OFFJFL just for laughs montreal 2023 festival

Steph Tolev, Gina Yashere and Donnell Rawlings

OFFJFL is the sweet spot for comedy in Montreal through July 29

11 highlights of the alternative wing of the Just for Laughs festival, which allows emerging and established comics to get intimate and go deep.

Since 2009, OFFJFL (and its francophone equivalent Zoofest) have offered Montrealers a whole new dimension to the city’s beloved comedy festival Just For Laughs. These events offer environments for comics to win over fans in smaller rooms such as Newspeak, Café Cléopatra, le Balcon and Théâtre Sainte-Catherine. From July 13 to 29, performers will have a full hour to do their thing, while also having more creative freedom than the average comedy show or gala showcase allows. Bookings at OFFJFL have allowed countless comics to find fame within five years of appearing at the festival.

With plenty of talent — emerging and established — on display from anglo, franco and international circles, it’s hard to pick and choose which shows to go see, so we’ve decided to try narrowing things down for you. Here’s a roundup of some of this year’s OFFJFL talents who we think are especially worth your time and money — and given that you can catch up to 7 shows for $50 with a festival passport, we’ve included 11 recommendations here.

Tales of Gender Affirmation

A hybrid of sorts between comedy and storytelling, this event showcases comedic talent from the LGBTQ+ community sharing widely relatable jokes and anecdotes about everyday life, told through the lens of simultaneously becoming their fully authentic selves. Among the comics featured are Eve Parker Finley, Alo Azimov, Maxen Jack-Monroe, Ray Resvick and Elspeth Wright. Café Cléopatra, July 19, 10 p.m. (18+)

They Go Low, We Go Laugh

Each performance in this one is a relative free-for-all, depending on who’s onstage. This show highlights women of colour (and people of other marginalized groups) performing not necessarily just standup, but also sketch comedy, improv and poetry, among other things. Tranna Wintour, Shanthony Exum and Mina Minou are among those performing. Café Cléopatra, July 20, 10 p.m. (18+)

The Lucas Brothers

Cinephiles may know the Lucas Brothers as the co-writers and co-producers of the Oscar-nominated Judas and the Black Messiah, while comedy lovers may recognize identical twins Kenny and Keith Lucas from Judd Apatow and Seth MacFarlane film projects and cult series like Lady Dynamite. This summer they’ll be bringing to Montreal the style that has made them fixtures at New York’s Comedy Cellar. Théâtre Sainte-Catherine, July 20, 21, 22, 23 and 25, 8:30 p.m.

Urzila Carlson – It’s Personal

Following the Lucas Brothers at the same venue will be this Kiwi comedienne, hosting a show all about keeping your nose out of anyone’s business other than your own. The standup comic/hilarious podcast host tackles these topics in a world where it feels like we’re oversharing now more than ever. Théâtre Sainte-Catherine, July 20, 21, 22, 23 and 25, 10 p.m.

Steph Tolev: Filth Queen

When someone gets their big break on a Netflix special hosted by Bill Burr, you can expect their act to be pretty outrageous. That’s precisely what you’re getting from Steph Tolev in Filth Queen, where the Toronto-bred, L.A.-based comic brings her boisterous and absurd style to OFFJFL. Café Cléopatra, July 25 and 27, 7:30 p.m. (18+)

Zarna Garg: Truth Bombs

Interviewed this month by Cult MTL, the New York-based comic recently scored her debut special, Zarna Garg: One in a Billion, on Amazon Prime. With jokes centred around topics like motherhood, immigrating from India and various aspects of American life, Garg balances biting commentary with hilarious anecdotes to hugely entertaining effect. Le Balcon, July 26 (8:30 p.m.) and 27 (7 p.m.)

OFFJFL is the sweet spot for comedy in Montreal from July 13 to 29

Donnell Rawlings

Another comedian Cult MTL had the pleasure of recently chatting with for a second time, Rawlings is much more than just Ashy Larry on Chappelle’s Show. Also part of the roster for The Nasty Show at this year’s Just for Laughs, Rawlings will perform solo while being his gloriously vulgar self across two nights. Café Cléopatra, July 27 and 28, 10:30 p.m. (18+)

Gina Yashere: The Woman King of Comedy

Growing up in London and now living in California, Gina Yashere has had quite the journey since appearing on Last Comic Standing in 2007. The co-creator of CBS’s Bob Hearts Abishola’s standup is sharp-tongued and full of attitude, and OFFJFL is part of her ongoing solo tour, appropriately named The Woman King of Comedy.

PDA – Claude Léveillée, July 26, 10:30 p.m., Le Balcon, July 27, 10 p.m.

OFFJFL BONUS Zoofest shows

Les entrevues de Julien Bernatchez

Right at the very start of this year’s OFFJFL/Zoofest is this social media maverick with a penchant for conducting interviews… but in the Ali G/Cunk on Earth kind of way. Some will know him from Noovo’s Un souper presque parfait, and he’ll bring what’s described as “a chaos of surprises, poor preparation and discomfort” to the festival. Café Cléopatra, July 13, 8:30 p.m. (18+)

Sure, Why Not Tabarnak

A sketch comedy show with some music sprinkled in as well from Jess Abran and Stephen Voyce. Led by local comics Nir Guzinski and Michelle Furtado, you’ll also find sets from John Cotrocois, Wassim El-Mounzer and Joanna Selvarajah. Café Cléopatra, July 19, 7 p.m. (18+)

On a brisé Internet

Known as “Quebec comedians everyone knows, but no one talks about,” this motley crew of eight francophone comics have each enjoyed viral success on platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Catch local talent like Tommy Néron, Mike Beaudoin and Charles Brunet, as well as French comedians Djimo and Nordine Ganso. St. James United Church, July 21, 9:30 p.m.

OFFJFL BONUS After Parties

Among the many afterparties planned to follow Zoofest shows is After Party Kickback – 100% Neon. Marking three years of all-neon parties, the free event will feature music from DJ Balem, DJ Mica, A$h Banks and Chloe Lallouz.

OFFJFL/Zoofest runs from July 13 to 29. For the complete program and to buy tickets, please visit their website.

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