Just for Laughs is arriving in the darkest of times

Just for Laughs is arriving in the darkest of times
The second wave of COVID-19 is upon us and we could all use a laugh right now. Luckily, Just for Laughs is back with a unique, all virtual edition of its festival from Oct. 9 to 10. As the largest comedy festival in the world, it should come as no surprise that Just for Laughs has once again pulled out the big guns, with some of the most renowned names in the industry coming together for stand-up, panels and films, among other events.

With so much to see in such little time, we’ve rounded up some of the most promising events you should look out for at Just for Laughs 2020.

Just for Laughs’ ComedyPRO sector offers an in-depth exploration of the business of comedy. The New Faces of Comedy and Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch have long served as favourites for industry heads and stand-up diehards alike. These shows are akin to attending a college sporting event, an opportunity to see some of the top comedic prospects before they blow up. I personally have witnessed both Heidi Gardner (New Faces, 2017) and Pete Davidson (Variety, 2014) perform at these events a month shy of both of them signing on as Saturday Night Live cast members. New Faces, in particular, has long been used for scouting the next big deals in comedy, while 10 Comics to Watch offers a line-up of comics who are early on yet slightly more seasoned.

ComedyCON carries on ComedyPRO’s longstanding tradition of exciting panels featuring the cast and creators of some of the most cherished shows on television. This year, the festival highlights the Stephen Colbert-created and produced Tooning Out the News:

“Life, and especially American politics, are weirder than a fucking cartoon these days anyway, so what better way to digest the news than an animated satire from Stephen Colbert? This new show was meant to be shot one way, then COVID hit, so now there’s a lot of panel discussions, only it’s a mix of cartoon hosts and real-life talking heads. We’ve all been exposed to Black Mirror-like AI hosts and those Taiwan CGI news story reenactments — Tooning Out the News isn’t bizarre or dystopian like that. It’s really the news as you know it with a softer exterior, perhaps necessary given the current hostilities between the White House and the flesh and blood press corps. By calling an audible, they perhaps haven’t found their legs yet, but I’m not expecting this was ever going to be Borat, either — just the sincere American comedy machine plodding along at a pace that’s unable to keep up with the unfathomable realities.”—Cult MTL contributor Erik Leijon

Another highlight is the ever-beloved RuPaul spinoff, Canada’s Drag Race, featuring Cult MTL October cover star Rita Baga:

“It’s going to be a little reunion of the top four (queens from the show), and one of the judges will be there, Stacy. It’s based on a ‘What’s the Tee?’ concept so they will bring out different topics. The day before the (show’s) finale, we did the media press day, I think we had 20 interviews, but Jimbo was not there because he was not in the top three. So now we have a chance to do it with him and he’s completely crazy when he does interviews — that’s going to be cool.”—Rita Baga in an interview with Cult MTL

Adjusting to the online conditions, Just for Laughs decided to curate an abundance of one-on-one talks with top-tier comedians as part of its Conversations series. Among the most promising chats include Judd Apatow and Kevin Hart, who worked together early in their careers on both Undeclared and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Tig Notaro and Sarah Cooper, the latter of whom will debut her debut Netflix special later this year, and Trixie Mattel (see our interview here) and Nailed It! host Nicole Byer.

The show must go on and Just for Laughs will even be attempting a few stand-up series. JFL golden child Howie Mandel will host Sit Down Comedy Sessions, bringing his pals Bobby Lee, Bob Saget and Ms. Pat along for the ride. The Plastic Cup Boyz are the G-Unit to Kevin Hart’s 50 Cent, the D12 to his Eminem. Hart and his posse of funny friends will perform a live version of their SiriusXM show, Straight From the Hart, putting their vulnerabilities on the line, all for our entertainment.

Would it really be Just for Laughs without Andy Kindler? The festival veteran returns for the 25th edition of his iconic State of the Industry Address. Kindler is your favourite comic’s comic, the most known unknown, a voice in the industry that is heavily respected yet does not get his due credit in the mainstream circuit. Kindler’s perceptive and empathetic approach tells it like it is and lord knows we could all use a real voice of authority in these trying times.

While these events are free, the festival is encouraging donations to a plethora of charities. Each event comes with its own unique foundation attached, many of which have deep resonance for the performing comics. ■

For the complete Just for Laughs program and to tune in, please visit the festival’s website.

For more comedy coverage, please visit our Comedy section.
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