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Published on June 10th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson


It's mid-June; do you know where your JFL programming is?

Devoted Just For Laughs attendees are accustomed to having a nearly full schedule on their laps by the third week of May, and by now have put their Excel skills to the test and figured out a way to see absolutely everyone they want to see within their precious few days in Montreal.

But nay, Just For Laughs Chicago – that hussie of a new young festival – has taken some of the focus away from our longtime companion, who has now become a second priority. But Montreal will not be jilted like this! Nuh-uh, girlfriend. She may be in her late 20s, but she ain’t dead, and to prove it, she’s gone and had a makeover. A pretty extreme one. (Wow, hon, that’s a… big change… that’s very very blonde… I didn’t think a doctor would be willing to inject that much collagen into a bottom lip… and are those D-cups?)

Indeed, navigating the website for JFL’s new “Zoofest” programming arm is akin to browsing your newly divorced female friend’s Facebook photos after a drunken night of trying to pick up 18 year old boys. You’ll always love her, you’ll always support her, but it’s really hard to look at her right now.

Don’t believe me? http://www.zoofest.ca


Don’t worry — you can look away from it now. I’m about to do you a HUGE favor and actually type out the list of shows. Here it goes:

A Quoi Tu Peneses?
Amp’d – The Music Show
Anatomy of a Love
Aziz Ansari
Best of Sketch (Bilingual)
Best of the English Montreal Fringe
Cafe Cafe
Charlypop & Friends
Chris Gethard & Sketch
Cognac & Sausage
Crash Test
De 3 A 4
Ecole Nationale
De L’Humour
Fabrice Eboue & Donel Jack’sman
Four Minutes If You Bleed
Gaydailles Show
Gina Yashere
Girly Show
Greatest Concert Ever
Hills & Chris Gethard
Hills Reading & Lennon
Homegrown Comic Competition
Humour et Magie
Improvised Shakespeare
Jonathan Lambert
Kate Micucci
Kev Adams
Lady Peablossoms Sanctuary
Le Meilleur Francophone du Festival Fringe de Montreal
Lennon Parham & Sketch
Les Grandes Burlesques
Les Jambons de L’Humour
Marc Maron – Scorching the Earth
Mark Watson
MC Gilles
Mini-Gala Bang!
New Faces of Comedy
Nikki Payne
North America’s Best Comic
Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You….
Paradise Lost
Paul Provenza
Redouanne Harjane
Ross Noble
Show XXX
Silent Disco
Simon Amstell
Sketchs Pour Rire
The Alternative Comedy Show
The Bitter End
The Girl In the Picture Tries to Hang Up the Phone
The Human Voice
The King’s Conscience
The Sketch Show
Thomas Ngicol
Tom & Verino
Tomboy Band of the Future
Top 5
UCB Gets You Laid
Uncalled For
Underplayed & In Demand
Whiteman’s Wiskey Comedy Revue

You’re welcome.

The good news is, when you see it typed out like that, the lineup is rock solid. Awesome programming job by JFL, even if the same can’t be said for their Flash developer. There are a few UCB-LA shows that I’m thrilled I’ll have the opportunity to see. I’ve failed to see Improvised Shakespeare on my treks to NYC but have heard amazing things. In short, “gala? what’s a gala?”

Awkwardly poking around the site, you’ll find that a ton of details are missing. Dates for shows are stated, but not times. The links to buy tickets are dead until the onsale date (June 13, incidentally, which you wouldn’t know unless you read the Montreal Gazette). And some titles are definitely wonky… for example, Lennon Parham has a solo show that they’ve titled “Lennon Parham & Sketch”, but based on the description it’s clearly her excellent show She Tried To Be Normal. Does this mean Gethard is doing Magical Box of Stories? Is Provenza doing straight standup or is he doing The Greenroom again?

And is this graphically intense site designed to be easily updated with all the artist names? I’d love to know who’s doing the Alternative Show alongside Andy Kindler, and who from UCB is doing Asssscat. Curious, too, about the lineup for Crash Test (although simply by being at JFL, the spirit of that show changes significantly).

Note that the lineup for the film portion of the festival isn’t being announced for another week yet, so this doesn’t help with people’s marathon schedule-making in time to buy tickets on Saturday (we’re also missing lots from the main JFL schedule, most notably the lineups for Bubbling With Laughter).

And I’m flummoxed by the existence of the Homegrown Comic Competition (where finalists from each region in Canada compete), because they’re also doing a Homegrown at the Toronto edition just one week earlier. Are there two winners? Or is it like figureskating, with one set marked on technical and the other on artistic?

Despite all the questions this site raises (least of which being “how much did you pay for this thing?”), I’m happy with the content. Any reservations I had about attending JFL this year have dissipated. Time to book a flight!


