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

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Kevin Hart

Media giant Bell Media and Montreal Canadiens owner Group CH take stakes to expand the Canadian comedy festival that is set to host Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish in July.

Canadian media giant Bell Media and Montreal Canadiens owner Groupe CH have joined ICM Partners and longtime client Howie Mandel in a consortium to acquire the Just For Laughs comedy group.

Terms of the deal for the new minority stakes nabbed by Bell Media and Groupe CH were not disclosed. ICM, the Los Angeles-based talent and literary agency, and Mandel in March first bought the controlling stake of JFL founder Gilbert Rozon.

It's understood that Bell Media and Groupe CH have taken a controlling 51 percent stake in JFL, leaving ICM and Mandel as minority partners, to ensure continuing government subsidies for the Canadian-based comedy group.

Bell Media — which runs Canada's CTV network and a stable of cable channels, Pinewood Toronto Studios and the Crave TV streaming service — and Groupe CH, which is also an event promoter and festival operator, now lead the consortium that owns and runs JFL and its French counterpart, Festival Juste pour rire.

Girls Trip star Tiffany Haddish and Trevor Noah are set to host galas at the JFL comedy festival next month, and Kevin Hart will bring his one-man show, organizers earlier announced.

"I'm an integrator. I'm going to integrate JFL into our system, to become part of our iHeartRadio events, we'll double down on the Montreal Just For Laughs comedy festival, and we'll look at other cities down the road," Bell Media CEO Randy Lennox on Thursday told The Hollywood Reporter.

Bell Media streaming service CraveTV has partnered with JFL to create one-hour comedy specials after the annual comedy event became a mainstay of programming for the broadcaster's Comedy channel. 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.

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 fest by stars like Hart, Jerry Seinfeld and Aziz Ansari; digital exploitation of its comedy brand; and launching JFL-branded comedy festivals in Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney, Australia.

Mandel, who grew up in Toronto and has been a regular performer at JFL in Montreal, teamed with ICM to preserve the comedy group as a cultural treasure for Canada and to expand overseas.

Just For Laughs COO Bruce Hills said in a statement: "Bell Media, Groupe CH, Howie Mandel and ICM each bring a different skill set, and each is investing the time and other resources to ensure a bright future for the unique Just For Laughs experience."