I’ve been a lover of stand-up comedy since I was a kid. Carlin, Murphy, Seinfeld, Rock and Chappelle all helped shape my sense of humor.
To me, stand-up comedy is the ultimate craft. It’s pure in its presentation and rigorous in its process. I respect the work-ethic of comics who write jokes around an annual cycle, culminating in a ‘special’, and then destroying and rebuilding their act from scratch. I also like comics that try to innovate the format, like the late Mitch Hedburg’s one-liners or Anthony Jesselnik’s calculated offensiveness.
Living in Montreal, I enjoy the plethora of comedy acts that perform at the Just For Laughs festival every year. This year, I decided to double-down and buy a passport.
Unfortunately, many things in this city have cracks in them, and this festival was no exception. Don’t get me wrong, I saw some great shows, but there were some lapses in the process.
The Old Way Doesn’t Work
I waited in line to get tickets see the Chappelle show. There was about 40 people waiting in the summer heat for the box office to open. Tickets began selling at noon, and by 12:01, it was over. They had sold out of tickets. As far as I could tell, even the first person in line was not able to get any.
The crowd quickly grew upset. “This happens all the time,” said the Just for Laugh’s employee. The obvious remark from a person at the front: “Why don’t you just allot different quantities to different channels?” The response was, “We’re not allowed to.”
Now, I’m relatively paranoid of getting screwed, so while waiting in line, I was also in the queue on my phone, trying to buy tickets on their unoptimised website. When I finally got through and filled out the form, I was hit with an error message that just said “Error.” Usually when you see these types of vague errors, it’s an indication that the site was never tested by real people.
Just for Laugh’s website was simply unequipped to deal with their customers, leaving many people waiting in line for nothing (both physically and digitally).
The simple things
The numbers on our pretty little plastic passports were wrong. When we realised we couldn’t log in to the website, we had to wade through their customer service machine in order to resolve it with a real person. The solution? Rather than changing the number on their end, we ended up crossing out our numbers and writing the new ones with a sharpie. Our passports are now pretty little souvenirs of the screw-up.
Where to Sit
Just For Laugh’s idea of assigned seating is broken. There was row/seat information on all the tickets, but sometimes it didn’t matter. Sometimes. Sometimes when entering a venue, it was a confusing free-for-all. Did the ticket say that you had a front-row seat? Too bad, you should have come earlier.
It didn’t depend on the venue’s size either, as even large venues would sometimes have this problem. Unfortunately, this resulted in some people not sitting beside the people they came with.
As a technical person, this irked me: The password to the passport account is also the account number. With all the ways we manage accounts across the internet, they picked one of the least secure strings on my account. They might as well have made it “password”. Oh, and if you’re a hacker reading this, be nice and don’t exploit it.
Should you buy a Just for Laughs passport?
Buying a passport, for me, was not a wise decision. If I had to do it again, I’d scrutinize any vague bonuses they offered. As I spoke with some of the polite customer-level people who work with Just for Laughs to clarify their offering, it became obvious that I wasn’t the only one confused.
Grasping at straws? Maybe, but these gaffes dampened my overall great experience, right in the spots that I thought would be automatic for an event this size. I felt less inclined to do anything with my passport. The festival was becoming an exercise in getting my money’s worth.
In the end, I got to see some really good comedy, including Hannibal Buress, Marc Maron, and Dave Chappelle (who ended up doing nine more shows). I’ll definitely be back to the festival next year, but with a tighter grasp on my wallet.
As Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development said, comedy is all about expectation. Just For Laughs needs to take a good look at their process and how they manage customers’ expectations through their channels. Little slips throughout an experience can hurt a brand, even if I have a smile on my face.