Tag Archives: Just-for-Laughs

Posted in Montreal

How to binge Just For Laughs on a budget

When I decided for the first time to book my vacation in advance this year, there wasn’t much soul-searching over which weeks I would take off. I like my comedy, and Just For Laughs is my favourite festival, and I wanted to get in as much of that as I could. So I took the last two weeks of July.

Just For Laughs is a pretty big festival. Most people are familiar with the big celebrity-hosted galas at Place des Arts, which later make it on TV. But there are dozens of solo shows, comedy club events, outdoor activities and lesser-known comics performing over three weeks in both languages. Even seeing as many as four shows a night, you won’t be able to catch everything.

More importantly for me, I’m kind of a frugal fellow, and those gala tickets can add up quickly when they’re $50 or $100 a pop.

So how do you keep the enjoyment up and the cost down?

"Ultra Zoøff" Zoofest pass

“Ultra Zoøff” Zoofest pass

The Zoofest pass

Start by getting one of these. The Zoofest passes cover shows that are part of the Zoofest and OFF-JFL series at Just For Laughs. These shows are mostly an hour long, and normally go for $20 to $25 apiece. They feature up-and-coming comics and more experimental shows, so going to these involves taking more of a risk than going to a gala or an established comedian’s one-man show, but it’s well worth the money when you take advantage of the passes.

The Ultra pass is the highest level of this pass. It costs $120 (or the equivalent of about six Zoofest/OFF-JFL shows) and will let you book six shows during the festival. But its real power is that Zoofest/OFF-JFL shows that aren’t already sold out 48 hours in advance, you can get a ticket to for free. And you can do this for three one-hour shows a night. (The first shows generally begin at 7pm and the last ones at midnight. So it’s easy to do three in a night. I’ve done four in the past — 7, 8:30, 10 and midnight.)

When I originally wrote this post, it appeared that this applied to any show that wasn’t sold out. But now it’s clear that in fact there are blocks of tickets reserved for different uses. So a show can be out of free daily pass tickets or out of pass selection tickets (those six shows you can choose in advance) but still have tickets available for the retail price. Most of the English OFF-JFL shows during the peak week of the festival have this issue, making the value of the pass diminished slightly. On the other hand, a special offer gave away tickets to Wednesday’s David Cross gala to Zoofest pass holders, so that compensates quite a bit.

(The Ultra Zoofest pass also mentions 50% discounts on Alouettes tickets. That sounds exciting, but after I tried it I discovered it’s only for already cheap end-zone seats, and there seems to be no way to book tickets with it online. You have to go to the Alouettes ticket office in person — or maybe call them by phone — and they often have even better deals for better seats if you ask last-minute.)

If you don’t have time for three shows a night, you can get the lowest-level pass for $50. It’ll let you in one free show a night (booked less than 24 hours in advance), plus three reserved shows during the festival.

You can’t use these passes to get tickets to galas or the big solo shows (except for special one-time offers), but they’re good for a lot of shows that have big-name comics. You can see a full list of the OFF-JFL shows here. Some worth noting:

  • Midnight Surprise, midnights at Théâtre Ste-Catherine from July 21-30. The ultimate risk-taking show, you won’t know who’s in it until they perform. This could mean a comic you’ve never heard of, but some big-name comedians have shown up here and done surprise sets, including Dave Chappelle and Louis CK. At worst, you get a mediocre one-hour show. At best, you get to tell everyone you saw an A-list comedian do a secret show in a 100-seat venue. (There’s also a special Sunday Surprise on July 31.)
  • The Alternative Show, midnights at Katacombes, July 26-30. The name might put you off, but this is actually pretty mainstream. Hosted by Andy Kindler, this show features a lineup of comedians doing 10-minute sets. Because a lot of the travelling comedians want to get in as much on-stage time as possible during the festival, you’ll often see them doing a solo show, a gala appearance and a set here all in the same night.
  • Best of the Fest, 8pm and 10:30pm at Comedyworks, July 26-30. It shouldn’t surprise you that actual comedy clubs are also busy during the festival. Often, big-name comics will stop by the comedy clubs before one of their big shows and test out material on a smaller audience. Maybe some jokes will flop, but you might have more fun here than at a gala, and for a much lower price.

