200 comics gathered for Montreal fest

The core activities of Montreal’s monthlong Just for Laughs comedy fest wrapped Saturday night with twin galas featuring John Cleese in top Python-esque form as industryites wound up their assessment of comics in various venues across the Quebec capitol.

Some 200 English-language comics got the once-over during the 11-day event. Fest’s chief operating officer Bruce Hills called this year’s expansion of longform solo shows “long overdue.” “Comics like Phil Nichols and Billy the Mime can do six minutes but are best seen in 60 minutes,” he added.

Final fest attendance tallies will be announced July 31, but Hills said all seven of the solo shows sold out.

Jason Alexander, Bill Cosby, Margaret Cho and Drew Carey were among the major names playing the festival.

Other key developments include the fest’s new hookup with CAA repping the U.S. television rights for its recorded library of 24 years of live acts.

Strongest buzz of the fest centered on pros such as Nichols, John Dore and John Pinette, who sold out six shows of 700 seats apiece. From “The Masters” program, Katt Williams and Nick Griffin captivated, while Bob Marley, Jimmy Carr and Andrew Kennedy drew big aud response at the galas.

“New Faces” garnering interest included Lee Camp, Joe DeVito, Roy Wood Jr. and 20-year-old Californian Taylor Williamson. Sexy, edgy burlesque stage show La Clique drew big crowds and was described by one pro as “the anti-Cirque du Soleil.”

Cleese’s turn as gala host involved much elaborate staging, including a spoof segment called “Cleese Idol.” The Brit funnyman said he planned to kill himself, then rolled out five forms of suicide onstage, including stoning, electric chair, hanging, guillotine and firing squad. Aud members were invited to text-message their choice of lethal windup to Cleese’s career.

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