Just for Laughs Unveils Plans for Virtual Comedy Festival

Courtesy of Just For Laughs
Bruce Hills

The Montreal event, run by a consortium led by ICM and Howie Mandel, has been delayed from late July to October due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Just for Laughs comedy festival, run by a consortium led by ICM and Howie Mandel, has unveiled plans for a fully virtual event in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, fest organizers offered few details on the first-time digital format for the traditionally in-person festival in Montreal. But JFL is expected to host free, interactive online gatherings, conversations, panels, performances and events taking place Oct. 9-10.

"Certainly nothing compares to the energy of a live audience in a comedy club, hall or arena. However, pivoting with the current times, comedians are finding new ways to make audiences laugh," JFL president Bruce Hills told THR. So expect different comedy shows and formats for the 2020 virtual edition.

"Some comedians have found creative ways to team up with other comedians to engage audiences with more conversational type shows," Hills added.

As with major film festivals that have also been delayed or canceled by the pandemic, JFL has had to scale down and rejig its format this year owing to global comics, including from New York City and Los Angeles, being unable to attend the annual showcase for the industry's hottest stand-up talent due to travel bans put in place by their companies or governments.

The world-famous chuckle fest adds it is in talks with Hollywood stand-up talent that was discovered over the years by JFL, and have since remained loyal to the Montreal festival, on how they can participate in the 2020 virtual edition. Festival organizers expect to unveil programming for the fall edition in the coming weeks.

“With no precise indication of when borders will reopen, and faced with soaring demand for high-quality digital comedy content, we’ve made the decision to move our festival online, while always maintaining our focus on the excellence of our offerings — an excellence that is recognized and appreciated throughout the world,” the JFL event also said in a statement.

The cancellation of JFL's in-person festival had been expected as the stand-up comedy sector has faced massive disruption amid the COVID-19 crisis. And the parent Just for Laughs Group has little visibility on when Montreal comedy clubs and concert halls can reopen with sizable audiences.

The JFL festival will be hosted on an online portal designed to mirror the regular festival experience where possible. The Montreal event had a dry run for its upcoming English-language festival after JFL held its first French-language digital comedy festival, the Hahaha Festival, over four days in May as a showcase for homegrown Quebec comics.

The JFL comedy festival has traditionally hosted Los Angeles and New York talent scouts eyeing the "next big thing" for Hollywood sitcoms and movie roles.

This month, Netflix canceled its inaugural Netflix Is a Joke Fest out of concern for the coronavirus spread. That comedy festival was to have hosted talent like Ken Jeong, Iliza Shlesinger, David Letterman, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Hart, Martin Lawrence, and Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.