Montreal stand-up comedy Lawn Laughs

Travelling Montreal comedy show Lawn Laughs brings stand-up to you

What began as a pandemic endeavour aims to become a fixture in the Montreal entertainment scene.

Summer is here, bars and restaurants have reopened, and the vaccine rollout is well underway. The “return to normal” that we’ve been discussing as a vague prospect for 15 months is now starting to feel more like a reality.

But some of us might not feel so eager to go right back to braving the crowds and intermingling with strangers in Montreal’s nightlife. So, what do you do if you’re in the mood to, say, take in a live comedy show, but without dealing with the “back to normal”? Book a private backyard show, of course.

“I think people are really hungry for social experiences, and that doesn’t need to translate to bars or venues,” says co-founder Abby Stonehouse. “Lawn Laughs is a really unique experience because of the intimacy and warmth the evening brings.”

Lawns Laughs Montreal stand-up comedy outdoor show
Lawn Laughs 2020. Photos by Abby Stonehouse

Stonehouse and Michelle Dominique, two Montreal-based comedians, started their travelling outdoor show Lawn Laughs in August 2020, visiting backyards in and around Montreal with a group of local comedians for outdoor and COVID-safe gigs. The result is a more intimate show, and the organizers say this only enhances the experience. 

“People are really comfortable in their own space, so it’s really an ideal environment for comedy,” says Dominique. “Everybody has just been having a great time.” 

Last summer, Stonehouse and Dominique wanted to find an alternative to doing shows in bars that felt safer for both the audience and the comedians, so they launched Lawn Laughs and developed a COVID-safe show procedure that allowed them to do just that. But after a few weeks of successful private events, it all came to a grinding halt on Oct. 1 as Montreal moved into the Red zone in Quebec’s regional alert system, a designation it remained in until June 7. 

With backyard gatherings finally allowed again, Lawn Laughs is bringing comedy right to their audience’s weekend barbecues. Their first month of shows for 2021 is done, and their schedule for August is starting to fill up with bookings.

Lawns Laughs Montreal stand-up comedy outdoor show

“Comedy had just stopped, so we’re definitely eager,” says Stonehouse. “It’s my passion when I’m able to do comedy, and when I’m not I’m very discouraged.” 

The comedians, she says, feel the same way. “They’re just happy to be able to perform. They’ll follow all the rules as long as they can perform.”

The lineups usually change a bit from show to show, but Ben Cardilli is one of the comedians who often performed in the Lawn Laughs gigs last year. He says he went back to performing at indoor venues where a lot of measures are in place for everyone’s safety, but the outdoor shows with Lawn Laughs felt like less of a risk. The hosts who booked the shows were at ease with the setup at all the ones he’s done.

“When you’re talking about a club downtown, people have to find a babysitter, find parking, do the whole thing and then you get into a club and it’s like, ‘These guys better be funny,’” he jokes, “but when you’re in your home, you’re just in a good mood.” 

It’s definitely a different atmosphere from those indoor venues, but Cardilli says comedians are used to having to adjust from venue to venue. “You’ve got to go and read your audience, the situation, and everything changes even from downtown to the suburbs: politics, people’s views.”

“Because you’re in a backyard and you’re with a group of people that know each other quite well, it’s funny to see that sometimes the audience wants to talk to us and comment on the jokes,” says Stonehouse. She says this has been really enjoyable for the comedians who really like that kind of crowd work.

Lawns Laughs Montreal stand-up comedy outdoor show

Cardilli points out that Lawn Laughs is not only a great service for people to enjoy live comedy in a space where they feel comfortable, it also provides the opportunity for comedians to practise their material. 

“Even if everything goes back to normal, I think it’s an interesting idea,” he says. “Comedians coming up that aren’t established, that are just looking for spots and places to practise and work out, it can still be an interesting option for people to organize something like that for someone’s birthday party, instead of the usual.”

“Our goal is to have it be something that we can grow into a bigger project, I’d like it to be a service that we can offer regardless of a pandemic, even though it did grow out of the pandemic,” Dominique explains.

“I think this is a whole new approach to stand-up comedy and a unique new experience for people looking to add something to the events they want to host at home,” Stonehouse adds. “COVID or not, we have very high hopes for expanding and continuing on with Lawn Laughs.” ■

To book a Lawn Laughs show, please visit their Facebook page. This article originally appeared in the August issue of Cult MTL.

For more Montreal comedy coverage, please visit the Comedy section.