related Posts