Little deal-making at Just for Laughs


MONTREAL -- Montreal's Just for Laughs comedy festival wrapped its English-language industry showcase over the weekend without U.S. network talent scouts pulling out their wallets.

As in recent years, performing comics secured hearty applause and the occasional standing ovation at comedy's Woodstock, with possible deal-making to follow down the road after meetings back in Los Angeles or New York.

The big stage in Montreal as ever was the twice-nightly galas at the St. Denis Theatre, hosted Saturday night by Steve Martin, who brought his banjo and his Steep Canyon Rangers bluegrass band.

"It feels good to be doing something purely for the money," Martin joked while making his first-ever Just for Laughs appearance.

Dane Cook was a late and unpublicized addition to the gala bill, at the request of Martin.

"No one expected Cook, so it really surprised and delighted the (St. Denis) audience," Just for Laughs COO Bruce Hills said Sunday.

Pamela Anderson brought her "Dancing With the Stars" partner Damien Whitewood to help emcee a Thursday night gala, useful when the sidekick was left on stage to amuse with quips and dance steps while the former "Baywatch" star took eons to complete backstage wardrobe changes as gala producers sweated buckets in the wings.

Lewis Black just brought his trademark anger for Friday's second gala showcase, entitled the "Night of a Million Opinions." The comics didn't meet the quota, Black concluded.

"Maybe 16 and a half, or 17. We're really not a think tank, just a group of comedians," he said of the opinions on offer.

Stand-outs on the St. Denis stage this year included Andrew Maxwell, Mark Little, Steve Patterson, Kathleen Madigan, Orny Adams, Lavell Crawford, Tom Papa and Greg Giraldo.

Break-outs in the New Faces comedy showcase over three nights included Ben Roy, Fortune Feimster, Colin Jost, Mike Vecchione, Jesse Case, Nick Vatterott, Jack Whitehall and Adrienne Lapalucci giving their best seven minutes to assembled talent scouts.

The New Faces showcase enjoyed a renaissance this year after the festival stopped sending talent scouts up town to the Kola Note, and instead sent them to the Cabaret Juste Pour Rire, a short walk from the Hyatt Regency hotel.

The festival's Bruce Hills said that, despite comedy deals getting done differently these days, industry talent and pros continued to flock to Montreal for its 2010 edition.

"More and more, scouts are going to one-man shows in Montreal -- we had 25 going at one time," he said.

Solo show stand-outs included Bill Burr, Jim Jefferies, Bo Burnham, who was discovered at Just for Laughs by Judd Apatow in 2008, Mike Birbiglia and Noel Fielding.

Just for Laughs was also busy handing out awards.

Jay Roach received the comedy director of the year award at the Just for Laughs comedy conference for his "Austin Powers" and "Meet the Parents" comedy franchises.

Roach, in accepting the award, recalled he got into film after sneaking into a theater as a child to see the Sidney Poitier-starring classic "In the Heat of the Night."

"And I said to myself, I could do it a lot funnier," he said.

Other festival highlights included the yukfest refunding tickets for sold-out shows late Saturday night at Les Katacombes to see Patrice Oneal after the New Jersey-based comic was stopped at the Canadian-U.S. border from attending Just for Laughs' Zoofest sidebar owing to a 24-year-old criminal conviction.

Around the club sets, heat-seeking performances were noted by Beardyman, host of the popular Amp'd: the Music Comedy Show, Bridget Everett, Tim Minchin, Ryan Hamilton, Louis Katz, who just secured a Comedy Central Records deal coming into Montreal, Hannibal Buress, Sean Patton and Reggie Watts.
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