If you do your banking with Desjardins, the company offers a 15% discount code on the Zoofest/OFF-JFL passes. Just put your access card number in here to get it. So instead of paying about $120 plus taxes, you’ll pay about $120 tax included.

Just For Laughs also has passes, which you should get if you’re planning to go to several galas or club shows, but the discounts aren’t as impressive, and there’s no unlimited-use pass of any kind here. But the daily free show is very valuable, and I’ve already used one to get into another gala. As with the other passes, ticket availability is a big limit to what you can go to.

Predict the next big hit

A few years ago, I paid about $15 to take in a small show during the festival at the Katacombes bar. A young comedian I had seen on the NBC reality show Last Comic Standing was in town and used the occasion to test out some material for an upcoming Comedy Central roast she was participating in. (Some of the jokes bombed, and didn’t get used in that roast.)

That comedian’s name: Amy Schumer.

She came back and did a show at Metropolis that cost quite a bit more. In 2014 she was set to host a gala, but cancelled at the last minute because of scheduling conflicts. She’ll be back this year, but it’s in November at the Bell Centre, and tickets start at $60.

Just For Laughs is notorious for being a launching pad for previously unknown comedians. Many of them are doing low-budget one-hour general-admission solo shows during the festival. And this is your chance to say you saw them before they hit it big.

So if you see a comedian listed who you’re not familiar with, look them up on YouTube. And if you like what you see, book a ticket to their show.

Use the last-minute ticket booth

At the corner of Jeanne-Mance and Ste-Catherine Sts. is the festival’s last-minute ticket booth. Shows that aren’t selling well get deeply discounted here in the hours before they start, and you can find some sweet deals if you’re flexible with your plans. I got a ticket to a French gala for $10 once. Even the $25 Zoofest shows are often discounted to $15 or $10.

So head here and find out what kind of deals can be had for shows where the supply is exceeding the demand.

Follow the action on social media

So much of what happens at the festival happens at the last minute. A comedian might be in town completely unannounced and decide to perform a show. Maybe something that’s selling well gets dates added. Or maybe for some entirely different reason things are added or special deals announced during the festival itself.

Last year, Just For Laughs announced on Twitter with less than three hours of notice that Aziz Ansari was doing a show, and tickets would be $20 at the door. People who didn’t follow JFL on Twitter might have missed a great chance there.

So add these to your follows and likes:

Be flexible

The passes, the last-minute ticket booth and special deals announced on social media have one thing in common: They mean you’re not going to know more than a day or two in advance where you’re spending your evening. That might work for some people more than others. If you’re with a group of friends, it might not be practical. But if you’re like me and have no friends and no life, you can surf this wave of improbability for savings.

Always have a backup plan until you have tickets in your hand. Better yet, have two. If a Zoofest/OFF-JFL show you planned to use your pass for gets sold out quickly, you won’t get any free tickets. (In fact, the show doesn’t even need to be completely sold out for your pass to not work this way.) The risk inherent in operating this way is you might not get to see the show everyone’s talking about.

Take in the outdoor shows

Though much of the outdoor action during the JFL festival is more fun than funny, there are a few outdoor shows worth taking in. Most are in French, but one definitely worth marking on the calendar is the final performance of Sugar Sammy’s bilingual You’re Gonna Rire show, on the big stage at the Place des Festivals on July 28. You certainly can’t beat the price: It’s free.

You can see the full lineup of outdoor shows here. And wander around the festival grounds during the day to see all the other stuff going on, from the labyrinth to the board games to the circus acts.

