35 Reasons to Look Forward to the 35th annual Just For Laughs festival in Montreal this July 2017

The 35th annual Just For Laughs, or Juste Pour Rire (Pour les Français), kicked off on Wednesday in Montreal, and while there may only be a few Americans performing there this weekend (Jessica Kirson, Steve Byrne and Vlad Caamano in The Ethnic Show, hosted by Alonzo Bodden), hundreds of comedians from across North America and the world will be joined by hundreds more managers, agents, casting scouts and programming executives in what has been and continues to be the world’s singular celebration and confab for the comedy community. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of comedy fans from the province of Quebec, the rest of Canada and the United States who pour into Montreal for the remainder of July.

For the past two Julys, the must-see show for everyone was the Roast Battle tournament, which last year took over one of the JFL venues to become a live set so Comedy Central could film and broadcast the comic-on-comic roasts live from the festival.

No Roast Battle this year. Although there will be a Boast Rattle, hosted by Kyle Ayers with comedians trying to out-compliment each other in front of a judgmental live audience on July 26.

Dave Chappelle has been a Montreal must-see in 2013 and 2015, with record-setting 10-night runs at JFL.

For Canadians and for the comedians at JFL, performing in one of the Galas is a big highlight, not only because you’re playing to the larger theater audiences, but also because you’re being filmed for later broadcasts on Canadian TV.

But without a definitive must-see show this July at JFL, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to seek out great comedians in all-star performances and showcases without having to worry about beating the crowds to the box office. The first two weeks of JFL are devoted mostly to the Francophone comedians and audiences, while the last week turns its attention to the Americans and other English-speaking acts — overloaded into the final Wednesday-Saturday. Just look at the number of shows and panels each day from July 26-29: 80, 91, 86 and 91. Another thing making JFL Montreal uniquely great for comedy fans and the industry alike: Several of those final-week shows run all week long, giving you a chance to catch up on the buzz everyone was talking about the night before.

Here are at least 35 things to look forward to at the 35th JFL Montreal:

