Comedy: 4 funny guys who stood out at JFL

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There are no guarantees in comedy. But doing a New Faces of Comedy or gala routine at Just For Laughs has helped dozens of aspiring funny folks over the last quarter-century get their first -- and sometimes last -- laughs with industry dealmakers. Here, a look back at four who got tapped at (or just after) the festival, and how their careers have fared since.

Funny Guy: Craig Ferguson

JFL Breakthrough: 1989

The Prize: A pilot with CBS, "High," which also starred a young Zach Braff and Gwyneth Paltrow, but was never picked up.

The Punchline: "It brought me to the attention of CBS, and a mere 15 years later they put me on in the middle of the night," jokes Ferguson, who now hosts CBS' "The Late Late Show." But, he adds, "It did have an effect -- it made me visible to American casting agents and visible enough in the industry in America to make friends." Ferguson will be appearing this year at the Just For Laughs Toronto Festival.

Funny Guy: Tim Allen

JFL Breakthrough: 1990

The Prize: After winning a Cable ACE Award for his Just For Laughs Showtime Gala, Allen quickly landed a deal with ABC for "Home Improvement," which ran from 1991-99.

The Punchline: Though he had to follow a New Zealand comedian who ended his set by singing "There's No Business Like Show Business" while holding a lit Roman candle with his derriere, Allen made enough of a splash that interest followed him back to Los Angeles. "I got this lineage in Canada," explains Allen, who is now working on David Mamet's "Redbelt" for Sony Pictures Classics. "The timing was such that it made it look like (Just For Laughs) had a lot to do with (my ABC deal), and I won't say it didn't, because everything that leads up to events is part of that event. Timing had a lot to do with when Disney saw me -- there was a lot of heat for me coming off in those concerts."

Funny Guy: Greg Giraldo

JFL Breakthrough: 1995

The Prize: After his first appearance in the New Faces portion of JFL, Giraldo got tapped for a show that became ABC's "Common Law," which only lasted four episodes.

The Punchline: Giraldo, by his own admission, was fairly green to the circuit when he hit big at JFL at "the tail end of the ridiculous trend of giving young stand-ups deals based on six minutes. That's literally what happened. It took me from being an inexperienced, unknown comedian to an inexperienced, unknown comedian with a development deal." He's recently worked on pilots for Comedy Central and is "focusing on my stand-up on the road." He'll be at the Just For Laughs Toronto Festival this year.

Funny Guy: Christopher Titus

JFL Breakthrough: 1998

The Prize: Though Titus landed a deal with Fox out of JFL in 1996, his self-titled Fox show resulted from the buzz around his second appearance two years later. "Titus" ran from 2000-02.

The Punchline: "Other comedy festivals, it's like 'Let's go to Vegas and party!'" says Titus, whose "Big Shots" pilot was picked up by ABC earlier this year. "But Montreal, for some reason, when the industry is up there, they're pretty dead serious about looking for what they're looking for. I saw a guy there (blow) his set so hard that you'll never see him on television. I think they still fax pictures of him around to the studios, to never use this guy. So you can really make it or break it in Montreal."


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