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Published on April 5th, 2010 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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Just for Laughs 2010: A Look Ahead

The folks at Just For Laughs have started rolling out details for their 2010 Montreal edition, happening July 7-18 — with the major English programming and the JFL Comedy Conference happening at the tail end of that.

“Hey, isn’t JFL a little earlier than normal?” you ask. Yes. That’s likely due in part to the supposed (and I do emphasize “supposed”) ass-whupping last year’s festival suffered at the hands of Comic-Con. There was mumbling throughout the Hyatt last year that it’s what kept the industry types in SoCal (I only half believe that, to be honest). Of course, with the date change, they’re competing with back-to-back U2 concerts on the final 2 nights of the Festival. Damned if you do….

The other problem in ’09 was what a few Montreal improvisers I befriended dubbed “The Zoofest Effect”. Lower-profile shows were spun off into the new sister festival, Zoofest, accompanied by a website that was so difficult to navigate that many felt the general public simply couldn’t be bothered to investigate. A number of those shows, particularly the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre shows at the Mainline Theatre, were embarrassingly under-attended.

So how are things looking for the 2010 Just For Laughs Festival, and its concurrent Just for Laughs Comedy Conference?

Festival-wise, the few details that have been set in stone are positive.

As for the big names who will get the general public in a tizzy: Tom Papa and Brad Garrett are included in the lineup for a Relationship-themed gala on July 14; the insanely popular John Pinette will stage his new solo show July 13-17; and Cheech & Chong will host the July 16 gala.

There are now THREE New Faces nights — for a total of six performances, up from the standard four. In the past, the pool of performers have been split into “A” and “B” groups, each performing in two shows. Does this mean more performers are being added, or does it mean everyone gets to perform a third time?

From the “if it ain’t broke” department: The Alternative Show will take the Friday and Saturday midnight slots at Cabaret as usual. Bubbling, Britcom, Nasty Show (w/ Greg Giraldo and Jim Norton), and Uptown Comics will all be at Club Soda as is standard.

Aziz Ansari, who performed solo last year at the tiny Theatre St Catherine will be doing the same this year across the street at the massive Metropolis, which seats 2,350. That’s a good year in anyone’s books.

Down Under, O’Comics, Homegrown, and the Masters are all being moved right across the street from Festival Central (aka the Hyatt) to L’Astral. Hooray for convenience!

Speaking of convenient, there’s no sign of the giant pain in the ass known as the Kola Note. Is it being dumped as a JFL venue? I certainly hope so. It’s one of the worst venues for the festival, both because of its distance, as well as its non-comedy-friendly setup. It’s an awkward space, the sight lines can be challenging, and the bar in the back was a constant distraction (particularly when some a-hole would order a blended drink).

As for that “Zoofest Effect”, well, Zoofest will be back. The website currently has no information (making it about as useful as last year’s — oh, snap!) and I expect details won’t be forthcoming until at least mid-May.

Also, the Just For Laughs Film Festival — mentioned nowhere on the main JFL site — will be going ahead again in 2010. Submissions close at the end of April, so details will probably not show up until June.

A few pieces of if-I-were-a-programmer daydreaming:

-With the musical comedy showcase Amp’d returning, it would make sense for programmers to bring back Reggie Watts and Garfunkel & Oates. And can we get the Arrogant Worms in the festival just ONCE? Please? It’s insane to me that this has never happened.

-I’m not the only person to think it, but with Conan skipping over Montreal on his upcoming tour, it would only make sense to enlist him as a Gala host. The 15th and the 17th galas are unspoken for in the host department. Can the JFL folks swing this?

With the on-stage stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the JFL Comedy Conference — technically going into its 2nd year, but full of events that have been going on forever.

First up, kudos to the JFL folks for fixing some of the mistakes I wrote about last year — most notably, unveiling details of the Conference at a decent time. In 2009, the entire Conference itself was unveiled just five weeks before the event, making Hollywood types scramble to rejig their expense accounts. We currently have dates, a partial schedule, and pricing. Horray.

