Just for Laughs moves online as COVID-19 forces organizers to start from scratch

Free interactive online gatherings, panels, performances will be available Oct. 9-10, but some content will be pay-per-view.

Free interactive online gatherings, panels, performances will be available Oct. 9-10

While comedians can't make a live audience laugh this year at the annual Just For Laughs festival, they will be able to perform virtually for a two-day digital festival (Just for Laughs)

Montreal's Just for Laughs festival will have to start from scratch this year, as the world's largest international comedy festival goes online for health and safety reasons.

"It's very difficult, but it's the right decision," said Just for Laughs President Bruce Hills.

"It was the inevitable decision," he said.

The two-day virtual festival, scheduled for Oct. 9 and 10, will consist of a mix of prerecorded and live virtual performances and events. Most of the content will be free, said Hills, but some will be pay-per-view. 

The festival was postponed in April and it seemed possible that it would be cancelled altogether, as other major festivals in the city were — like the Montreal Jazz Festival and Francos de Montréal. 

But organizers announced Tuesday that the festival will be going ahead, in a different format. They say they are lining up comedians and will have a better sense of who will be performing in August.

Comedians have reacted positively to the idea, Hills said. They have been performing for months without a live audience and this virtual format, he said, will be another chance for everyone involved to think outside the box.

The francophone wing of the company, Juste pour rire, organized a digital comedy festival in May as a way of testing out the format. 

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