Canadian humor? They’ve got to be kidding!

And they do, once a year, at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.
It’s packed day and night with up-and-coming comics and comedians, street fairs and galas, and in the past, big-time stars like Joan Rivers, Howie Mandel, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Bill Maher. Called the “Cannes of Comedy,” the festival is truly as funny as anything you’re likely to see at the Friars’ Club.

“My parents having sex? Oh, God! When they came to visit me I wouldn’t let them share a bedroom.”

“When my wife says, ‘You know what I’m thinking?’ my standard answer to this and all questions is, ‘You don’t look fat in that.”

“I bought a bed at Ikea–when I put it together it turned into a bookcase.”

Maybe not hilarious on paper, but often in context, these seasoned or freshly-minted comics amuse not only us civilians but the armies of industry executives, producers and talent scouts looking for a new star, new trends. The payoff for the visitor is a weekend packed with hahas in various venues at special events like “The Simpsons in the Flesh” show, a celebration of literary humor, solos by such big names as Eddie Izzard and –last year–an unforgettable quick-change artist’s performance. Arturo Brachetti is a name you’ll hear at this festival or elsewhere again.

There are theatres and clubs throughout the city that feature shows all through the ten-day event, and there’s something for everyone’s taste, including Gay and Lesbian, Jewish, experimental, musical, women, improv, you-name-it. Films, too, in English and French, and pilot episodes of upcoming television shows. South Park debuted here, and comedy legends have had their work celebrated in special showcase presentations.

The streets buzz with fun as well. Here are throngs, many in wacky costume, mimes, television crews, and a daffy parade of twins and triplets old and young–1500 hundred strong!–weaving their way along Montreal’s throughfares. And those avenues are in themselves geared for the partying, the joie de vivre. Lively St. Denis Street, the epicenter of the festival, is lined with artsy shops that sell everything from argyle socks to Zinfandel, Le Plateau’s an area that’s full of outdoor caf├ęs, shopping areas and the brilliant purple, red and green shutters behind which live Montreal’s funky mix of blue collars, artists and poets.

Don’t overlook the Just For Laughs Museum, which memorializes in film clips 170 immortal comics of the 20th Century–everyone from Jacques Tati to Roseanne–and features the best moments of their performances. This place is really fun, geared to kids or the kid in you, with a hall of mirrors, another of optical illusions and exhibits that pay special homage to the history of magic.

If you need a break, getting away from the hullabaloo is easy. The city is full of parks, like La Fontaine, where one can picnic, sunbathe, even rent pedal boats on its artificial pond. Or stop for some peace and quiet at the Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral with its 5000 gold leaf stars in the ceiling, or the awesome Notre Dame Basilica(where Celine Dion tied her knot).

Montreal is clean, friendly, accessible, and, “No terrorists will attack here. It’s where they send their relatives for safety,” in the words of one comic at the festival. And best of all, the city’s pleasures come at a discount, because the American dollar is currently strong in cool and friendly Canada.