MONTREAL – An upstart Quebec comedy festival added a big piece Wednesday as it attempts to go up against Montreal-based entertainment powerhouse Just For Laughs.
Andy Nulman, a comedy scene stalwart in Quebec, announced he has joined the Festival du rire de Montreal, which is being organized by several dozen mainly francophone comedians.
They are seeking to distance themselves from Just For Laughs as it deals with the fallout from the recent sex-assault controversy involving one of its founders, Gilbert Rozon.
Nulman, himself a co-founder and key architect of Just For Laughs, said he has accepted the unpaid role of consultant after being approached by friend Martin Petit, a well-known Quebec comedian who is a central figure in the fledgling festival.
Nulman, who worked with Laughs on and off for three decades, hasn’t been involved with it or the comedy scene for about three years, but has maintained contacts in the industry.
The Festival du rire de Montreal, which is committed to holding its first edition in 2018, touted Nulman’s extensive background in the English-speaking comedy world, describing him as a “visionary” who oversaw the birth and growth of “all the great Quebec comedians”
Nulman said it’s too early to say how the coalition-led event will look in the end. He does believe there’s room for both festivals in the market.
“In the end, it’s perhaps a pretty negative catalyst, but on the positive side, it does force the event to do a complete overhaul and rethink, which is tough for a company to do when you’ve done something similar for 35 years,” he said.
“I don’t think (our arrival) sounds the death knell for Just For Laughs or for anyone trying to do something new.”
Rozon, 63, stepped down as president of Just For Laughs following allegations from at least 10 women he either sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them.
Just For Laughs has mandated RBC Capital Markets to look into the various possible options surrounding the sale of Rozon’s stake, a process that is ongoing. The Just For Laughs Group has said it intends to continue as normal with its projects.
The new project, meanwhile, has been picking up steam, hiring an interim general manager and enjoying a recent prime-time appearance by some of the comics on “Tout le monde en parle,” a popular Radio-Canada talk show.
It has received formal offers of support from Quebec Economy Minister Dominique Anglade, federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly and Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante.
Nulman said there are several unanswered questions on all sides, but he didn’t rule out everyone working together once a new Laughs owner is in place.
“I do believe that eventually, it’s kind of foolish for a huge comedy event not to deal with 50 big comedians and I think it might be foolish for 50 big comedians not to deal with a big comedy event,” he said.
As for his relationship with Rozon, Nulman called him a partner, a friend, and “like a brother,” but wouldn’t comment further about his situation.
“I’m not going to throw him under the bus, his problems are his problems to deal with and it’s unfortunate for everybody involved,” he said.
A statement put out on behalf of Just For Laughs said Nulman’s career move will have “no bearing on our operations.”
“In recent years, the unparalleled growth of JFL is due to the expertise of our current team, including JFL COO Bruce Hills, directors, managers, programmers and staff who have been directly running operations,” it read.
“Our focus is on producing the biggest edition of the festival yet with exciting talent announcements coming in the new year.”