Selecting a show or two at the Just For Laughs Montreal International Comedy Festival is always a difficult task. Not that the shows are not good, just the contrary: almost all the shows are definitely worth seeing. Based on eleven or so years of past experiences and the latest line-up, here are our suggestions for this year's fest.
An absolute must is John Pinette Making Lite Of Myself at the Imperial Theatre July 18 to 22. Pinette is God, simple as that. He always kills at Just For Laughs, the crowd loves him, and he is a comedy genius. His CD, Show Me The Buffet is still in my top three best ever.
Bill Cosby, July 22 at 6:00 and 9:00 is simply a must see show. The Cos is one of the, if not the, greatest stand-up comedians ever and this is bound to be a good show unless he does a commencement or graduation ceremony speech. The show is at Place des Arts, a fancy venue whose class will pale in comparison with Bill Cosby's. This is a fairly steep show in terms of ticket price but the balcony seats are pretty decent at PdA so you can save a bit that way.
Women Fully Clothed, at the Centaur Theatre, seems to be a good bet. The show will feature Kathryn Greenwood (of Whose Line fame), Robin Duke, Debra McGrath, Jayne Eastwood, and Teresa Pavlinek. Seems the show has been touring for a while so it should be smooth sailing. This is July 11 to 16 and July 18 to 23 at 8:00. The Centaur is also a good venue seating wise and the lady who runs the box office is really nice.
It is quite possible to do the Just For Laughs without spending a fortune. Gala shows are, I hear, quite good, but since you get to see most of them on TV a while later, I prefer the club venues myself. The Club Soda on St. Laurent Street is always a good venue. I have yet to have a bad experience there either show wise or management wise. Laugh-Rodisiacs, also known as the Relationship Show is always a must and get your tickets way ahead of time as it always sells out. July 17 to 19 7:00.
Perennial favorite Nasty Show, which begins a week before most other shows, is also a favorite ticket for stand-up comedy fans. It is, of course, a nasty show so leave your PC (and your Apple) at the door. I have always enjoyed Bubbling With Laughter (July 17 to 19 7:00 and July 20 and 21 7:00 and 9:30) so that is most probably a good bet.
The disadvantage with Laugh-Rodisiacs or Bubbling With Laughter is you never really know who is going to be on, and sometimes even the Just For Laughs people are not to sure a couple of days before, but they are good, safe bets. You will get an MC, a couple three comics, a short intermission and a couple three comics. Historically, the MC rocks, and 75 % of the stand-up comics have a good, longish set.
Uptown Comics (July 22 8:00 and 11:00) at the Spectrum is also a must on my personal stand-up comedy calendar during Just For Laughs. It is now at the Spectrum on Ste. Catherine Street and another quick sell tickets so do no wait too long. It conflicts with the Cosby show at Place des Arts so I can already hear some comics bitch about that.
I am hoping to catch Wiseguys, the Italian show, at the same venue the day before (July 20 and 21 7:00 and 9:30 with a midnight show on July 21st) if the comedy gods are nice, I will catch this show I usually hear good stuff about.
The riskiest stand-up comedy ticket at the Just For Laughs Montreal International Comedy Festival is anything at the Kola Note on Parc Avenue (old timers will know the Kola Note is the former Club Soda before it moved to better digs). The problem here is not the shows. News Faces of Comedy used to be a have to get ticket when it was playing elsewhere while Dating It is not a bad little show depending on the audience, and Britcom has, historically, been hit and miss. The real problem is every single bad club experience we have had over the years at JFL has been at the Kola Note. From no cold beer for the 7:00 show, doors opening really late for the second show, lousy crowd control for the second show so getting in line is a waste of time as line crashers party galore, not enough wait staff to accommodate the crowd (the worst was 2 waitress for a 700 or so room and one of them was a rookie). As a rule, being picky about my comedy dollar, anything at the Kola Note is, well, only if the Soda does not have a show I have not seen. This, by the way, is a resolution for this year and a slight improvement on previous resolution: never again. But, it is important to point out, the problem here in the past has been the club and not the shows nor the comics.
Still, the best bang for your stand-up comedy buck have to be the shows at Ernie Butler's The Comedy Nest and at Comedy Works. These tickets are under 20 dollars and you definitely get your moneys' worth. Comedy Works on Bishop Street features Best Of The Fest and it pretty much says it all. You are not going to get the major stars of the Gala shows (although every year the rumour mill has a major comic doing a set at Works before his or her Gala show to get a feel for the crowd but I have never experienced it myself) while Ernie Butler's The Comedy Nest has Comedy Night in Canada. If you want to see Joey Elias, Scott Faulconbridge, and other Canuck comics, this is where they will probably make a couple of appearances.
Venue wise, Comedy Works is definitely not for the claustrophobic as it is a very small club. The management is very nice and, in the past, have accommodated by sometimes hectic comedy schedule. The Comedy Nest is a somewhat larger club in the old Montreal Forum and owner Ernie Butler is a great guy who knows his stand-up comedy and how to run a club. Service at both these venues is always very good.
Check out the Just For Laughs site for more info. Last suggestions, use the JFL box office line to get your tickets (514-845-2322). Service is excellent and fees much less than other similar services.