Just for Laughs 2012: Comedy Festival Revitalized in 30th Year

"The Muppets"

"We're lean and mean and relevant and have acts from returning veterans to the best of the new comics who want to be here," said Canadian comic Czar Bruce Hills.

TORONTO – The Just for Laughs comedy festival wrapped its 30th edition on Sunday after staging a record 250 shows in the English and French languages with 4,000 performers, including Jim Henson's The Muppets.

And you can hear the relief in Bruce Hill’s voice.

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Hill’s Just for Laughs has long taken the pulse of the comedy industry each July, while showcasing established and emerging comic talents for Hollywood and other international talent scouts.

But festival COO Hills will say now what he held back a half-dozen years ago: Just for Laughs, having earlier lost its mojo, has got it back and is reborn as a discoverer of new talent in the age of the Internet.

That follows the prestigious festival limping through much of the 2000s when the sitcom world was ailing and the age of lucrative pilot deals were no longer handed out on the ground in Montreal.

“The good news is I don’t feel like we’re out of shape and lazy anymore. We’re lean and mean and relevant and have acts from returning veterans to the best of the new comics who want to be here,” Hills explained.

To revive a maturing Just for Laughs, Hills in recent years charged Robbie Praw and his programming team with raising the stakes by moving beyond stand-up to booking more variety and one-man shows in the comedy world’s Cannes.

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As well, Just for Laughs pioneer Andy Nulman is back as the festival’s president of festivals and television.

The result this past week was 27 hours of TV programming shot by Just for Laughs production crews for Canada and other English-speaking markets worldwide.

“The team has regenerated the event,” Hills insisted, citing a gamble that paid off handsomely last week when The Muppets hosted two galas, as did the actors Bill Hader of Saturday Night Live and first-time emcee Joe McHale.

The Just for Laughs concert series generated buzz for Kevin Hart’s appearances at the Metropolis, Jim Gaffigan at Theatre Maisonneuve and Hannibal Buress at L’Astral.

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And there was heat around the Comicpro series for stand-up performances by Kenny Hotz’s Kenny vs. Science, Marc Maron and Key & Peele Live!.

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