Another positive change is the return to the “Just For Pitching” format of development insight. Last year, I said that the panel of executives just talking about what goes into a successful series was less educational compared to previous years, when hopeful showrunners would pitch their projects infront of a packed conference room. It seems organizers agree, because the tradition of open pitches is returning threefold: one for television, one for film, and one for “multi-platform web series”.

Andy Kindler will of course be back for the State of the Industry Address, thank God. Lewis Black is also slated to deliver a “Keynote Address” to kick off the Conference.

The remainder of the schedule is a lot of the typical cocktail parties, lunches, etc. What’s listed – but not yet elaborated on – are panel discussions entitled “From Stage to Screen”, “Web Faceoff: Comedy Kingmakers”, and the return of last year’s “Late Night: Inside the Writers’ Room”. While I’m an admitted writers’ panel addict, I would be disappointed if this turns out to be carbon copy of ’09, with rundowns of each show’s daily production schedule, and fielding stale questions about sexism. Here’s hoping they aim to make this an honest discussion about the past year’s late night insanity.

But here’s the REALLY interesting part of this year’s Comedy Conference: for the first time ever, they’re offering a “Fan Pass”, which for $99 gives stripped-down access to select Conference events, plus admission to ALL the Zoofest shows and Film Fest offerings (the full delegate pass is $400 under the early bird rate).

If you’re a member of the public and big into the Zoofest shows (I believe ALL the shows I went to last year qualified as Zoofest, save for 1 film screening), this pass will pay for itself in a day and a half.

But what about the hot tickets? For the full-blown Industry passes, if you want to see a show, you’re forced to wait outside Club Soda until the show has started, and only IF there is room, you’re escorted inside, shown a specific spot in which to stand and told not to move.

If that’s the treatment the $400 people regularly get, what should the $99 people expect? $99 is a damn good bargain, but this could prove to be a huge problem if sales are good. How many Zoofest pass holders will be denied entry at the last minute?

JFL would be wise to hold back a set number of tickets at the door at each Zoofest show for Fan Pass holders. Will they even think to do this? Knowing what I know about festivals, they’re probably more interested in the cash. But if they want these passes to be popular in the future, it’s something that should be considered.

The Fan Pass excludes access to the major schmooze events, which really aren’t that major to begin with. The “networking lunches” are full of people with nowhere else to be between sessions, and the off-site Midnight Party is only useful for those who’d rather dance than talk.

The only place you ever NEED to be is the Hyatt Bar. It’s buzzing on Thursday and Friday nights, and packed shoulder-to-shoulder on Saturday night while everyone scrambles to say their goodbyes. Judging from the website, the Hyatt doesn’t even exist, never mind function as an “event”, so it seems those “fan pass” folks will be able to hang out there without any issues. Besides, given the relative open concept of the room, I don’t think they’d have much luck keeping anyone out. This isn’t like the Delta years, where overbearing security guys were checking our passes at each end of the hallway.

As far as the $99 pass goes, so far, so good. But I do have to question the angle with which the website is selling these things.

“For the first time in festival history, we are opening our doors to young professionals, comedy-enthusiasts and students who want to know more about what goes on in the comedy world.”

That sounds pretty good on the surface: basically get young people who are interested in the industry to become engaged with the Conference, and learn about the business.

But wait — not so fast there, aspiring producer! While the Fan Pass description cites “access to the Just For Laughs Comedy Conference panels and speakers”, upon further investigation, it turns out Fan Pass holders are NOT permitted entry to the most valuable of the Conference events: those three pitching sessions I mentioned earlier.

I can’t begin to guess what the justification is for shutting the next generation of industry out of these sessions. There will be no shortage of empty seats, since these take place first thing in the morning, and the only people interested in watching are those with something to learn from it.

So if you’re a relative n00b to the industry and care about the conference sessions more than anything else, I’d recommend springing for the the full pass. As far as I know, nobody has ever been prevented from buying a conference/industry pass even with the loosest of industry affiliations. JFL is certainly not in a position to turn down your money.

Unfortunately, I’m going to depend on you guys to let me in on how it all goes down. It’s looking more and more like I won’t be making it to Montreal this year because of a previous engagement, but for better or worse, I’m look forward to hearing about it!


About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



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