If you think Just for Laughs is only about Montreal, think you’re missing at least half the story. We’re less than a week away from JFL42 in Toronto, with one of the best festival line-ups you’ll see anywhere, in one of the world’s best comedy cities. The ten day festival runs from September 22 through October 1 and there isn’t a bad day anywhere in the lineup. Toronto is a city in full comedy bloom, and JFL42 combines the best elements of vibrant local comedy with the best headliners on the continent in a way very few cities could. The opportunity to see the city packed to the rafters with both, is just one of the reasons to trek up to Toronto in late September.
An incredible lineup awaits in Toronto, one that includes Jim Gaffigan, Jim Jefferies, Roseanne Barr, Anthony Jeselnik, Tig Notaro, Andy Kindler, Big Jay Oakerson, Cameron Esposito, Deanne Smith, Derek Seguin, Emo Philips, Gary Gulman, Jackie Kashian, Jim Norton, K. Trevor Wilson, Maria Bamford, Nate Bargatze, Ron Funches, Tom Greene, Todd Barry, and many more.
We’re getting ready to head north to T.O. ourselves, and in anticipation of the big week ahead, we talked with Festival Producer Nick Brazao, to find out… why Toronto, particularly when Just for Laughs Montreal is such an institution. Brazao, by the way, also does a ton of work with the Montreal JFL including booking Montreal’s New Faces, which should tell you everything you need to know about his comedy credentials.
It’s like being with a live DJ versus a recorded list of music in a club. This festival is evolving during the festival.
In designing the festival, JFL started with the principle that the best show is always a show with a full house. Nick explained. “If you’re in a 40 seat room and there’s 40 people in that room or you’re in a 3,000 seater and it’s packed, the experience of, it makes such a qualitative difference for the performer, for the fan, for everything. How can we try to achieve that in every show that we do?”
They wanted to use the pass system for the best fan experience, but the pass system has problems, like how do you know how many people will show up for every show? “We’ve all been to stuff like Southwest and to other festivals where it’s just– you have a pass that gets you in, but you have to line up, and the experience of that isn’t great because all the hot shows, you end up having to be there two hours in advance to line up anyways so what’s the point of having a pass?” The solution was to create the “virtual credit.” Festival-goers get passes with anywhere from two to twelve credits, depending on how crazy of a fan you are. You can use each credit to actually reserve a seat at any given show. “So we’re holding a seat for them… but what if they don’t show up? How do we get them to make sure that they show up?” They found the perfect answer– “when you physically check in at the venue, you get your credit back, and can then use that credit to reserve another show. It’s all done with smart phones and apps and geolocations,” Nick said, and if you use your credits correctly, you can turn four credits into 30 shows.”
They first used the system in 2012, and nobody was sure about whether it would work. “People are like what the fuck is 42? what the fuck is this pass? what is a virtual credit? who are you guys? Then it was just like… we were scared. In 2012, as the festival is rolling out, we’re watching these people in line with their smart phone in hand and the JFL42 bar code and they’re getting checked in and they hear the beep and they’re like “Yeah!” and they get their credit back.” It’s satisfying, Nick said, and the fans really feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, plus, before you take a 15 minute walk across town to hit up a venue, you know there’s a seat for you. The fans are happy, and the festival is thrilled too. “Now that we’re five years deep into it and have made modifications every year, we find our ability to track that sort of stuff, it’s pretty awesome to watch and we can see it.”
Because they’re tracking the fans picks, they can modify the festival as it’s happening. Brazao describes the process as “like being with a live DJ versus a recorded list of music in a club. This festival is evolving during the festival.”
Venues are sometimes chosen after the demand is gauged, and shows can be added on the fly as a matter of course. All festivals will add a show if a major headliner sells out all their dates, but in Toronto, it’s a part of the process for all the comics.
Brazao called it the Todd Barry effect, because their first year, Barry just kept adding shows. Here’s how it works– If they book Todd Barry for a 9:00 show on a Tuesday and 300 people click in that they want to see the show, they know to book it in a 390 seater, and if it sells out, add another show on the fly. And they keep adding shows and adding shows as long as people want to come. And the comics benefit, not only because they perform for a packed house, but it can mean more money for them. “If you go above and beyond [the number of shows] we think you’re going to hit, then we’ll sit down and say ‘hey, we want to add another show in addition,’ and that’s when the performer gets to hit bonuses. In the Montreal festival model, I would have done six shows with Todd Barry…they all would have been sold out and a lot of people would have wished they could have seen him.” With the Toronto system, they just keep adding.