Other tips

Some other things to keep in mind about shows at Just For Laughs, OFF-JFL and Zoofest that don’t pertain specifically to saving money. (Some of these are echoed by Gazette columnist Basem Boshra):

  • Be on time. If you arrive late to a show with assigned seating (like a gala), you end up disrupting a lot of people during the show and open yourself up to ridicule. Don’t be that person. Some shows might even refuse you entry (it happened to me last night when I was 10 minutes late, but fortunately I had a backup plan.)
  • Get there early. Aside from the galas and other shows at the Place des Arts theatre venues, most shows are general admission, so where you sit depends on how many people get in the venue before you. If you want to sit up front and risk being the victim of a crowd-working comedian, get there first.
  • Schedule travel time. Zoofest and OFF-JFL shows are about an hour long. But that doesn’t mean you can schedule a show at 7pm and another at 8. Give about 15 minutes of leeway in terms of the actual length of the show, and consider that you have to get from one venue to another between them. 75 minutes between show starts can work if the shows are in the same building (Monument National has several venues in the same building), 90 minutes if both shows are in the same neighbourhood, and give yourself more time if you have to get to a farther-away venue like Mainline Theatre or Comedyworks. For galas, the Ethnic/Nasty Shows or big solo shows, the show length can be longer, as much as two and a half hours. Err on the side of giving yourself an extra 20 minutes.
  • Don’t heckle. You’re not funnier than the people on stage, who have been working on material for a while in preparation for their shows. If a comedian asks a question to the audience, feel free to respond, but otherwise keep your mouth shut and avoid embarrassing yourself.
  • Don’t take pictures or video. Each show will begin with this reminder (though there are some shows that actually allow taking pictures discreetly — they’ll make this clear in the pre-show announcement). You’re here to enjoy yourself, not film the show for later broadcast using your crappy cellphone camera. Getting caught filming a standup act is grounds for a quick ejection, aside from being distracting to the performer and the audience. Instead, take a picture of the venue before the show, or of your ticket (don’t show the bar code if you’re posting to social media before the show begins). You’ll be able to see the gala performances and some other shows broadcast on Comedy Network in a few months, recorded and edited by professionals.
  • Don’t use your cellphones at all. These venues are dark, and the bright light of a cellphone screen is very distracting. Wait until after the show to text your friends. And make sure the ringer is turned off.
  • Spread the word about what you see. Help out those people looking for a good show, and those who are putting them on. If you liked something, write about it on Twitter or Facebook and spread the word. Use the hashtag #JPRMTL (French) or #JFLMTL (English). A lot of these smaller shows don’t have big marketing budgets and rely on word of mouth more than anything else.
  • Respect your comedians. It doesn’t take a PhD in mathematics to conclude that a comedian doing a one-hour show in a 100-seat venue where most people paid between $25 and $0 to attend isn’t making that much money from it. Keep that in mind when you check out a show. They’re there for the love of the craft, one they spend a lot of time and effort honing. They might also be on their third show of the night. So show them some appreciation, even if it’s just telling them they did a great show, but make it brief because they’re probably way busier than you are.

I probably forgot a few things. Hit me with questions in the comments. But don’t expect responses between 7pm and midnight, because I’ll be busy for the next week and a half.

Posted in Radio

Just For Laughs Radio launches on SiriusXM

Comedian DeAnne Smith is the voice of Just For Laughs Radio

Comedian DeAnne Smith is the voice of Just For Laughs Radio

Just For Laughs is expanding its media empire yet again. At noon on Thursday, it launches Just For Laughs Radio, a 24/7 channel on SiriusXM, complemented by a one-hour daily highlights show on the satellite service’s Raw Dog comedy channel.

For details, you can read this story, which appears in Thursday’s Gazette. Their press release is here.

Montreal comedian DeAnne Smith is the voice of the channel, which will be mainly recorded shows presented “jukebox” style, except during the festivals when it will also include some live programming. Since this channel is launching in the middle of JFL 42 in Toronto, that means we’ll see some of that right off the bat, with Raw Dog host Mark Seman doing some shows from Toronto, interviewing the comedians appearing there. The first week will also feature some content from the 2013 Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, namely the Andy Kindler State of the Industry address and the Colin Quinn keynote speech from the ComedyPro conference.

During festivals, like this one, JFL Radio will be continuously simulcast on Raw Dog.

JFL COO Bruce Hills tells me that the plan is to start slow and build up. They’ve never really done anything like this before.

