Recently while having lunch with one of my rare friends who is not in the comedy world, they noticed I seemed anxious and preoccupied. I told them I was merely dealing with a mild affliction that runs rampant throughout the comedy world during the month of July. A condition known as Just for laughs fever. Although the word laughs is in the name JFL it is a very serious condition with a slow to rapid onset. Symptoms include, Anxiousness, feelings of inadequacy, body dysmorphia, imposter syndrome, sudden urge to learn French ,very little time energy or money to think about much else during the month of July. If you are avid reader of this site chances are you or someone you love is experiencing this fever as you read or as you skim while last-minute packing. When I began to list off to my friend the wide range of emotions I was experiencing as a result of my JFLF it was met with confusion. “Isn’t it just a bunch of Comedy shows?” I explained attending shows that are part of the Just for Laughs Festival is quite different than the festival experience of a person in the comedy industry because people in the industry attend on a industry pass a magical ticket that hangs around a lanyard of privilege and grants unlimited (well for the most part) access to everything Just for Laughs has to offer and it is these individuals who are most prone to JFLF.
Performing or attending Just for Laughs is indescribable but let me give it a shot. It’s like Fashion Week and Summer camp with some of the funniest people on the planet. Fashion Week because all the comedians who have been selected to perform showcase all their newest and best work on solo shows at venues around the city. The audience is made up of people who have a direct impact on the direction and popularity of the shows and there’s a celebratory premiering purpose that they are the first to see what’s coming……And sometimes someone incredibly famous shows up and steals the show. Summer camp because Just for laughs takes place at the same location (keep in mind The Hyatt Regency is now called the Double Tree by Hilton) over roughly the same time each summer. Each hotel or accommodation is a good cabin or bad cabin and there is for sure a hierarchy to who gets them. Some people stay longer than others some people never come back. There are veterans, first timers, cliques, activities, people from different cities who you hope think you are cool enough to talk to you. No summer is ever the same twice.
From Wednesday when industry descends on the festival to Saturday when it leaves there is almost 300 shows not to mention panels, parties, and the occasional living statue.
This will be my 4th Festival and so in and attempt to stave off the effects of my own JFLF here is a list of things that not only helped me to survive but thrive.
1. See shows. There will never be a chance to see all the same performers together again. At its core, the festival is about discovering the new now next of comedy. Make a schedule starting with your must-see shows and work from there. Don’t be afraid to skip out on one show to catch the other the venues are all for the most part super close to one another leaving toward the end is a great way to beat crowds. Spending all of one’s time networking at the hotel bar is hopes on landing a sitcom deal is a seductive almost mythical prospect. No opportunity is guaranteed at Just for Laughs except the opportunity to see amazing shows.
2. Be kind to everyone. Judgment and pretension can run rampant at Just for laughs. Do not let a sense of accomplishment make you unkind or be looking past someone trying to scan for someone more famous. Respect that everyone attending the festival cares enough about the art form of comedy to attend. So often I’ve witnessed peers of mine be unreceptive to people they perceive as being unable to help them before they are even sure what a person does. Widen your scope it is a big industry full of people doing all sorts of things you may not have even considered and chances are they know someone you would probably like to.
3. Network. Take the chance to network with people you know but could know better. The allure of getting to know people beyond your scene is certainly real but taking the time to get to know people from your own scene strengthens bonds within your community and allows you a rare opportunity to discuss ideas from the panels at Just for Laughs and how they could apply to your own projects and the comedy your peers make. The result will be meaningful connections you can utilize all year.
4. Network Wisely. Networking does not mean giving your ideas away for free. Be conscious of the projects and ideas you speak about and with who. Give people a sense of what you do by speaking about what you have done. Projects or concepts still in development should be kept for more official meetings where proof of what has been disclosed and agreement of how that information will be used has more clear boundaries.
5. Know your limits and listen to yourself. Accept it is impossible to do and see everything at Just for laughs. Be honest about what serves you and how you are feeling. If you are not enjoying a show politely leave. If you don’t feel up to rushing to a venue check out the next show in the one you are in or the closest one too you. If you don’t feel up to attending certain daytime activities take the time to mentally recharge. This is especially true for the three nights of open bar parties. If you are someone who needs a plan around that do not be afraid to set your boundaries. The strategy I have seen be effective is attending the midnight shows rather than the parties. You can choose to go home after or if you do go to a party the bar will be open for only an hour after the midnight show lets out.
6. Forget Your Friends. Consider not seeing your friends or comics you are overly familiar with. This is a hot take I know although it is a massive accomplishment for your friend to have made it to Just for Laughs decide wether seeing a set you know off by heart is worth sacrificing your chance to see a different performer you may never get to see again. Wish them well go to their warm-up shows before they leave. Mention it to them and your reasons why and see if they perhaps have an opening spot or a shorter set with other comics you don’t know on the lineup.
7. See New Faces Characters. The best and brightest in Sketch comedy perform solo characters in the vein of a SNL audition each year it is one of the highlights of my festival sketch comedy is way less prominently featured then stand up at Just for Laughs and it’s a thoroughly entertaining showcase held at one of Canada’s oldest Theatres.
8. Consider seeing a show in French. Just for Laughs/Juste pour rire offers french and English shows Quebec has a thriving french language stand up scene and checking out a show is an experience you will not likely have anywhere else It will be a lesson in laugher as a universal language.
9. Tickets. There are certain shows you cannot get into unless you buy tickets. All the Gala shows require you to purchase a ticket beyond your pass check with the venue before getting in line.
10. Laugh! Laugh where ever you find it. How ever you find it Search for it in the streets of Montreal. When you are at Just for Laughs laughing so hard your face hurts you will know your Just for Laughs Fever is finally cured.