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Just for Laughs Montréal comedy festival canceled amid bankruptcy filing, layoffs

River Butcher (Photo by Tristan Brand/Penske Media via Getty Images)
River Butcher performs at the Comics to Watch showcase during the 2017 Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montréal. (Penske Media / Getty Images)

The organizers behind Canada's global Just for Laughs Montréal comedy festival have canceled this year's edition as its parent company faces bankruptcy and additional layoffs.

"Unfortunately, the 2024 edition of the Just for Laughs / Juste pour rire festival will not take place, at least not at the same time and in the same form as it customarily has," Groupe Juste pour rire Inc. announced Tuesday.

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The cancellation of the summertime fest comes as the parent company that runs it confirmed that it is preparing to file for bankruptcy, announcing Tuesday that the company had filed a notice of intention to make a proposal under Canada's Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

"Once the restructuring is completed, we hope that the festival will take place in 2025," the company said.

Julien Provencher-Proulx, a spokesperson for Groupe Juste pour rire, confirmed to The Times that 75 employees — roughly 70% of its workers — were laid off Tuesday. The move came after the company already laid off 21 employees in December.

The board of directors concluded that the financial situation of the organization "left no other choice than to initiate formal restructuring proceedings," resulting in the cancellation of the latest edition of the festival. The process, they said, will allow JPR "to seek investors or strategic purchasers for all or part of its business, with the goal of maximizing value for stakeholders and hopefully preserving going concern operations as much as possible."

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Founded in Montreal in 1983, Just For Laughs (commonly referred to as JFL in the comedy world) celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2023, and its annual flagship festival in Montréal has spent decades being a pre-eminent taste maker for who's up next in the world of stand-up via its "New Faces" showcase. Attracting worldwide audiences and helping launch the careers of Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Jimmy Fallon and Amy Schumer, the event takes place at venues across the city and serves as a meeting ground for talent and agents looking to connect and sign deals that lead to more opportunities for veteran and newly popular comics around the globe. It's grown and launched festivals in cities outside its native Montréal and produced a number of TV shows, including "Just For Laughs Gags."

This year's festival was set to take place in July, and tickets for the French and English- language editions were still being sold Tuesday on the company's website. However, several other performances in Québec were also canceled, the CBC reported.

The Toronto Just for Laughs festival, which is set for September, is run by a separate organization and has not been canceled, Provencher-Proulx told the Montréal Gazette.

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Groupe Juste pour rire cited several challenges over the last few years, including problems faced by the media and free-festival industries, the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced JPR "to effectively cease operations for two years, with significantly reduced revenue, while carrying nearly all of the associated overhead costs." That was compounded by the changing media landscape, including consolidation and reduced budgets at networks and streaming platforms that "have made television production more challenging."

"The purpose of the restructuring is to allow the business to emerge stronger and healthier, and successfully position the festival and the other JPR properties for the long term to preserve the rich 40-year legacy of Just for Laughs / Juste pour rire, ensuring it is better equipped to meet the challenges of an ever-changing entertainment landscape," the statement said.

Times deputy entertainment and arts editor Nate Jackson contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.