Just For Laughs (and profits too)
in its 35th year
Festival’s Comedy Pro events celebrate industry professionals and their achievements
By Byron Toben
At the end of this article is a link to the official ‘wrap’ of this huge multi week event.
Many festivals have specialty events within them, often for the professionals within that industry. So it was with the recent Just For Laughs comedy festival. In addition to the some 200 shows for the public at venues both great and small, some free outdoors, there were about 57 Comedy Pro events, mostly within the host hotel Hyatt Regency premises. I decided to concentrate on those.
These numbers are only for the English language portion of the event, the first half of which was the excellent French portion.
The JFL actually started as an all-French two-day spectacle in 1983 under Gilbert Rozon (still around) and added English portions in 1985 under Andy Nulman, under whom it greatly expanded. Nulman remains on the board while Bruce Hills has become Chief Operating Officer.
JFL is now the largest comedy festival in the world. Having expanded to Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney (Australia), it just announced a 2018 launch in Durban, South Africa.
Home Grown Comics
Ten Canadian rising talents were showcased at the Monument National. Hosted by This Hour Has 22 Minutes alum Mark Critch and joined by “Man Mountain” K. Trevor Wilson, who won the 2012 Home Grown contest.
In 2017, the judges awarded a double first prize to two women entrants. They are Toronto’s Courtney Gilmour and Montréal’s D. J. Mausner. Ms. Gilmour, born without hands, incorporates that fact but goes beyond it in her repertoire. Ms. Mausner is well known to patrons of Théâtre Ste-Catherine as an organizer and participant in its periodic Joketown specials.
Just For Laughs awards show
This annual event is hosted by Alonzo Bodden, an Afro-American who, bemoaning the lack of lead roles available, had a running joke with each of the winners, that if they are in a new show that requires a security guard, they might remember him… “Just sayin’…”
The winners included two Canadians, Jim Carrey (Generation Award) and Craig Ferguson (Alumni Tribute). Others were Ali Wong (Breakout Comedy Star of the Year), Mike Birbiglia (Stand Up Comedian of the Year) and Kenya Barris (Comedy Writer of the Year). The finale was Trevor Noah (Comedy Person of the Year) who has successfully replaced Jon Stewart, after arising from poverty in South Africa, son of an activist black mother and a white Jewish father, who had, he quietly mentioned, been shot dead by a security guard.
Without missing a beat, host Bodden quipped. ”Well if they ever make a biopic about you…”
Television staged readings
NDG’s pride Jay Baruchel directed and acted in an annual dramatic reading of an unpublished script. Only three of 400 submissions went on to production in the past. This one involved a Unicorn (Mr. Baruchel) summoned by incantation to help a young girl find love with the coffee barista of her dreams while avoiding a murderous Internet predator.
This is a new weekly series from CNN on Sunday nights. I thought it would go way back to my man Aristophanes and visit Molière and Shaw but it seems to consider comedy beginning in the 50s with great talent Lucille Ball. Recent Episode Four shown at JFL, Sparks of Madness featured those comics (Shades of Pagliacci!) who had secret or public anxieties and depressions. This ranged from Jonathon Winters to Robin Williams and dozens in between, giving grist for the panellists after to discuss how mad are all comics.
Andy Kindler’s state of the industry
This ever-popular annual feature does not deal with stock prices and market shares, but Kindler’s no holds barred on the quality of various shows. I have to admit that I did not know of many of the newer productions he invoked. Guess I’m out of the loop. He himself admitted this in his speech. At one time, you had three or four big TV shows as the main platforms, but now the action has shifted to podcasts and streaming, especially on mobile devices. Thus Netflix, Comedy Central, Hulu and SiriusXM now rule the day.
Shout out to several hard working Montreal funny folk
Mike Paterson manned a free outdoor stage from 6 pm to 11 pm each day. His “Never Surrender” Air Guitar buddy Tim Rabnett introduced many of the hosts who in turn introduced many of the talents at various panels.
DeAnne Smith and her Post Joke Era were featured in seven time slots at the Mainline and LaChapelle.
And OMG, can’t forget international mega star and pride of Côte des Neiges, Sugar Sammy.
As mentioned at the beginning, click here for the official ‘wrap’.
Just For Laughs (English) ran from July 20 to 31 with the Comedy Pro section from July 26 to 29. The Segal Centre’s wonderful What’s In A Name play, reviewed here earlier was also listed in the JFL program
All images courtesy of Just For Laughs
Feature image: Jim Carrey and Gilbert Rozon
Read also “What’s in a name?” Well, a lot…
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club