Economy on minds even at comedy fest

Expert predicts sitcom rebound due to looming recession

MONTREAL -- The weak global economy did pop up a few times during this week's Just Comedy conference and Just for Laughs comedy festival here.

In at least one instance, economic trends served as a set-up for punchlines, while in others, TV insiders discussed the possible effect of a recession on consumers' appetite for comedy.

During a panel of comedy experts, for example, Kenton Allen, creative head, comedy and comedy North at the BBC, predicted a rebound of studio sitcoms with live audiences in the U.K. due to economic trends.

"Silly is back," and traditional sitcom orders seem on the rise, he said, pointing to the needs of TV audiences. "On the cusp of a recession, they will want things that are big and loud and funny," he added.

Lou Wallach, senior vp, original programming, television & digital development, Comedy Central, argued that his network does not see the kinds of economy-related ups-and-downs that broadcast networks may experience.

He said his focus is always -- no matter what economic trends may be -- on developing shows his core audience will enjoy and flock to.

Meanwhile, standup Billy Gardell in one bit suggested a solution to high gas prices and drunk driving -- bumper cars.

And Andy Kindler in his annual State of the Industry speech set up a punchline about the recent labor strife in Hollywood in the context of inflation and food shortages stemming from high food prices. "Gas is $500 a gallon (and) people are stabbing each other over rice in the supermarket," he said. With that in mind, fighting over details of a new labor pact is as if Hollywood said: "Stop stabbing yourselves over rice," Kindler said. "Do you know what's happening in digital media?"