Hey, industry types! As previously reported, Just Comedy is no more, but there is an industry “event” this year. We still haven’t gotten details via our standard industry e-blast, but lo and behold, through the power of Google, a new website with a few details does exist: http://web2.hahaha.com/conference/

Today is June 10 and the deadline to take advantage of the early bird registration rate is June 19, so one assumes they’re planning on telling everyone about this sometime within the next 8 days. (As a disclaimer, I haven’t registered, so it may turn out to not be fully functional yet.)

About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

20 Responses to It's mid-June; do you know where your JFL programming is?

  1. luc says:

    hey… its not “redouanna” but Redouanne Harjane… he he see you

  2. Thanks Luc, fixed it! I figure if I only made one typo after looking at that site, I’m doin’ pretty good.

  3. Camille Mauger says:

    Hi Sharilyn,

    I`m Zoofest`s PR manager, I love your blog! I just wanted your contact info so that I can add you to my media list and to be in touch with you regarding Zoofest programming and artists.

  4. Hi Camille! I got your email address, so I’ll fire you a note. Looking forward to seeing the fest this year. But please fire your web guy! ;)

  5. David Kendall says:

    Paging webpagesthatsuck.com!

    (Remind me to painfully kill the man who created Flash and send him to the special spot in Hell reserved for him and the inventor of Power Point.)

  6. This is the Web guy. Thanks for all the rant. Now, the other half (legitimate flash haters) will have content too. The Internets is a beautiful world.

    Truely, one site can’t answer all needs. And because people like you take the time to react the way you did, our client is just better off.


  7. Martin, it’s nothing personal. You have to admit that it is NOT a user-friendly site. It’s difficult to navigate, difficult to read, and it’s nearly impossible for anyone to create a schedule based on the information provided and the way it is formatted.

    Thank god the Zoofest shows are being added to the main JFL site now, because it allows us to view by venue and just pull down each ticket menu from there, rather than going into each show, clicking through the ticket link, and finally seeing the time for each one.

    One has to assume that, during a festival, attendees are going to want to attend multiple shows. It should be made easy for them to plan an itinerary. I’m a case of a hard-core JFL attendee — all things considered, I’ll be seeing 10-12 shows within 3 days. Planning this out is proving to be a huge undertaking. I’m willing to do it, but how many Average Joes out there won’t even have the patience to figure out 2 or 3 shows?

    The mandate of any event’s website is to disseminate information, but that seems to have been put on the back burner. I have a marketing background, so I’m all for creative that makes a big splash. But not at the expense of the core message.

  8. Hi Sharilyn,

    I don’t want to start a flame war. I’ll try to make my arguent short, since you studied in marketing, you should share some of my points. Let me be telegraphic – English not being my forte.

    The role of a website is multiple. A Web site is just one element in a mix. Crowds that get to a website isn’t homogenous. This is a new festival that needs to have a strong color in a overly competitve environnement. Stats and experience tells us that it is more important at this stage of communications to generate a tone and manner to a festival than permit multiple ticket buys and scheduling apps. The potential market for this festival is an impulsive buyer not one like you, journalist, that wants to organize two months in advance his week-end.

    BTW, the site is all driven by a database : changing a name is easy, remove a show too. It’s much longer in the soon to be printed program. Don’t think Flash as being non applicative.

  9. Dave says:

    Wow just visited the site. I can see why you complained. It is way too busy and it was difficult to keep track of where I was at and hard to pick things out at a glance. I don’t think that flash is the problem here. Just the tendency of flash developers to think only about design and not about information design (which is really what they are paid to do). Next year I’ll double the efforst on my festival website to avoid you scathing criticisms :0)

  10. David says:

    @Dave – you’ve summed up exactly what should be considered in a web page design! I hope more people listen, but sadly I’m not holding my breath. To defend my fellow web designer Martin a bit, it’s usually the client that asks for the hard-to-navigate, bells and whistles, WTF? sites, not the webmaster recommending it. That’s part of the reason that I got out of the biz, I got sick of having to explain it to clients (especially clients that learn themselves about web design and then are convinced of the best way to design a page, which is often the wrongest way possible.)

  11. @Martin

    “Stats and experience tells us that it is more important at this stage of communications to generate a tone and manner to a festival than permit multiple ticket buys and scheduling apps”

    Branding is important. Very important. But you MUST consider your customer’s needs if you want to build a strong relationship with them.

    Nobody is asking for a fancy scheduling app. Just the opposite! Searchable text. Something easy to read. Exactly what is the point of making life difficult for us? What is forcing us to click on the winged panther head 40 times going to accomplish for the festival’s bottom line that’s *better* than making the ticket-buying process easy and getting butts in seats?

    “This is a new festival that needs to have a strong color in a overly competitve environnement.”

