Laughing it up at fest

North America’s biggest comedy festival is about to get bigger.

Attendance, ticket sales and industry presence were all up significantly at this year’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, which wrapped its 11-day run Sunday night. Fest topper Andy Nulman is already talking about expanding in a big way for next year’s edition.

“We have to increase capacity next year,” Nulman said Sunday afternoon. “We don’t have enough room on the street. Demand exceeds supply.”

The 12 big-ticket galas at the St. Denis Theatre were running at 97% capacity , and Nulman expects overall capacity to top last year’s record 86%. By Saturday night, attendance at the free shows on St. Denis Street had topped 500,000. The exact final tallies will be revealed at a press conference today.

There were also more industryites in town than ever before for the 11th annual humor fest, including “Late Night With David Letterman” producer Robert Morton, CBC programming topper Ivan Fecan, manager Charles Joffe, and exex from all the studios and networks.

The fest has served as the launchpad for numerous comic talents over the years — including Tim Allen and Dave Chappelle — and hot comics this year included David Cross, John Wing, Montreal’s Anthony Kavanagh, British transvestite stand-up Eddie Izzard and openly gay comic Lea DeLaria.

“There’s several people we like that we’ve seen here,” said Robin Nassif, head of casting at ABC. “I like to see new people, and people I’ve seen before with new material.”

Carsey-Warner’s David Tochterman begins pursuing the newer comics as soon as the Just for Laughs sked is published.

Tochterman said, “I’m aggressive about finding the people who will be in Montreal before Montreal because, by the time they get to Montreal, every other studio is in town. The festival picks the best and brightest of the upcoming talent, and there’s a lot of competition for these people. You gotta get up early.”

More than 200 performers from 16 countries appeared in Montreal during the fest, including headliners John Candy, Michael Richards from “Seinfeld,” George Burns and England’s Paul Merton.

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