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ICM Partners, Howie Mandel Lead Acquisition of Just For Laughs Festival

Montreal’s Just For Laughs Group has been acquired by a group of investors led by ICM Partners and Howie Mandel.

The acquisition covers the annual comedy festival held in July in Montreal and its offshoot events in Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney. The deal is said to be valued in the mid eight-figure range.

Just For Laughs Group went on the market last fall after festival founder Gilbert Rozon was accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women dating back to the earliest days of the festival in 1983. Rozon has denied the allegations, but he put his majority interest in Just For Laughs Group on the market.

ICM Partners has vowed to keep the company’s home base in Montreal and maintain its existing staff there. Mandel, the veteran comedian and actor, is a longtime ICM client and a native of Canada. ICM Partners expects to add additional Canadian investors to the group in the coming weeks.

“I have performed at JFL many times over the last 10 years, and I have nothing but love for this event,” Mandel said. “I consider it to be a cultural treasure not only for the Montreal and Quebec communities, but also for Canada; and I am very excited to be part of this group of investors that will ensure the Festival’s long term success, while growing their global comedy brand.”

ICM pursued in the deal in an effort to expand the Just For Laughs brand with more live events and more media deals, including possible streaming options for its vast archive of festival programming. The controversy surrounding Rozon, a prominent entertainment business figure in Canada, threatened to cloud this year’s Montreal festival, set for July 14-28.

“Just For Laughs has done a phenomenal job of producing the world’s most respected comedy festival for decades and have built that into a very successful global comedy business,” said Chris Silbermann, managing director of ICM Partners. “We see a great opportunity to work with them to grow the global comedy brand, in both French- and English-speaking comedy, while allowing the team on the ground in Montreal to continue to produce the festival as they have so successfully for all these years.”

ICM Partners’ pursuit of the Just For Laughs is another example of large Hollywood talent agencies looking to diversify into content-related businesses. Those moves have sparked debate in the industry about whether such moves set the stage for conflicts of interest.

In the case of Just For Laughs Group, however, the sale to the ICM Partners group is a vital lifeline for an outfit that is a major hub of the entertainment industry in Quebec. The investor group’s vow to maintain the company’s commitment to Montreal was key to sealing the deal.

“This strategic alliance with Howie Mandel and ICM Partners is the best of all worlds for JFL, and ensures it has the resources to continue to thrive,” said Just For Laughs festival chairman Pierre-Marc Johnson.

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