To give you an idea what the channel is like, here’s the schedule for the simulcast that will air on both channels for the remainder of the Toronto festival.

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Posted in Fun, Montreal

MP3 experiment on Wednesday

Depending on how many people show up, it could be pretty awesome: A Montreal edition of Improv Everywhere’s MP3 Experiment is set for Wednesday at 5:17pm.

Instructions are here and there’s a Facebook page. No RSVP required, just show up wearing red, yellow, blue or green and carrying an uninflated red or green balloon to a retail store on Ste. Catherine St. between St. Alexandre and St. Laurent.

Improv Everywhere’s MP3 experiments are explained here, but in short they involve a large group of people downloading an MP3 audio file, then playing it on headphones at exactly the same time. To the outside world, it just looks like a bunch of people wearing headphones, but who suddenly all start doing the same random things together.

Montreal had a similar thing in 2009 that I participated in, and although there were some glitches it was a lot of fun for those involved.

The weather forecast is for light showers with a high of 17 degrees.

UPDATE: Just For Laughs has an announcement set for 5:30pm. Since JFL is organizing the MP3 experiment as well, I’m guessing the timing is related.

UPDATE (May 11): The event went well, with just about every radio and TV station sending people (for both the JFL lineup announcement and the MP3 experiment). It beat the rain by about an hour.

Just For Laughs has compiled a short video, which you can see above. Here are some more, combining video with audio from the MP3 experiment track, which was 42 minutes total. (via Dominic Arpin)

Posted in Fun, Montreal

My first Just for Laughs gala

Just for Laughs stage at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier

It’s one of those things I wanted to do for so long. I’ve lived in this city my entire life, watched countless performances by stand-up comics (in both languages) on the Just for Laughs stage at Théâtre Saint-Denis, and wanted to go myself. But for various reasons (mainly a lack of availability combined with a fear of the price tag), I never saw one of its famous galas in person. I’ve been to outdoor events (much of which isn’t exactly funny, the giant screen showing Gags reruns notwithstanding), but never bought a ticket to watch an indoor show.

Last Saturday, I finally did. It was the only night I was really free to see anything. I went down to Place des Arts and decided I would plan my night based on what cheap last-minute tickets were available. I was actually a bit surprised when I found out that a 7pm show on a Saturday featuring Craig Ferguson still had seats available (singles, for the most part, mind you) that they were willing to give me for a significant last-minute discount. I picked it up, paying less than $40 in cash.

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Posted in Media, Opinion

Anglo comedians don’t want to talk to La Presse

La Presse’s Hugo Dumas is displeased that the big anglo headliners at the Just for Laughs festival didn’t give as many interviews to francophone papers as they did to The Gazette. While the Gazette got some of them for phone interviews (people like Kathy Griffin, Craig Ferguson, Joan Rivers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Bill Hader), La Presse had to settle for an email back-and-forth with Jimmy Fallon. (The email part was a requirement from NBC, who also wouldn’t allow Fallon to discuss his upcoming gig replacing Conan O’Brien on Late Night — a request that led The Gazette to turn down the interview)

Setting aside the Fallon silliness (and the fact that La Presse didn’t mention that arbitrary content censorship in their article about him), I’m not sure what to think about the situation. On one hand, people shouldn’t be playing favourites with the media, whether it’s the prime minister or a trashy comedian. On the other hand, it seems silly that the franco paper is all bent out of shape because they couldn’t get a five-minute phoner for a fluff piece with a comedian.

Somehow, I think calling for a boycott of celebrity interviews is going to work. And that’s why their handlers can make these ridiculous demands on the media.

Posted in Fun, Montreal, Opinion, Photos

Blastback Babyzap: Electrifying

I’ve always been a big fan of comedy, and I’ve lived in Montreal my entire life, so you’d think Just for Laughs and I would be a perfect fit (it’s only a year younger than me). But I’ve never been to a gala, and before last night had never been to any live production related to the festival.

The main reason behind that is money. Why should I pay $40 for a nosebleed seat for a show I’ll get highlights from a few months later on TV?

The other reason is that I’m not easily impressed by comedy. Jokes about relationships and making fun of people’s acccents got old about three decades ago.

