Just for Laughs celebrates 25 years

Canadian event gets blast from the past

The English-language portion of the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal wrapped Sunday with an action-packed 25th anniversary gala and awards ceremony.

Paying homage to hitting the quarter-century mark, the fest was programmed with a tip of the hat to both past and future, said fest director Bruce Hills. “We set out to take a look back on 25 years by inviting some of our old friends and renewal for the future.”

Blasts from the past included William Shatner, Howie Mandel, Russell Peters, Eddie Izzard, “The Family Guy” cast, a “Kids in the Hall” reunion and Rowan Atkinson, (who in 1989 took the Just for Laughs stage to try out an as-yet unnamed character — later given the moniker Mr. Bean — to see if auds outside the U.K. would find it funny.)

Because many of the festival’s 200-plus acts take place outdoors, Just for Laughs is highly dependent on the weather, said Hills, noting that though two frosty nights might have kept a few people away, none of the acts experienced the “heartbreak” of being rained out.

Some of the names that attracted buzz at the fest included Louis CK, whom Hills called “the next big superstar of standup. I see him exploding like Chris Rock did in ’95,” as well as Lewis Black, Bill Hicks, Dane Cook, Bobby Moynihan, Jo Coy, Kevin Hart and Zach Galifianakis.

Extra shows were added for Danny Bhoy, Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Russell Peters and for the British comedy troupe Spymonkey, which Hills said was “a real breakout,” with interest in reproducing the show in Toronto and New York as well as some film and TV buzz.

Audience totals aren’t in yet, but the number of industry passes sold have increased about 25% to an estimated 1,250.

Prizes were handed out at a ceremony on Sunday, with most memorable indoor show nod going to the Quebec troupe Toc-toc and top street act statuette going to Bangditos of Germany.

Winner of a showdown between top dancers from the U.S., Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean and Canada was Backyard Funk (from the U.S.), while Sean Lecomber took the nod in the homegrown comic competition; and the artist to “most distinguish themselves” during the fest was Philippe Laprise.

Top prize from Comedia, the fest’s short film program, went to Tim Ghaddeus Cahill’s “The Oates’ Valor,” with special mention for “No Room for Gerold,” by Daniel Nocke from Germany.

Top Canadian short film nod went to “The Tragic Story of Nling,” from Jeffrey St. Jules, and Quebec short film kudos went to “Sur la ligne,” by Frederic Desager, with special mention for Martin Talbot’s “Neuf.”

“Beasts,” from Dick Vershure of the Netherlands, was the fest programmers’ pick.

A number of the fest’s acts, including Peters, Mandel, John Pinette, Richard Lewis, Kathleen Madigan, Ardal O’Hanlon, Frank Skinner and Alonzo Bodden, are headed next to Toronto, where the inaugural Just for Laughs Toronto spinoff will run for three days starting July 26.

The French-language portion of the Montreal Just for Laughs fest runs through Sunday.

An update was made to this article on July 23, 2007.