Now, this is getting serious

The Just for Laughs Festival is no longer simply a live-performance event. Nowadays, it’s also a hot seller in TV markets from Indonesia to Israel, and festival fare is broadcast in 30 countries around the globe, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, France and Britain.

When Just for Laughs made its debut back in 1983, the festival had a lone TV deal, with Tele-Metropole, the main private French-language web in Quebec. But the Montreal comedy festival has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade, now regularly attracting more than 500,000 people to the event, and its TV distribution has increased along with the size of the festival itself.

At the 11th annual edition of the festival — which began July 22 and ends Aug. 1 — there will be crews shooting all the shows at the St. Denis Theater, along with several of the smaller club performances and some of the free, outdoor programming.

Some of the festival’s key TV partners are Showtime in the U.S., Channel 4 in Great Britain, public web France 2 and English and French CBC in Canada.

Showtime has been broadcasting Just for Laughs fare for four consecutive years now, and the U.S. cable web will be airing two shows from this year’s festival.

Showtime is set to shoot the St. Denis Theater gala hosted by John Candy, and , for the first time, the network will be shooting a second show during one of the festival’s edgier, late-night series.

The Just for Laughs specials have garnered some of the best ratings ever for comedy on Showtime, according to Steven Hewitt, senior VP, Showtime Entertainment Group.

“It is, in many ways, a centerpiece for us in the year of comedy programming, ” says Hewitt. “This is the amalgation of all the forms of comedy that we present in a year on Showtime. It’s an anchor for us in terms of performance comedy.”

CBC, Canada’s national TV net, is also broadcasting twice as much Just for Laughs fare this summer, with 12 half-hour shows on the sked.

CBC is broadcasting a weekly, half-hour Just for Laughs show throughout the summer, and the series — which is made up of highlights from the past two Just for Laughs festivals — has been averaging more than 800,000 viewers, making it one of the web’s top-rated summer shows.

International sales of Just for Laughs programming is handled by the Groupe Rozon, the Montreal-based outfit that oversees the entire Just for Laughs operation.

Just for Laughs recently signed coproduction agreements with the public WDR web in Germany and RTBF in Belgium, and the festival is looking for more coproduction deals because it allows the foreign webs to add a local flavor to their broadcasts. Just for Laughs encourages the networks to bring their own hosts to Montreal to anchor the programs.

The festival and England’s Channel 4 worked closely together on this year’s “New British Invasion” gala, which will be aired on the British net in September , and the British-flavored evening was tailor-made for Channel 4.

Hosted by Brit comic Paul Merton, it features a mix of comic stars from both sides of the Atlantic.

In the past, Showtime has broadcast one gala, but the cable network decided to shoot two shows this year to give its viewers a better sense of the different styles of comedy on tap at the festival.

Showtime will air a package — to premiere Aug. 7 — that contains the St. Denis Theater gala with John Candy.

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