Yeah, we said this just yesterday, but we’ve got The Big Sick on the brain, so here it is again. One of the plot points in the critically acclaimed romantic comedy involves Kumail Nanjiani and his stand-up friends trying to get accepted to a comedy festival in Montreal. They don’t call it Just For Laughs in the movie, but that’s what they’re talking about. The biggest comedy festival in the world hits its busiest moment this week, as pretty much the entire comedy industry descends on the town for a flurry of shows, meetings and (hopefully) deals. For fans (and journalists) it’s a great way to just drown yourself in comedy, from young comics making their first steps onto the national level, to the biggest names in the business playing to sold-out audiences. Paste will be there all week, taking in as many shows as we can every night, and here’s what we’re looking forward to the most.
1. Ron Funches: Funch-A-Mania
July 26 to July 29
Monument National – Studio Hydro Quebec
Yes, Funches is a huge pro wrestling fan, and Funch-A-Mania is clearly named after WWE’s biggest show of the year (uh, WrestleMania) but you don’t have to be a fan of the one true art to appreciate his comedy. Funches’ struggles with fatherhood, his body and growing up while still proudly loving what you love (i.e., wrestling, videogames, weed, etc.) should be relatable to almost anybody, and even if it’s not, his lovable personality and unique delivery will still win you over.
2. Jerry Seinfeld and Gad Elmaleh
The biggest comedian in the world teams up with the biggest comedian in France for what should be one of the hardest tickets to get during the whole festival. Seinfeld needs no introduction, and former Montreal resident Gad Elmaleh is called “the Seinfeld of France” not just because of his comic sensibility but because of his popularity and pop cultural ubiquity in his home country. This show elegantly summarizes the international spirit of Just For Laughs, which is effectively split into two French and English-language festivals, and Montreal itself, which feels just as European as you’ve heard.
3. Ali Wong
Maison Symphonique at Place Des Arts
We don’t entirely know what to expect from Wong’s follow-up set to her breakthrough special Baby Cobra, but if it’s anything like that Netflix hour, it’ll turn the specific tensions of her everyday life into pointed and relatable observations. Wong’s poised to become one of the bigger names within the industry, making this show a must-see.
4. Judd Apatow
July 27 to July 29
5ieme Salle at Place Des Arts
Apatow’s ramshackle late night show was one of our favorites from last year. Somehow he did a set conspicuously built around opportunities that his fame and wealth have afforded him without coming off as arrogant or condescending. It’ll be interesting to see how his new material has developed in the last year, and if he has any more embarrassing Mark Ruffalo stories.
5. John Mulaney
Writer, stand-up and unlikely Broadway star John Mulaney returns to Just For Laughs with his latest tour, Kid Gorgeous, making a single stop with two feature slots on Saturday night. Mulaney’s smart, sure-footed, self-effacing stand-up interweaves personal confessions with observational details, and his brief set after Apatow last year was another one of our 2016 highlights. Hopefully he lives up to the standards he’s set on a series of great specials.
6. Kate Berlant
July 27 to July 29
We first became aware of Kate Berlant at Just For Laughs 2015, and since then she’s shined in Netflix’s The Characters (her episode, and her appearances in John Early’s episode, basically steal that series) and her Vimeo series, 555 (also with Early). Her stand-up is heavily character based, verging on experimental theater or performance art, and consistently hilarious, combining keen observations into human idiosyncrasies with her own adept physicality. Um, she’s funny, is what we’re saying.
7. Emily Heller
July 25 to July 26
raved about Heller’s Kill Rock Stars album in 2015, and now we’re excited to see her in person at Just For Laughs this week. It’s not easy to describe Heller without reusing a lot of the same words as that review, so let’s do it: yes, she’s “personal,” “confessional,” full of “self-revelation” and “self-deprecation.” We’re saying she tells stories about herself in a charming, personable way, finding the humor in her own relatable life. Heller’s act doesn’t feel like an act, which makes it even funnier.
8. Mark Forward
July 24 to July 29
Monument National – La Balustrade
Paste has seen Mark Forward perform every year we’ve been to Just For Laughs, and it’s been the same set piece every time, an absurd sketch about a failed gas station owner who bet it all on selling fancy hats, and lost. It does not lend itself to description well, but it legitimately earns the term “tour de force,” as Forward incorporates music and switches constantly between three different characters with different voices and body language. We have no idea what to expect from a full show—does he have sketches other than the one about fancy hats? Or did we merely see an abbreviated snippet from the full, unabridged, hour-long fancy hats bit? We’re excited to find out.
9. HBO’s Vice Principals panel
Hyatt Grand Salon Opera
The first season of Vice Principals didn’t seem to have quite the pop cultural impact as Eastbound & Down, the previous show from Jody Hill and Danny McBride. We still greatly admired its caustic edge here at Paste, though, along with its unabashed Southernness. This panel features most of the main cast (McBride, Walton Goggins, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Georgia King and Edi Patterson), along with Hill and his fellow director, David Gordon Green, and it follows suit with most of these things, it’ll be a lively conversation about one of the most interesting comedies on TV today.
10. Andy Kindler’s The Alternative Show
July 25 to July 29
This late night sampler platter features a variety of comedians in a loose environment, letting them whip out some proven hits or test out new material without a lot of stress. Andy Kindler, a pro’s pro, is an ideal host, able to riff with the crowd or needle a comedian as necessary. With an unpredictable lineup prone to unannounced walk-ons, The Alternative Show is a quintessential pillar of OFF-JFL, the schedule of smaller club shows that bolster the main Just For Laughs lineup.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.