Howie Mandel, ICM Partners Team to Buy Just For Laughs Comedy Group

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The talent agency and its longtime client lead a consortium set to expand the Canadian-based entertainment group as a global comedy brand.

ICM Partners and longtime client Howie Mandel on Wednesday said they have banded together to acquire the Just For Laughs comedy group.

Terms of the deal for the Montreal-based company were not disclosed. But the Los Angeles-based talent and literary agency and Mandel head up a consortium that bought the controlling stake of JFL founder Gilbert Rozon.

The size of the founder's controlling stake has not been made public. Rozon in Oct. 2017 announced he would sell his shares in JFL after being hit by allegations from 10 women that he sexually harassed or assaulted them. As the #MeToo and Time's Up campaigns spread to Canada, Rozon denied the allegations.

The announcement of the sale was made by Mandel, Chris Silbermann, managing director of ICM Partners, and Pierre-Marc Johnson, JFL's chairman of the board. "The plan calls for Just For Laughs and its French counterpart, Festival Juste pour rire, to be run exactly as they have, with all the same leadership and personnel in place," the investors group said in a statement.

The Montreal-based comedy group got its start in the 1980s as an annual festival where Los Angeles and New York talent scouts discovered the Next Big Thing for Hollywood sitcoms and movie roles. But the rise of the internet and social media as discovery platforms for self-promoting comedians has pushed JFL festival down the assembly line for nascent comedy talent. 

So the Canadian comedy group in recent years has targeted an increasingly global business online, thanks to the digital age. That includes diversifying into more one-person shows at the annual festival, TV and digital exploitation of its comedy brand and launching JFL-branded comedy festivals in Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney, Australia.

Mandel, who grew up in Toronto, but has been a regular performer at JFL in Montreal, said he aimed to preserve the comedy group as a cultural treasure for Canada, even as it expands overseas.

"I am very excited to be part of this group of investors that will ensure the festival’s long-term success, while growing their global comedy brand,” he said in a statement. ICM Partners' Silbermann said JFL as a comedy brand had already become an international entertainment property, but he saw potential for still greater growth.

"We see a great opportunity to work with them to grow the global comedy brand, in both French- and English-speaking comedy, while allowing the team on the ground in Montreal to continue to produce the festival as they have so successfully for all these years," he added.

Another Montreal-based entertainment brand, Cirque du Soleil, in 2015 similarly unveiled a deal to sell a controlling stake to a U.S. private equity firm and its Chinese partner, Shanghai-based Fosun Capital Group, with an eye to expanding the globally recognized circus troupe into China and other Asian markets.