But last night, both those problems were alleviated as I stopped by to see the Uncalled For’s Blastback Babyzap production at Mainline Theatre. I’ve seen the group perform improv shows, so I had an idea that there would be some funny stuff going on. And at only $12, it didn’t hurt the wallet to attend.

I must say, I was very impressed.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the show, some of the stuff below may ruin the surprise. But it’s still worth watching.

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Posted in Fun, Montreal, Photos, Public transit

The metro car ice cream parlor, and other Just for Laughs outdoor fun

The other day (you know, back when it wasn’t raining), I wandered on to the Just for Laughs outdoor fun zone. For those of you who have never been here, it’s not so much funny ha-ha (the comics are saved for shows people pay for), it’s more about having fun with games, clowns, mimes and other amusing things.

The most amusing thing for me was this: a metro car, pulled out of the garage and parked on the street to be turned into an ice cream parlor.

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Posted in Blogosphere, Media, Montreal

YASTGBs: JFL, film festivals

Two more blogs from the Gazette were launched today with premiere posts:

Just for Laughs Festival is the cleverly-named blog covering … wait for it … the Just for Laughs Festival, which runs July 10-20.

The Ciné Files similarly follows all those film festivals that happen here during the summer. Fantasia, FFM, FNC, Joe’s Super Awesome Film Fest, etc.

They’re both self-explanatory, no?

Posted in Humour, Montreal, TV

Just for (American) Laughs (UPDATED)

ABC premiered the American version of Just for Laughs Gags tonight (there it’s just called Just for Laughs).

I’d heard all sort of rumours about this show. It was going to be re-shot with Americans. It was going to have Bob Saget-like voice-over stupidity.

Fortunately, none of these things happened. In fact, other than the ABC logo in the corner of the screen, it’s indistinguishable from the CBC version. The same cheesy music, same familiar locations (Dorchester Square, St. Louis Square, among others), same fake cops. The TV version doesn’t make it explicit that this is filmed in Montreal, which is kinda sad because there’ll probably be quite a lot of people confused at the French signs, red mailboxes and other things that make us not look like them. The website mentions that it’s a Canadian-made series, though the name of our fair city can’t be found (why is a goldmine of free publicity for our city not being pounced upon?).

If anything, it’s how little effort they put into changing the show that concerns me. They did a short graphic (with the familiar JFL logo) for before and after commercials, and they have this guy Rick Miller (yeah, I’d never heard of him either, but apparently he’s a Montrealer) introduce the show and say goodbye at the end. That’s it. I mean, the CBC show was bare-bones as it is. I’m not sure ABC can get away with just repackaging such a show, even over the summer.

From that and their website, which is about as bare-bones as you can get, I get the feeling ABC doesn’t expect this show to last through fall.

We’ll see. Maybe this can pick up an audience that thinks Punk’d and all its ilk are too aggressive or have too much dialogue or something.

UPDATE: Response from the blogosphere so far is not encouraging. The few media who mentioned it in advance gave it “something called” treatment. Blogger response fit that pretty well. “Disappointed.” “Not impressed.” “Beyond absurd” (from someone convinced it was shot in Mexico or Sao Paulo). “Desperately unfunny.” “Bland.” “The lamest.” And my favourite: “Absolute bullshit crap.” On the other side, as far as I can see, just one offhand “great” and one (albeit enthusiastic) “funny.”

LOST 2 this is not. And it’s hard to disagree. I would have rather seen gala stand-ups on U.S. television than a low-budget hidden camera gag show that, as far as they’re concerned, is a bad copy of all the other ones they’ve seen over the past half-decade.

What’s sad is this might give networks pause about importing other (good) Canadian television programming in the future.

UPDATED AGAIN: Overnight ratings for the show weren’t as bad as I thought they might be. They actually went up between shows, which shows it wasn’t advertised properly and viewers came in and stayed more than they left. Overall, it lost to America’s Got Talent, came in about tied with CBS’s NCIS repeat, and beat FOX’s On The Lot.

Could be I’ve written its obituary too soon.