A comedy festival Montreal producer Gilbert Rozon founded in 1983, Just for Laughs (JFL) was originally Juste pour Rire, a French-only comedy event and far cry from Rozon's first stint in the working world as a gravedigger.
By 1985, Rozon enlisted the help of Andy Nulman, a local businessman who added English acts to the roster, making it the first bilingual Juste pour Rire/Just For Laughs comedy festival, which also featured Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and the breakout star of the fest, André-Philippe Gagnon. Over two decades later, the success of Just For Laughs spawned a global organization, with sister festivals in Toronto, Chicago, and Nantes in France.
Since then, Just For Laughs has become one of Canada's hottest summer events, drawing nearly two million spectators each year. In 2018, Montreal's Just for Laughs runs July 11 to July 29 and features dozens of stand-up acts, comedy galas, themed shows, and free events with the most sought-after A-listers converging at the fest July 23 through July 29.
Stand Up Comedians and Career Breakthroughs
While JFL was established to entertain, the Just For Laughs fest also caters to the industry's needs, allowing many amateur comedians the chance to perform in front of talent scouts, booking agents, managers, and producers looking for the next big thing.
Many household names like Denis Leary, Dave Chappelle, and even Jon Stewart got their big break at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival, and many more got a nice boost to their reputation early in their careers, too. In some cases, acts that were tried out in Montreal ended up attracting international acclaim. Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean, for example, was first tested on Montreal crowds back in 1989.
The Montreal Just for Laughs Festival's main feature is stand-up comedy and the fest attracts present and future A-listers, up-and-coming rookies, and literally the best comedy in the world. This year's guests include:
- Kevin Hart
- Russell Peters
- Jo Koy
- David Cross
- Tig Notaro
- Chris D'Elia
- Jimmy Carr
- Maria Bamford
- Dylan Moran
- Katherine Ryan
- Roy Wood Jr.
The Headliners and Big Events in 2018
Headliners for this year's Just For Laughs festival include a double-header with Dave Chappelle and John Mayer called "Controlled Danger," the Trevor Noah Galas, and the Tiffany Haddish Gala on July 28, the Howie Mandel All-Star Comedy Gala and the Ken Jeong Gala on July 26, and the Will Forte Gala and Tig Notaro performance on July 25.
Consult the full Montreal Just for Laughs 2018 lineup and make sure to buy tickets as they are likely to sell out well in advance of the performances. Gala tickets don't come cheap, but not everything at the Just for Laughs festival costs a small fortune. Organizers usually offer festival passes featuring 2-show, 3-show, and 5-show package deals.
Every year features last-minute deals, too. Just show up at Just for Laughs' designated ticket counter in the vicinity of Place des Festivals, and ask what's left for that evening. One thing to keep in mind with these last-minute ticket deals is you get what you pay for, leaving much to desired in the way of seating. After all, last-minute ticket deals offer leftovers, so you might only find single seats and the view may be obstructed depending on what's left.
Free Street Arts and Events
Buying package deals aren't the only way to get around the festival cheaply. Every Just for Laughs edition features a slew of free outdoor events including live comedy, circus arts with clowns and acrobats, sideshow antics, people on stilts, and street dancing held for the duration of the festival at Place des Festivals.
For many years, Just for Laughs closed off the Latin Quarter to cars (St. Denis, from Ste. Catherine to Sherbrooke) to make way for performance artists, giant puppets, and creepy installations gently entertaining or harassing a roving public on the lookout for impromptu street antics.
From fire-breathing comedy to live statues to drumming harlequins circling random strangers into submission, Just For Laughs street arts used to be held along St. Denis Street. But since 2010, all street arts acts are carried out in Quartier des Spectacles' Place des Festivals and its surroundings.
Getting Around the Just For Laughs Festival
Select downtown Montreal venues host different shows. Place des Arts' Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier usually hosts comedy galas whereas Théâtre Maisonneuve and Le Gesù tend to feature solo shows. Although Place des Arts' multiple venues serve as a hub for most of the fest's top-shelf events, Club Soda and Metropolis are annual go-to venues for The Nasty Show, The Ethnic Show and other recurring theme nights. As for up-and-coming comedy talent, they're often booked in independent theatre venues across the city like Théâtre Ste.
Meanwhile, getting to Just For Laughs' free street events is easy. Street arts are concentrated at Place des Festivals and closed-off pedestrian sections surrounding Place des Arts, including Ste. Catherine Street. By public transit, just get off at Place-des-Arts metro station and take the Jeanne-Mance exit, which will bring you right to the heart of Just for Laughs' street events.
If you're visiting the city, you can also stay in the heart of the Just for Laughs Outdoor Hub at one of the centrally-located downtown Montreal hotels, though the late-night crowds might make a bit too much noise for you if you have a hard time sleeping.