dialogue with Maureen Taran


Maureen Taran is a comedy industry veteran who has managed talent for 14 years before last year taking the lead role in shaping the lineup of the annual Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal as vp programming. With the 25th edition of the comedy fixture set to begin Wednesday, Taran spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's New York bureau chief Georg Szalai about how comedy has changed in the digital age and what sensibility she has brought to JFL.

The Hollywood Re- porter: What kind of approach did you take when planning the programming for the 25th anniversary edition of the festival?

Maureen Taran: One of the first things I wanted to do was to focus on the theme of "look at what we have done for 25 years, and now this is a taste of what we are going to do over the next 25 years." The next 25 are going to show you how having things in little boxes doesn't work anymore. There is so much growth out of the box from what we were used to.

THR: It seems as if the digital age and the decline of the network sitcom have changed what kind of deals festival attendees are looking for.

Taran: I managed people for 14 years, primarily in television, and it was the same thing every year. You had your development season, you had your pilot season, you had your testing season. That's still around, but there are so many new layers and additions. I wanted the festival to address that. Yes, you are used to seeing a lot of stand-up comedy, and that's terrific. But there are so many other things going on that are funny and maybe not necessarily funny that people can take to another level, whether it is a play or a film or something on the Internet or something you can see on a cell phone.

THR: As you said, there is more interest in comedy for digital and new media. Is there a change in the type of industry attendee we will see?

Taran: Absolutely. There are so many people who are coming from these new Web, viral video and other departments. We have a lot of people coming from the networks and studios on that end. And we have those production companies, such as Endemol, that strictly produce content for the Web. (Attracting these people) was a big goal of mine, but I was blown away because there are way more of them than I thought. And they come in addition to the more traditional crowd. We also have a lot of international people coming — from France, England and Australia and more.

THR: Tell us a little more about the addition of new types of comedy, such as your first sketch showcase, and the expansion of other types.

Taran: The Flying Solo series (which gives comics more time onstage) started last year, and they had six shows. I bumped it up to 10. In that, it's not just stand-up comedy. Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall has his one-man show this year, and you are going to laugh, but you're also going to cry, and that's OK. Also, there is a massive music scene in this city, and that's a way to reach young audiences. So, I brought in (freestyle hip-hop sextet) Freedom Love Supreme, who also do 13 different shows. And we added a musical comedy show called "Tune In." There, you are going to see Kevin Hearn from Barenaked Ladies, (Canadian turntablist) Kid Koala, who is hot, and more. Let's say things like Tenacious D and Flight of the Conchords. And our new sketch show, "The Line-Up," is my other baby that I am so proud of. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross are hosting it, and Bob is directing it. The (sketch) guys are so excited. There are four different sketch groups and two groups that just have viral videos.

THR: How did you go about choosing the sketch talent for this new show?

Taran: I managed four people on "Saturday Night Live" in the 14 years I was a manager and two on "MadTV" (so she has experience in this area). For the festival, I tried to choose a mix of unbelievable actors, people who do impressions and great writers, as well as different types of characters to the sketch show.

THR: I know Andy Kindler is doing his popular show of alternative comedy again at the festival. How about some of the other more alternative offerings?

Taran: We have "TJ & Dave." I was blown away when I first saw them. They will do 13 plays over the course of 13 days — unscripted, unrehearsed, and they will walk out every night and give you a different night. … Also, last night, I was watching the audience come out of Spymonkey, this Monty Python-type over-the-top physical British comedy. I loved that they were laughing and saying things that is so different from anything we've seen before.