    As a patron of Just For Laughs since ’04, I would argue that Zoofest is new in name only. Whatever happens behind the scenes doesn’t affect me as a ticket buyer. You might have separate staff, a separate budget, even a separate office for all I know. But MANY of the shows (the Sketch Show, Paul Provenza’s Green Room, Alternative Show, Homegrown, New Faces) are shows that have been running for YEARS under the JFL banner. So far, all the shows I’m planning to attend are Zoofest. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m coming for JFL. So if it’s competing, it’s competing only with itself. (Which is why I truly believe this “new” festival should have gone with branding that complimented the JFL branding, which would show both the relationship and the difference in the type of programming).

    “The potential market for this festival is an impulsive buyer not one like you, journalist, that wants to organize two months in advance his week-end.”

    Firstly, I’m a her. Secondly, is the potential target here really impulse buyers? I don’t doubt that the vast majority of patrons are local. But the festival brings in a ton of tourism dollars, something I’m sure JFL brings up to the folks at Tourism Montreal when it nears sponsorship-renewal season. I’ve talked to many, many comedy fans from out of town when I’m at shows. People drove hours to see Galifinakis in ’07 and Hedberg in ’04, and I’m betting they saw more than one show before heading home.

    But it is what it is. I certainly hope the attendance for Zoofest shows is as high as it deserves to be, despite the marketing chaos. The lineup is just incredible, and the more I learn (Matt Besser! Reggie Watts!) the more excited I am to see it.

  12. @Dave – lol, not to worry, http://www.torontoclown.com meets with my approval! ;)

    @David – In my experience, it’s been the opposite! Though my background is mostly in electronic media. The creative people want to make something slick, and the guy who owns the car dealership wants the announcer to say his phone number 3 times. The key, regardless, is harmony. Something eye-catching that gets the message across. Here, we have one (well, arguably) at the expense of the other.

  13. @ Sharilyn

    (Pardon again my poor English)

    Sorry for not responding to your last remarks earlier.

    We are in different worlds and like I told you on the first comment here, that diversity is great by my standards – there is not one solution that fits all needs. The site is designed for ppl taht wnat to discover stuff, that want to feel overwelmed, not find shows or artists thay already know.

    That being said, if I may help you with your vision of communications and your blog :

    some shows have changed names since your post.

    but more importantly they all have different URLs, so you could make whate ever you want accessible :

    for venues for instance or dates or artists, it is easy to link directly.

    examples :
    Paradise Lost
    Where one find picture/ small bilingual text, link to ticket and link to the facebook of the artist (sometimes, its there own site, myspace, google results, etc.)

    date link :

    You see the venues where the actions happens on that Monday, on the artists or show names in those “annoying falling balls”.

    You click on a specific venue, the Cabaret for instance, you get the dates and the shows.

    That link being : http://zoofest.ca/#/venue/Cabaret%20Juste%20pour%20rire

    I picked-up those links by clicking around the site and copying what ever was in the URL bar.

    So, if you really care, go away, and link the shows in your blog ,if you think it will do a better job for the cause.

    Or just that day link, just a reminder of the shows of the day.

    On this end of the spectrum, n the side of the bad flash guys, what I see, is 5000 visits on the site, 17k pages views, 3,27 pages/visit, a very low 6,29% bounce rate and an average time of 5:28 on the site. With my standards, this is good.

    I know also that Zoofest wanted to be differnet from JFL, so yes, it needed a different look. At the first year, that look to take alot of room, pixel realestate.

    Yes people see more than one show, but impulsive buying means buyers on THE day of the show in this case. So no, sorry, you ar enot the typical buyer for this product. A sherish one, yes. Typical, no.

    And you are right, we both have the same goal : making this a success.

  14. sean says:

    THe website is frustratingly difficult. Deep linking into the flash interface isn’t all that great when the times of the shows are isolated from the info/description about the show.

    “5000 visits on the site, 17k pages views, 3,27 pages/visit, a very low 6,29% bounce rate and an average time of 5:28 on the site. With my standards, this is good.” – BUT BUT BUT what alternatives are there? Time on the site is a bad measure if it is frustrating to navigate. People want info.

    I came to this post searching for a grid schedule (one table per table, 7 columns, one for each venue, time axis on the vertical, fill in, easy to whip up, easy to use to plan). Sad to think that doesn’t exist. I’ve tickets to a few shows and am interested in making a double bill of it – but it is frustratingly complicated to determine times for other shows that are playing on the nights I want to look at without having to go as far as check the tickets page for each. individual. show.

  15. sean says:

    Hallelujah! Now why isn’t something like this on the zoofest site!