  1. This year’s biggest name and biggest show happens July 26 at the Bell Centre, as Jerry Seinfeld and Gad Elmaleh (often called the French-Moroccan Seinfeld) perform one night only, back to back, as a toast to both Montreal’s bilingual nature as well as the festival’s major anniversary.
  2. Judd Apatow, known as a hugely successful and influential movie producer and director, is filming his own first Netflix stand-up special ever, over the course of his five performances July 27-29.
  3. The biggest name not scheduled to perform but definitely appearing and talking in public will be Canada’s own Jim Carrey! Carrey will receive an award from the festival, and also sit down with the cast of the show he co-created and executive produces for Showtime, I’m Dying Up Here.
  4. Ali Wong has experienced a magical, meteoric rise of a year since taping a Netflix special while pregnant. Wong writes on one ABC sitcom and co-stars in another, and has an equally funny follow-up hour to Baby Cobra to show off for audiences, one night only July 27.
  5. Hot off the heels of his own Netflix special and a best-selling book, host of The Daily Show Trevor Noah will perform live on July 28 and also sit for a conversation on July 29.
  6. Jeff Ross and Dave Attell onstage together. At midnight. July 26-28. ‘Nuff said. 
  7. The return of The Masters! (aka Not-So-New-Faces) Todd Barry hosts a lineup TBA July 27-29.
  8. After stealing the scenery in the year’s best movie, Get Out, Lil Rel gets to host his own showcases with his friends, July 26-27, July 29. Hear Lil Rel tell me about his life and career up to 2015 in Episode #13 of my podcast, The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.
  9. The return of The Green Room with Paul Provenza! Onstage, see the uncensored everything-goes riffing among comedians that started in Montreal before birthing two seasons of great comedy chatter on Showtime. July 29.
  10. LOL Live tapings: (with Kevin Hart?!) – Hart’s new Laugh Out Loud streaming network filmed stand-up showcases last year at JFL, and they’ll be back again this year July 26-29 as the service prepares to launch in August. Hart will attend the showcase of Eat My Shorts to present the winners with a development deal that Thursday night.
  11. Midnight Surprise is just that. You might get a decent, regular ol’ star stand-up showcase, or you may just see one of comedy superstars decide to drop in (or even fly in just for a night or two when they weren’t even part of the fest, as Louis CK did one year) and join in the fun. July 20-29.
  12. The cast and executive producers of the CBS sitcom, Superior Donuts, renewed for a second season this fall, sit down for a panel chat July 29. Star Jermaine Fowler told me about his life and career leading up to this game-changing gig in Episode #41 of The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First. I’ve also sat down with co-star Maz Jobrani (Episode #91).
  13. HBO’s Vice Principals filmed both of his two and only rock-em, sock-em seasons in one fell swoop. The cast panel will feature Danny McBride, Jody Hill, David Gordon Green, Walton Goggins, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Georgia King, Edi Patterson and will be moderated by Ron Bennington. July 29.
  14. FOX’s The Mick broke through this past mid-season. Join Kaitlin Olson with creators Dave and John Chernin as they dish on the best moments from the first season of FOX’s The Mick, and let us in on what Mickey and the gang are up to in Season 2, moderated by writer, journalist, and Vulture Senior Editor Jesse David Fox. July 29.
  15. CNN’s The History of Comedy, no longer pre-empted by Trump scandals, will screen one of its episodes, followed by a panel chat that includes CNN’s Emmy nominee W. Kamau Bell. July 27.
  16. New Faces, the one showcase that aspiring comedians make the most fuss over every year, and that may go double for the industry, now with a new category for Creators?! July 26-28.
  17. Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch, already making names for themselves, will appear at a fun cocktail bash Thursday night, then panel Friday afternoon and showcase Friday night.
  18. Hold On With Eugene Mirman, based on his Audible audio series, where he interrupts by saying, “hold on..” just when we wished they would tell us more. July 27-28.
  19. Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storytelling Show, one night only, perhaps he’ll tell what really went down when Comedy Central took away This Is Not Happening from him. This is happening July 25.
  20. The Goddamn Comedy Jam, one of the hottest tickets when it debuted at JFL a couple of years ago and begat its own Comedy Central special and series, returns for a run of comedians joking about songs and singing them with a rock band. July 25-29.
  21. What’s Your F@#King Deal?, hosted by Big Jay Oakerson and available for viewing on Seeso (as long as Seeso is a thing), invites comedians onstage to do anything but their prepared material, instead using crowd work to inspire their jokes.
  22. A perennial Montreal mainstay: Andy Kindler, hosting The Alternative Show nightly with his famous friends, and presenting the State of the Industry as only he can Friday afternoon. Kindler spoke to me about how he builds the address every year, and more, in Episode #11 of The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.
  23. Podcasts, podcasts and more podcasts: Among those invited this year for live tapings and more…Guys We F@#ked, The Last Podcast on the Left, Good One, Wedlock with Kurt and Lauren, Jake & Amir, Skeptic Tank, You Know What Dude, Headgum, Friends Like Us, Rantin’ and Ravin’, and The Comedian’s Comedian (no relation).
  24. Desus and Mero may not have received an Emmy nomination this year for their late-night Viceland TV talk show, but don’t let those know-nothing Emmy voters keep you from experiencing The Bodega Boys Live with Desus and Mero.
  25. I saw Andy Dick workshopping a one-man show at JFL last summer, and it could be crazy good, if Dick gets his act together. So, too, the new documentary film Everybody Has An Andy Dick Story should prove equally amusing and amazing. July 26.
  26. SiriusXM will be recording some of its comedy talk shows live from the fest, including The Bonfire with Big Jay Oakerson and Dan Soder on Wednesday night, and Jim Norton and Sam Roberts on Thursday and Friday morning. Those live morning conversations with hungover and sleep-deprived comedians should be scintillating, indeed.
  27. Ryan Hamilton has grown up into a star of his own in front of JFL audiences, stealing the spotlight in Galas, and eventually landing his own headlining slot. Hamilton just taped his first Netflix special, so get a sneak peek at what’s on his mind from July 24-29.
  28. Chris Fleming: Showpig, proving he’s much more than a viral sensation.
  29. New hours from both John Mulaney
  30. AND Mike Birbiglia
  31. AND Arj Barker.
  32. Roast Battle finalist Sarah Tiana returns with an hour of her own, no roasting!
  33. Roast Battle Champion Mike Lawrence, meanwhile, gets two nights to shine on his own.
  34. Development deals used to get thrown around JFL like money grew on Montreal’s trees. If you want to know the secrets to getting a deal in 2017, your best bet is to see the executives from HBO, truTV, FOX and Comedy Central, who are hosting separate panel chats Thursday, Friday and Saturday as part of JFLComedyPro.
  35. Or you can just network the old-fashioned way, Old Fashioneds not included, although Netflix and Funny or Die are sponsoring open bar parties on Wednesday and Friday night. And the lobby and patio of the Hyatt will be jam-packed late into the night, despite the hotel and the city wanting us all to go to our rooms, as anyone and everyone mingles and shops themselves around.

Just For Laughs Montreal runs July 12-31, 2017.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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