Laugh festival becomes a real museum piece

The International Museum of Humor — known in French as Un Nouveau Musee…Pour Rire — opened its doors here in April, but the $ C21 million museum will be launching two new features during this year’s Just for Laughs Festival.

The Montreal museum, which is part of the Just for Laughs comedy empire, is inaugurating the Cabaret du Musee, a 200-seat theater, and the Humor Hall of Fame, which will pay tribute to influential figures in the world of comedy.

Veteran comic George Burns, who performs at the festival Aug. 1, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame July 31, and the ceremony will be broadcast Aug. 7 as part of the Just for Laughs special on the Showtime web.

The museum’s first exhibition, “Laughing Matters,” a multimedia history of comedy through the ages, has attracted more than 45,000 visitors since its launch on April Fool’s Day, and will likely remain on display until the end of the year.

The show features clips from famous comic movies, TV shows and radio broadcasts, along with mock film sets and interactive displays. TV monitors throughout the sprawling exhibition space present excerpts from everything from local, French-language comedy shows to American sitcoms like “All in the Family” and “Seinfeld.”

Museum head Pasquale L. Iacobacci describes the project as an audio-visual complement to the Just for Laughs Festival.

“What we’ve done is used the methods of a museum and applied it to much more contemporary artifacts in a thematic or Walt Disney approach,” says Iacobacci.

Some $ C13.5 million of the set-up budget came from the Canadian, Quebec, and Montreal governments, and, with widespread public-spending cutbacks across the country, the comedy museum was the target of some criticism for its high level of public financing.

But Gilbert Rozon, who founded the Just for Laughs Festival and the museum, argues that the International Museum of Humor will help boost the local economy and put Montreal on the comedy map.

“I believe comedy deserves a museum,” says Rozon. “We believe in education and humor. That’s why we built this festival, the comedy school (National School of Humor), and now this museum.”

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