8 ways to make the most of Zoofest & OFF-JFL

July 7, 2016

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“There’s no excuse for people to miss Zoofest & OFF-JFL, even if they’re taking two weeks of vacation, since the festival lasts 24 days,” says programming director Fannie Bissonnette. “Ours is the longest – and I hope funniest – festival in North America!”

Until July 30, dozens of comedy shows, along with theatre and music, will happen each night in the Quartier des Spectacles. There’s a ton of them! To get a clearer picture of what’s on this huge bill, Ms. Bissonnette guided us through the program, and gave us the inside scoop on how to make the most of it, with eight unwritten rules for making this the perfect comedy fest.

1. Leave your prejudices at home

“To really enjoy the experience, you have to leave all your prejudices at home – along with your hang-ups and ego,” says Fannie Bissonnette. “If you don’t, you’re going to have a lot less laughs! At Zoofest & OFF-JFL, any given show can lead to all kinds of situations, surprises and awkward moments. That’s the beauty of our program!”

2. Take a chance on the unknown

At Zoofest & OFF-JFL, no two days are alike. “You have to take risks,” the programming director says. Here are two shows that capture that spirit perfectly: Todd Barry: Works the Crowd (July 27-28-30, Katacombes) and What’s Your Fucking Deal?! (July 28-30, Café Cléopâtre), a pair of adults-only shows that turn the spotlight on the audience. Todd Barry will heckle you all by himself, while the delightfully crude Big Jay Oakerson will lead a cast of top comics in a crowdwork extravaganza. Are you brave enough to sit in the front row?

3. Take it an hour at a time

Every night, there are shows from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., and they’re all 60 minutes long. The festival takes place in the Quartier des Spectacles at various venues, all within walking distance of each other, so you can leave a show at the Monument-National and make your way to Théâtre Sainte-Catherine – while reserving your tickets using the Zoofest mobile app – and cap your evening at the Katacombes.

4. Beyond comedy

Zoofest & OFF-JFL is more than just a comedy festival. “You need to be open to discovering not only new artists, but new disciplines,” says Ms. Bissonnette. The program always includes plenty of stand-up comedy, but it also has theatre, mime, music and improv. Usually with big helpings of absurdity and wacky comedy.

5. Enjoy some bilingual laughter

Zoofest also includes OFF Juste pour Rire, so the festival has as many shows in the language of Fred Dubé (July 20, 21, 22, 23, Monument-National) as in that of Emo Philips (July 25-30, Salle Claude-Léveillée). Trump vs Bernie (July 27-29, Le Balcon) stars a pair of impressionists in a hilarious mock-debate. The Midnight Surprise show (July 21-30, Théâtre Sainte-Catherine) is, as its name suggests, full of hilarious surprises. Last year, lucky fans got to see an intimate set from Dave Chapelle.

6. Enjoy impromptu musical events

This year, Zoofest & OFF-JFL have created some unique musical moments. Users of the festival’s mobile app will receive alerts (sometimes as few as 30 minutes ahead of time) for last-minute concerts presented in unusual locations or on street corners. Well-known artists selected by the Festival de musique émergente (FME) will play three songs and pack up.

7. Let the ambassadors be your guide

From July 16 to 30, on the Îlot Clark, you’ll find the Spot Zoofest, the festival’s headquarters. The venue will host free shows, and food will be served by BOUFFONS!MTL. Festivalgoers can also count on the ambassadors’ good advice in creating a custom schedule. “For example, if you’re into the absurd, you might be steered toward the Goddamn Comedy Jam (July 27-30, Le Balcon) or This is Not Happening hosted by Ari Shaffir (Café Cléopâtre, July 26-30),” says Ms. Bissonnette.

8. See the best up-and-comers and locals

Zoofest & OFF-JFL has its share of big-name comedians playing intimate venues, but it’s also a great place to get to see hot local talent and rising stars before they’re famous. Among the many young stars at this year’s festival is Beth Stelling, who’s already appeared on an impressive list of TV shows and had her own Comedy Central special.

Zoofest and OFF-JFL

Until July 30