New Faces and Old Legends: A Preview of the Just for Laughs 2017 Lineup

In a room in the iconic Monument-National on St Laurent Boulevard, press gathered in anticipation. Festival Season is coming in Montreal and Just for Laughs was ready to announce its long awaited lineup for the 2017 comedy festival.

This year is a special one for Just for Laughs as it marks the 35th anniversary of a comedy festival that helped launch the careers of everyone from Demetri Martin to Amy Schumer. Every year the people behind the festival, including its veterans, do their best to bring in top comedic talent from around the world and give new faces a shot at fame.

This year is no exception.

The biggest names on the ticket this year have to be American comic legend Jerry Seinfeld and French comedian Gad Elmaleh, who is the most beloved comedian in Europe right now. Elmaleh has recently begun doing comedy in English with great success. Seinfeld’s appearance at Just for Laughs will be his first since 1989. For one special night at the Bell Center on July 28th, the two will share the stage in honor of the festival’s anniversary.

Africa’s most successful comedian Trevor Noah will also be performing this year. Since he took over as host of The Daily Show in 2015, he has done some of the most scathingly successful critiques of current events and of the US President and his government of racist, misogynist, classists. If you’ve ever watched any of Trevor Noah’s comedy specials, his style of soft-spoken yet biting social commentary peppered with hilarious impressions promises that any show he’s in will be special.

Writer and Director of Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin Judd Apatow has chosen Montreal as the venue for his new stand-up show which will be recorded live for Netflix during the festival. Transgender actress, model and advocate (plus my second favourite Frank n’ Furter) Laverne Cox will be hosting her own gala, as will SNL veteran David Spade.

The lineup of Canadian talent this year seems to favor comedians from Newfoundland. Among them, we have ranter and political satirist Rick Mercer, who will be hosting a gala. Mark Critch of This Hour Has 22 Minutes will be hosting Homegrown Comics, a staple event at the festival featuring Canadian up and comers in standup comedy. The only Central Canadian names this year are Howie Mandel and Montreal’s own Sugar Sammy, who is the festival’s special guest.

A smiling Sammy took the podium this morning to express his gratitude to a festival that launched his career so quickly he found himself riding the bus to his own show with his fans back in the day. He jokingly told the press that he’d promised himself he’d take a fancy car to Just for Laughs once he got rich and famous, but ended up taking the metro today due to Montreal construction. His gala will feature international standup comedians.

Just for Laughs veteran Kevin Hart is doing what he can to promote young talent via Laugh Out Loud Network Presents: Just For Laughs Eat My Shorts. The initiative between Hart and Just For Laughs will feature shorts submitted by various filmmakers. Twenty films that speak to a diverse audience will eventually be chosen to stream on the LOL website and a panel consisting of Hart and other judges will select the top five for a screening at the Imperial Theatre. A winner will be selected that night and Hart will present them with a development deal followed by a Q&A session.

The Nasty Show is for me the best part of Just for Laughs. It’s the show where comedians, by their own admission, can let loose and tell jokes without having to worry about offending anyone. The lineup for this year’s Nasty Show features the master of British snark, Jimmy Carr, as well as Godfrey, Robert Kelly, and Big Jay Oakerson. What are suspiciously absent from this lineup are female comedians, though whether this is deliberate or accidental is unclear, though it’s not for lack of talent. Anyone who thinks women can’t do filthy comedy is welcome to google Lisa Lampanelli, Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman, or Paula Bel, to name a few.

The Ethnic Show is the festival’s way of fighting racism and breaking down cultural barriers through laughter. The host this year is Iranian-American Maz Jobrani who is joined by Jewish American Jessica Kirson, Korean Irish-American Steve Byrne, and the Dominican Vlad Caamaño among others. The Ethnic Show is the show for cultural criticism and self-deprecating ethnic humor that feels less offensive because it’s made by comedians of those backgrounds.

In addition to festival staples, Just for Laughs is introducing some new attractions. New Faces: Creators features people contributing to the “evolution of the comedy landscape” via digital content creation. Also new to the festival is Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch recognizing the talents of stand-up comedians, sketch artists, and web content creators impacting the comedy industry this year.

For those who shun the mainstream, there’s always OFF-JFL and Zoofest which feature over sixty shows in intimate venues all over the city. The more risqué nature of the shows and the fact that tickets are generally cheaper makes this a great option for those of us who are broke. OFF-JFL regular Andy Kindler will host the Alternative Show, while The Lucas Bros return for more laughs. Other comedians in this series include Vir Das, Cristela Alonzo, and Barry Rothbart, to name a few.

With the tense socio political climate in North America, Just For Laughs is the kind festival we need more than ever. It’s not just because we all need a good laugh; it’s because if anyone can call bullshit on the worst behaviors of our leaders to keep them in check, it’s comedians. The best comedians shine when things are bad so if current events are any indication, it’s going to be a GREAT festival this year!

Ticket info can be had at hahaha.com

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