Q&A

'Laughter starts in Montreal': Howie Mandel vows to grow Just for Laughs and keep it where it is

Comedian Howie Mandel is a big fan of Montreal. That's part of the reason he decided to invest in the Just for Laughs festival when the opportunity arose earlier this year.

Comedian, new JFL part-owner, says comedy's the best panacea for sex scandals and other world ills

Comedian Howie Mandel, one of the new co-owners of the Just for Laughs comedy festival, is seen at the company's headquarters May 15, 2018. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Comedian Howie Mandel is a big fan of Montreal. That's part of the reason he decided to invest in the Just for Laughs festival when the opportunity arose earlier this year.

The future of the festival was uncertain, following the resignation of Just for Laughs' co-founder and president, Gilbert Rozon, after allegations of Rozon's sexual misconduct came to light in the wake of the #metoo movement.

After months of back and forth, news came that Mandel, known for his comedy specials and his hosting of the game show Deal or No Deal, would take the reins of the festival, along with a Los Angeles-based talent and literary agency.​

Mandel told CBC's Debra Arbec Tuesday the fate of Just For Laughs is safe in his hands, and he intends to expand both the French and English editions.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On investing in JFL:

I have a special passion that I want to get across, and that is for me, my dream has been to have Canada and Montreal and Just For Laughs recognized as the mecca of comedy. Anything that people know in pop culture comedically right now, or on television or in films, has some touchstone here in this city.

It's the biggest international festival of its kind in the world. It's the most important thing in the world of comedy that anybody can be part of. You're either going to be launched in a new career, you're going to get work out of it, or you're going to make connections. There is no other time when the who's who of comedy and networks are all in one city, in one room together. And that's important.

Comedian Howie Mandel spoke with CBC's Debra Arbec Tuesday about his plans for the JFL empire. (CBC)

On keeping JFL in Montreal:

This is a successful business. I've talked to my partners. They have no desire to uproot it, to change it, to even change the city within Canada. This works. No question. It stays in Montreal, and we keep it alive. 

We're sending tentacles out, and with these big American partners, as you call them, they can just alert (louder and with more money) people from farther away, from all over the world, that Montreal is the place to come.

On fostering French comedy:

I want to address and embrace French comics as much, if not more, than the English-speaking comics, because I think that the French culture is what makes this international.

Juste pour rire was here far before Just for Laughs. I remember when I just started, there was already a French festival. So we need them; we want them. If there is another festival, I wish everybody success. I will say that our stages are open to all of them. You know, anybody who would like to grace our stage and in the French community, as far as the French comic community, we would never shut the door to anyone.

The comedian says he wants to grow and expand Just for Laughs starting this year. 1:27

On the JFL sex scandal:

I personally was not involved and not even aware of what — I know it exists — but was not aware of what it [was.] But I will say this, in these times of  #metoo and #timesup, the world is rocked.

This is not just Just for Laughs or Juste pour rire. Like every other business, like the movie business down in the States, like politics everywhere, it was pretty prevalent everywhere. It's not a Just for Laughs thing. You do your due diligence; the court systems do their due diligence. But those companies still run. People are going to movies this Friday. There's still TV shows. There's still a festival. The people that are in place are not affected by that.

People should still go out and laugh. This is comedy, and comedy is the best panacea, and it goes through language, through culture, through countries. 

If there's anything that could make this world a better place, it's laughter. And we are in the industry, and we're talking today, about laughter. And anybody who wants to create laughter should join us, and they're invited with open arms.  

We're going to make the world laugh. And we're going to tell the world that laughter starts in Montreal.

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