From its humble beginnings as a two-day French-language event in 1983, Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival has evolved into the world’s biggest comedy-centric celebration.
This Canadian success story can be told today thanks to Just for Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon and his simple, yet ambitious mission: rendre les gens heureux—”make people happy.”
Just for Laughs—whose upcoming 35th edition coincides with both Canada’s 150th and Montreal’s 375th anniversary—takes Montreal by storm every July for three jam-packed weeks of hilarious hijinks. While traditional stand-up sets (performed in English, French, and sometimes both) are still at the heart of the event’s offerings, each edition also includes a kaleidoscope of non-verbal acts to delight attendees in new and surprising ways.
The festival transforms Quebec’s metropolis into a larger-than-life comedy showcase featuring a steady lineup of up-and-comers and superstars alike. Performers entertain audiences in every nook and cranny of the city, from large-scale theatres to neighbourhood cafés, parks and pubs. Each year, an average of 1.35 million comedy lovers from around the world come to Montreal to experience this gigantic celebration of laughter. The festival’s ever-growing popularity has led to the creation of satellite events across Canada and abroad, such as JFL42 in Toronto, JFL Northwest in Vancouver, and Just for Laughs London in the United Kingdom. There’s even a Just for Laughs offshoot Down Under that takes place in September at the legendary Sydney Opera House—more than 16,000 kilometres away from the Montreal theatre that welcomed the first-ever Festival Juste pour rire back in 1983.
Over the years, a number of household names—Roseanne Barr, Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart and Jim Carrey, to name a few—took their first steps in the comedy world on a Just for Laughs stage. The festival is known as a talent incubator of sorts and includes an industry component, Comedy Pro, aiming to help up-and-comers catch their big break. Another way Just for Laughs shows its support for the next generation of performers is through its Zoofest event, which debuted in 2009 and features a multi-disciplinary lineup of offbeat talent that begs to be discovered.
In addition to its signature festivals, Just for Laughs has created several television shows in both of Canada’s official languages. Outside of its home country, however, the organization is perhaps best known for its Gags. This iconic series of candid-camera prank shorts with absolutely no dialogue has made millions of viewers laugh in more than 130 countries and counting. As Just for Laughs continues to fulfill its founder’s mission both at home and abroad, its resounding success reminds us that comedy is as universal as laughter is contagious.