Montreal's Just For Laughs festival is back onstage -- and online

For the first time in 39 years, the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival is hosting shows onstage and online.

Due to public health restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many shows at this year's festival will be exclusively online.

In addition, the live performances will also be available for people to stream.

This week, Just For Laughs is hosting its first in-person comedy event in two years at Club Soda.

“These are shows where the audiences are minimal because they are taking extra precautions, like to the point where it doesn't make sense," jokes comedian Jon Dore. "So, now we've got like, 12 people in a club that holds 500.”

It feels like they didn’t sell enough tickets, he quips.

“It's way worse than before, comedians have never had it harder,” he laughs.


On the street in front of the venue, fans were stopping Marito Lopez because they couldn't believe he was here in person.

“I have that Latino spice, I get it from my mom and dad who are ex-revolutionaries from El Salvador,” Marito said. “I like to show that off. I like to wear leopard print, I like to wear blouses and -- if you have any blouses, let me know.”

Rodney Ramsey says he made the best out of doing Zoom comedy during the pandemic via his animated web series, "The Unknown Comedy Club," but admits he's happy to be back in front of real humans.

“That year-and-a-half was actually nice, I got to hang with the family, but I'm tired of them now, so let's get some jokes,” he said. “I just want to be out talking to people who aren't my family. Haha, I love you, family. I'll be back later -- promise.”

The experience of doing comedy online was a weird one, adds comedian Jen Grant.

“When we started doing Zoom comedy in place of in-person comedy, I just had to assume my jokes were funny," she said. "I just had to pause during that time as I was imagining them all losing it in their living rooms. It was a crazy time and if we can't laugh about it, what are we going to do?”


The intersection of Sainte-Catherine Street and Saint-Laurent Boulevard is usually bustling -- overflowing -- with people when Just For Laughs rolls around. It's something organizers hope to get back to one day.

“We are definitely waiting to go back to the festival with 20-30 venues, 500 artists, thousands of industry and all the fans and tourists that come," said Robyn Kazsor, Just for Laughs' vice-president of festivals. "We want to get back there and then we're going to figure out what is that secret sauce of how to add in that online element so we can expose Montreal to the world and show them, how special our festival really is.”

Until then, this hybrid festival seems to satisfy folks, no matter how they're experiencing the show.

“Now that live comedy is back, I'm very happy,” Dore beams.


Breaking News alerts, info on contests, and special offers from partners