Just For Laughs unveils free, virtual programming, favouring panels over stand-up performances

Festival has announced big names like Howie Mandel and Hannah Gadsby to the fall lineup, with the caveat that comedians will mainly participate in panel discussions.

Festival announced big names who will mainly take part in panel discussions, Q&As

Comedian Howie Mandel, a co-owner of the Just for Laughs comedy festival, will be taking part in the 2020 virtual event. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

For the first time in 38 years, Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival is going online.

On Wednesday, the festival announced a lineup of comedians who will appear in a free, online festival Oct. 9-10, including Howie Mandel, Hannah Gadsby (Nanette), Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Andy Kindler (Everybody Loves Raymond), Nicole Byer (Nailed It!) and RuPaul's Drag Race alum Trixie Mattel.

However, most of the comedians will not be performing stand-up. Instead, they will participate in online panel discussions and Q&As aimed at giving the audience a behind-the-scenes look at the comedy industry.

"After three decades of producing our festival [and] not having a live event this year, we thought let's produce something for digital," said Just For Laughs president Bruce Hills.

"Let's reach out to some of the great comics out there, and create an event that has performance, some stand-up, but a lot of conversations, and very funny conversations, some important conversations. Let's go to the smartest people we can get to agree to work with us on this project. And we're really happy with who we've lined up so far," he told CBC News.

Hills described the two-day online event as a chance for comedy fans to see a little more of what goes on backstage at the festival each year.

Bruce Hills has been working for the festival for more than three decades. (Submitted by Just For Laughs)

While some of the events will be recorded and broadcast, or feature snippets from not-yet-released movies and TV shows, Hills said half of the online festival will be done live "because we believe that it's very important to feel like we're in the moment."

Instead of selling tickets to the online events, Hills said the festival is opening up the programming to anyone, anywhere around the world.

"We want major eyeballs," he said. "Why limit this to just someone who has the money right now, especially at a time when a lot of people have less money?"

Tthe festival has also partnered with Kevin Hart's comedy network, Laugh Out Loud, which will present a separate virtual room dedicated to highlighting comedians from diverse backgrounds, both established and emerging.

The French arm of the festival is putting on some in-person live shows at Théâtre St-Denis, which will be recorded in front of a small live audience and then broadcast on Quebec TV network Noovo next year.

Only those who bought passport tickets to the postponed 2020 edition of the summer festival will be able to snag tickets to the French live events, featuring Quebec performers Laurent Paquin, Korine Côté, Mehdi Bousaidan, Pier-Luc Funk and Phil Roy. 


Marilla Steuter-Martin

Former CBC journalist

Marilla Steuter-Martin was a journalist with CBC Montreal from 2015 to 2021.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?