The Muppets Take Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival With Stage-to-TV Gala
MONTREAL - A sudden truce sprang up Thursday night in the nasty, brutal comedy world when the Muppets took over the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.
“It’s nice to be in a city where they speak French and I’m not an appetizer on the menu,” Kermit the Frog, who hosted a comedy gala in Montreal Thursday night, joked as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and the rest of the Muppets gang returned to their variety-show roots.
The JFL gala mixed Jim Henson’s puppets with a hit squad of comics like Mike Birbiglia, Greg Morton and Jim Breuer to explore the complicated boundaries between stand-up comedy and family entertainment, and comforting and gross out humor.
Anton Leo, a long-time production executive for Just For Laughs galas, said bringing the Muppets to Montreal aimed to elevate stand-up comedy to the point of spectacle, especially for adults looking to relive their youth with a jolt of nostalgia.
“Life goes very fast. And there’s not a lot of chances to go back to your childhood. And that’s what you got with this show,” Leo said as the Muppet characters put lumps in the throats of its Montreal audience with chirpy jokes and cheesy songs full of boundless optimism.
Meanwhile, backstage Emma Hunter of Canada’s Comedy Network was bringing Just For Laughs back to its roots in raunchy and R-rated comedy as she interviewed the stand-up talent coming off the main gala stage.
Hunter reminded the comics that the taped interviews will only stream online, so they could go ahead and channel their inner-Bob Saget or Gilbert Gottfried.
“I think it went pretty well. I didn’t forget my shit,” Morton said backstage like an unleashed fox terrier.
Just For Laughs Television this week taped in all 13 hours of coverage of festival galas for the Comedy Network, hosted by, besides The Muppets, Bill Hader, Joel McHale, Jack McBrayer, Jeremy Hotz, Jason Jones and John Pinette.
Sarah Fowlie, director of independent production at Comedy Network-parent Bell Media, said combining the Muppets and customized web-only content aimed at a four-screen approach to comedy.
"We worked closely with JFL and the Muppets, both to honor the brand, and its co-viewing potential as kids and adults will watch the gala on TV,” Fowlie explained.
And backstage, Comedy Network’s Hunter captured the festival vibe at the Just For Laughs galas, not least to allow the stand-up talent to reach their fans online.
“Comics use the Internet and Twitter and Facebook and they’ve never had that avenue to talk to their fans. It’s kind of expected now,” Fowlie said.
What’s more, the Comedy Network’s digital teams got to experiment with their comedy coverage to break new ground with viewers.
“Not everything works on TV. It’s a little bit less crowded online,” Fowlie insisted.
The Just For Laughs comedy festival runs to Sunday.