“The overall performer experience is a key thing,” Brazao said. And comics say they love the system. Last year, Nick said, two particular examples were T.J. Miller and Al Madrigal. “Seeing these guys come to Toronto and just be blown away by the fans– Al Madrigal did a show in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and I saw it after and he was like, “That is the best show that I’ve ever done” and it was just because of the fact that so many people are seeing, in essence, free shows with their credits,” he said. And if you caught Ari Shaffir’s September 2nd episode of his podcast Skeptic Tank, you heard him rave about it being one of the best festivals in North America. “Probably one of the best festivals in North America,” Shaffir said. “The way they run it, the way you get to get tickets and passes for multiple shows and every time you show up with one of your passes, you get that pass back. So it incentivizes people to make reservations and then come to the shows. So more and more shows get added, people all over the city end up seeing three, four shows a night. I support that festival.”
The quality of the performers, and the shows on the lineups every year is a direct result of this organic system, and also because Toronto is a true comedy town. Montreal has its own scene, but there’s nothing that can compare to Toronto with a wealth of great clubs and theaters, and tremendous talent. JFL42 goes out of its way to integrate that local talent into the mix along with the international names. “Every year we try to have at least 35% of the programming local or Canadian and so much of that ends up being local because, even if you’re from Winnipeg or something, so many of the comics from across the country end up moving to Toronto because there’s more institutions there like Second City and there’s just more comedy clubs and more opportunity to do acting and commercials and everything else that comes associated with being there.”
Toronto has its own version of New Faces, that is Toronto-centric instead of being a search around America’s comedy hubs. “Every year we’ll pick somewhere between eight and ten stand ups and eight and ten character acts to showcase. Toronto itself is just such a good comedy community within Canada. It’s a young festival and it’s taking place in Toronto where these guys are from, so it’s not quite the same experience that New Faces in Montreal is with all of the hype,” Nick explained. “We wanted to take that brand to Toronto and see if we can’t showcase eight people each year to point them out and hopefully grow as we grow.” Another opportunity to see outstanding local talent comes on Thursday, September 29th, when SiriusXM presents the culmination of a nearly year long SiriusXM Top Comic contest.
So you’re not only seeing your favorite comics but there’s also the “discovery aspect” of the pass system that allows you to take the time to find out who are the next big talents.
“We’re taking this festival from very much a fan centric thing to try and really leverage the fact that it is in Toronto, which is the entertainment capital of Canada, which has TV networks and has industry and try to tap into those a bit more, we want to have some more kind of industry spacing type things like that.”
The festival is always growing, not only in size but also in the type of shows offered. New this year, is the ComedyCon program that will take place during the daytime over the festival’s two weekends, giving fans a different type of experience. ComedyCon is a speaker series, similar to Comic Con panels, with some of the fan favorites in conversation, plus some favorite podcasts. “We love adding that next sort of element of let’s hear what they have to say.” Trevor Noah, Chris D’Elia, Todd Barry, Tig Notaro, Natasha Leggero, Jim Jefferies and Craig Robinson are just a few of the artists participating in the new series.
It’s a big job, and a big festival, and promises to be one of the most memorable of the year.
“Sometimes I don’t get to necessarily watch what I’ve produced,” Nick said, “but I get the satisfaction of seeing lots of smiling faces and knowing that I am part of some of the biggest and greatest festivals in the world and those are special things. I find that people who work for festivals are often people that worked at camp. It’s kind of like the same vibe of like… project based, cyclical yearly things that you’re working towards a goal and then it’s like all these people show up in time and it’s like everybody is exhausted and all together and it’s awesome.”
Just for Laughs 42 kicks off on September 22nd and continues through October 1st. For more information and to purchase passes or tickets, visit jfl42.com. We’ll be there all week so follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and right here on The Interrobang.com for all the latest JFL42 news.