  16. Thanks for your comments, Sean. I agree that Martin’s stats are not as positive as he presents them to be. 3.27 pages views per visit is nothing when you consider how much clicking has to be done in order to find information for a single show (entering the site, finding the show, reading the bio, and adding the ticket to your cart will take care of your 3.27). And the bounce rate… well, unless someone gets a flash error, they’re likely to at least TRY to maneuver through the site before giving up after their 3.27 clicks.

    The grid you refer to is indeed useful, but of course is now 2 weeks out of date. I created my own schedule in Excel, which I typically have to do anyway because of the volume of shows I attend. But nobody should have to do such a thing to plan a simple evening out, and trying to figure which shows they can get to back-to-back like yourself. A show at the Mainline followed by a show at Cabaret? Easy. A show at Mainline followed by a show at Kola Note? Not so easy. But even figuring out what’s easy isn’t so easy.

  17. Ok, ok…. In this case, a schedule is/was tough. 360 shows in 10 days. Tough to slip in. That being said, we are proud but not that stuburned (spelling?). So we added in the last two days : a “sheet of paper” to help the reading of the show titles when one shoses a date or venue, we reduced the “space” that the floating panther took, we added a zapping tool : you choose the 24th, than you can browse from one show to the next. In restrospective? I wish we could add extra filtering to help browse through 69 shows : “show only comedy”, “show me only French”, and so on. Maybe also, the idea of cretaing a bilingual site for a bilingual Festival was an error. It was a philisophical stence that costes alot in communication efficiency. But I stand with my first comment. Many roads takes us home, the Web is great because this blog exists and the “official Website” too. And the Web is greater because we can actualy gave this conversation. And sorry again, for my poor English.

  18. As far as managing a high volume of shows…

    The other major festival I’m attending this summer is the Del Close Marathon, put together by the UCB Theatre in NYC. These guys aren’t exactly rolling in dough, but look what they manage to do every year:


    That’s 287 shows in 3 days.

    And those links across the top give you every possible scenario you could need to plan your weekend. Within 5 minutes of viewing it, I knew exactly what I will be seeing, and just as importantly what I will be missing. Ctrl + P, whip out a highlighter, and I’m set.

    Is it flashy? Not really. Does it have to be? Nope. Does it matter how many unique page views it gets per visitor, if someone only has to visit one page to be persuaded to buy a ticket? No.

  19. That site is interesting. Personnaly, I would never go to that Festival because of the interface – and please stop assuming it’s a question of flash/cash. But I’m not you, I’m not a journalist, I’m not one that prefers words to visuals to get me excited.

    A few comments earlier, when I pushed our stats it was just a macho reaction to “your site doesn’t work for no one” comment. I was off. I agree that page views aren’t an ultimate measure. Nore traffic actually. From my blog I generated 600 visits to the zoofest site, and 15 came from here. In no way would I presume that your blog isn’t important. If it were the case, I wouldn’t be here exchanging views.

    I still don’t understand one thing from your reaction though. Why am I able to admit errors, limits on our part, welcome difference of views. And you, you seem to be sure that you detain the absolute truth in Web design, in marketing, in Festival managment and branding. I should offer you a job for next year.

    Hope to see you at Zoofest this year none the less.

  20. @Martin —

    I think the fact that I typed out a list of the artists performing at Zoofest preempted most people’s need to click the link. According to my stats, though, it’s been 31 people visiting zoofest.ca via here. Regardless…

    I just find it intriguing that there’s so much defensiveness regarding this site, when everyone who has commented here (some regular commenters, some not) are all saying the same thing about the interface. Even my friends, who have not commented here but have told me in person, say the same thing. This is not a random personal vendetta I have against you — this is a collective opinion.

    “And you, you seem to be sure that you detain the absolute truth in Web design, in marketing, in Festival managment and branding. I should offer you a job for next year.”

    This is exactly the type of thing you shouldn’t be saying. You’re getting detailed feedback from the end user, which is something a lot of companies would PAY to get. And instead of taking this feedback and accepting it as truth — not my personal truth, but the truth of users in general — you’ve been fighting against it and now getting downright angry with me over it, with passive-agressive demeaning of my blog traffic and mocking my “right” to have an opinion on the matter. My qualifications are that I own a mouse and can read.

    So over 13% of the site views thusfar have been because of you promoting it on your blog. That’s a better defense of your blog than it is of the website.

    We’ve established that we both want to see Zoofest be successful, which is why this is so frustrating for me. The programming is killer, the talent is top-notch, the publicity staff is working hard… and I hate that a user-unfriendly website could cause it to be less of a success than it should be.

    “That site is interesting. Personnaly, I would never go to that Festival because of the interface”

    You’re missing the point completely. Nobody is attending a festival because the website uses text or doesn’t. They’re attending because of the people performing. And if you can’t tell me upfront who is performing and when, I ain’t going.

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