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TORONTO — After building its base in English and French language comedy, Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival is shifting into TV comedy specials for China, India and other foreign language markets with new programming opportunities.
Partnering with Canadian broadcaster OMNI Television, Just For Laughs has just completed a Mandarin-language TV comedy special, The Chinese Comedy & Variety Show.
The 90-minute show features Chinese superstar comic Jiang Kun and Canadian Mark Rowswell, whose stage name in China is Dashan.
The Canadian-made show will air on OMNI stations in Toronto and Vancouver on July 10 with English sub-titles, after airing in China in late April on CCTV3 to around 40 million viewers.
And the Mandarin-language special follows an earlier Hindi language TV comedy show for OMNI, Just For Laughs Hinglish, that was head-lined by local comic Sugar Sammy.
More foreign language TV comedy specials are to follow from Just For Laughs and OMNI.
“It was such a positive experience. We’re trying to take advantage of what we did, what this can do for our brand in China, and also produce other third language comedy specials” beyond Canada’s two official languages, English and French,” explained Just For Laughs COO Bruce Hills.
He adds Just For Laughs and OMNI also have TV specials in other foreign languages on the drawing board that can be sold into the world market.
“I can build a show in other languages and offer that to Canadians and tourists that speak that language and attend our festival, and also develop a TV audience through a broadcaster, and then sell the show through Just For Laughs in those international territories,” Hills said.
The Mandarin-language comedy special, shot at last year’s Just For Laughs festival in Toronto, featured a mix of on-stage comedy and variety acts, including non-verbal and spoken comedy.
Hills said the Just For Laughs comedy specials feature popular Canadian comics that speak a specific foreign language, and top comics from a foreign territory, Italy or Spain, for example, that would appeal to their own home audience when the TV comedy special is shopped there.
The Just For Laughs exec said his Toronto-shot Mandarin-language comedy special not only travelled well in China, thanks to Jiang Kun and Dashan, but its content escaped the red pens of China’s film and TV censors.
Hills insists the Just For Laughs program was decidedly mainstream in its comedy, and certainly not overtly political.
“We were very conscious of that, we were very curious if anything. Comedy luckily has a bit more of a license to go places that journalist for certain might be less comfortable going,” he said of the Chinese TV market.
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