Montreal guide to comedy
For nine years, I was an anglophone comedy producer based in Montreal. I watched as the comedy scene ebbed and flowed with talent moving on and off the island, which is why Montreal feels forever alternative.
An artistic city that feels like it's always on the verge of exploding, Montreal is a beautiful, sometimes lackadaisical, feeling place... except when it comes to politics. With cheaper rent, dep wine, and access to fresh Fairmount / St Viateur bagels on a 24hr basis (I refuse to get into an argument about which is better, they are both better than any other bagel on earth, argument settled), MTL is where a DIY basement venue overtakes a brick-and-mortar comedy club to become the best comedy venue in the city.
Making a career in comedy is a tough gig. This is especially true in Montreal, where professional opportunities are slim. There's a misconception that because the city is home to Just For Laughs that it's the mecca of Canadian comedy. If we're talking about career comedians living in MTL, this is not the case. One reason? The language divide.
When looking to develop their voice, Montreal is the sandbox many anglophone artists seek to play in. Every few years, the scene feels like it borders on extinction but then resurrects itself with new talent. Anglophones are the minority in Quebec, which means a smaller pool of working comedians and audiences for them to perform to. Economy and upwardly mobile opportunities in the English community are difficult to come by. This is why some English speaking comedians - like Mike Paterson or Sugar Sammy - make the transition to French comedy.
It should be no surprise that there's a thriving francophone comedy scene in Quebec. French comedians often find viable careers. Mariana Mazza is a franco Québécois comic whose first one-woman show sold hundreds of thousands of tickets as she took it on tour throughout French-speaking Canada. Virginie Fortin is a Quebec comedy powerhouse who has dominated the small screen since 2014. Similar to English comedians looking to make the transition, you also have many French comedians wanting to get into English comedy to build national and international appeal.
In Montreal, the two communities don't merge into one cohesive scene. There is admiration, respect, and some longing from both sides but the discomfort of being immersed in a language you're not fluent in keeps a wedge between them. There are exceptions. Comedians like Thomas Leblanc and Troy Stark, produce bilingual shows and projects.
If you're visiting Montreal and want to see a show or you're looking to perform here are some reliable comedy venues that program great events.
This is a small improv venue with two theatre spaces. They have an improv school that generates a constant stream of new talent to thrive on. This is a great resource if you're interested in learning improv.
Grumpy's might seem like an outlier because it's a cheerful dive bar known for its colourful bartenders and music programming, but it also hosts one of the city's longest standing open mics. Although it's not exclusive to comedians, it has been generally thought of as a place to cut your teeth in comedy. Be warned: if you get out of line or play a bad cover song you will get gonged by bar manager Ram.
Theatre Sainte Catherine
Theatre Sainte Catherine is a bilingual theatre. You'll see productions from both the English and French sides in all genres: sketch, stand up and improv.
Bar Notre Dame Des Quilles
Bar Notre Dame Des Quilles (aka NDQ) is an amazing little bar with two five-pin bowling alleys and some of the best pizza in the city. Hot tip: their soppressata, goat's cheese, onion and honey pizza is ridiculous.
It's also home to the Stand Back show, which has been voted best comedy show two years in a row according to CultMTL's Best Of poll. Although the comedy programming is sparse, it's of the highest quality. Check out whatever you can here, you can't go wrong.
Turbo Haus has been home to The Brunch Club for over two years. The company produces Arts and Laughs, as well as other one-off comedy events. The bar also does all kinds of great programming like pop culture trivia nights, live karaoke and concerts.
Diving Bell Social Club
The Diving Bell Social Club's owners come from DYI venue roots, and it has become the spot for underground events to come to the surface. They do everything from drag shows to musical comedy.
The Comedy Nest
The only traditional-style comedy club in Montreal. Where Yuk Yuks failed, The Comedy Nest has managed to stick around. If you enjoy consuming stand up in a classic atmosphere this is the place for you.
If you see one of these comedian's names on a poster in Montreal (or they are producing the show), it's a good bet you'll be in for a dose of funny.
There are lots of amazing shows to check out in the city. Here are a few consistent shows that are worth checking out.
Colour Outside the Lines
presents incredible performances by People of Colour and folks from marginalized ethnicities.
Funny Moves Comedy Hour
A stand up show that lives at Bar Le Ritz. This show is produced by comedian Melina Maria Trimarchi and features fresh voices from Montreal and beyond.
A showcase of the best female and LGBTQ talent in the city.
Arts and Laughs
A monthly show featuring local comedians and a bunch of art supplies. Grab a seat and let the toddler in you take over.
I Like It
A monthly comedy variety show that is actually really friggin' sweet and fun, and also a very cool and good time.
A monthly underground film series that screens beloved cult classics while providing hilarious live commentary.
The Sketch Republic
Montreal's premiere monthly sketch comedy night, featuring a rotating line-up of the best local and visiting troupes at venues all around town.
A well-rounded comedy hour of vivacious proportions. In one sitting, audiences are treated to sketch and improv comedy, led by a guest monologist with an emphasis on creating a space for women and non-binary players.
A comedy show with the goal of fostering a positive and inviting space where all feel welcome to enjoy comedy.
Stand-up Story Slam
A comedy storytelling show, where comedians tell their best stories & a panel of storytellers give feedback on each story.
Life Lessons: Live Comedy Talk Show
Hosts, Keith Waterfield and Leighland Beckman, bring on guests to share their funniest most depressing, mortifying and captivating stories.
Comedy At The Art Loft
Comedy at the Art Loft evolved from a weekly gathering of friends for an opened mic into Montreal's only weekly bilingual D.I.Y comedy event.
The Nerdy Show
A comedy show for the nerds, geeks, gamers, cosplayers, and anyone who's ever gone too deep down a wikipedia rabbit-hole researching side characters from that TV show they're obsessed with.
A comedic storytelling event where online daters/comedians share their unique experiences on Tinder.