A few months ago, the people behind Just for Laughs, the largest international comedy festival in the world, had to make a tough call and postpone their fest, traditionally held in July. That was hard enough.
“But when we were faced with the ever-increasing uncertainty of COVID, we knew we had to switch gears again,” says Robyn Kaszor, VP of festivals, Just for Laughs. “The idea of not doing something at all wasn’t even an option for us, so we decided to go online. We wanted to reach as many people as possible, so the entire festival will be available worldwide and for free.”
For the first time since its inception in 1993, Just for Laughs will be presented digitally from Oct. 9-10. While it’s disappointing to not have the annual gathering in Montreal, this means that anyone can attend the conversations, panels and showcases with more than 100 artists from around the globe, from the comfort of their own home.
“It’s key that we capture as much of the spirit of the festival as possible,” Kaszor says. “So much of the festival experience is running from venue to venue to watch talent. To replicate that, we will have multiple virtual rooms running simultaneously over the two days. Discovery of new talent remains a priority for us, so we will not only have well-known comedians participating, but fans will also have the opportunity to be exposed to lots of new talent.”
That includes a panel with Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch and New Faces: Creators, always popular in-person events. Also included are festival faves such as Andy Kindler’s State of the Industry Address and Eat My Shorts. As always, there will be cast panels: this year’s participants include CBS All Access’ “Tooning Out the News” and Crave’s “Canada’s Drag Race.” The fest is also partnering with Kevin Hart’s comedy brand and entertainment company Laugh Out Loud (LOL) on their new experimental division LOL X!
“Given our previous successful collaborations, they are the perfect partners with their forward-thinking programming and will provide a platform to emerging diverse voices in the industry which is very important to us.”
Adds Kaszor: “With limited spots to program we had to choose the events that we felt would resonate best on a digital platform. There will be programming that people are used to seeing at the festival, mixed with some new concept ideas that we’re excited to share. It was also very important to us that we gave artists a platform to discuss some of the very important issues that are happening in the world today.”
Kaszor adds that the fest will be going live as much as possible and Just for Laughs is actually looking forward to the challenges and opportunities a digital space provides.
“We are trying to find the secret to how the comedy industry can thrive online and how we can be part of it in an engaging way. It’s a new frontier for our festival and many other festivals out there exploring it for the first time,” she says. “This experience will no doubt change the way we do things going forward and we’re really excited about reaching existing fans and new fans around the world. We feel no matter what, even after COVID is gone, we will continue to offer a digital festival experience to our fans, so if you can’t come to one of our live festivals, then we’ll come to you.”