Montreal laff fest raises profile

Annual event ups media profile in U.S., elsewhere

MONTREAL — Montreal’s 20th Just for Laughs comedy fest wrapped Sunday on a high note, with boffo ticket sales for indoor shows, sunshine helping to draw big crowds for the free al fresco fare and strong industry buzz for a number of comics.

The Canuck laugh fest upped its media profile in the U.S. and elsewhere. “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” aired three fest segments last week, and Canuck pubcaster CBC broadcast a half-hour show nightly from the fest all last week. Ireland’s RTE web shot six half-hour shows to air later this year, and Australia’s Network Ten plans two one-hour specials.

Exact figures were not available Sunday, but ticketed and free attendance will likely be similar to last year’s 1.6 million. “The Nasty Show,” with host Bobby Slayton, sold out a record 13 shows at Club Soda; Italian quick-change performance artist Arturo Brachetti had his run at Place des Arts extended into the first week of August; the “Compania Maria Pages Flamenco Show” was also extended; and innovative performance piece Slava’s Snowshow was a sellout.

“I think it’s gone great,” said Just for Laughs chief operating officer Bruce Hills. “There was some pressure to deliver strong shows and a strong lineup for the 20th anniversary, and I’m very satisfied.”

Comics who generated buzz included Ron White and Marc Maron from the Masters shows (for more seasoned acts) and Finesse Mitchell, Todd Lynn and Al Madrigal from the New Faces series. U.K.-based Iranian comic Omid Djalili and London-based Jimmy Carr, both in the all-British Britcom shows, also garnered much attention. In addition, Montreal’s Joey Elias elicited good reaction.

Comedia, the Just for Laughs comedy film festival launched in 2000, expanded with a lineup of 24 features and three programs of short pics. Comedia opened with the North American preem of French pic “Le Boulet” and is set to close today with the Canadian premiere of “Austin Powers in Goldmember.”

The Homegrown Comic Competition National Championship, featuring Canuck acts, was won by Nigel Lawrence from Edmonton. The audience award for most popular free street show went to Germany’s Titanick Theater for its re-creation of the sinking of the Titanic.

Patrick Leonard and Julie Caron both won the Prix de la Releve, for hot up-and-coming Francophone performers.

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