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MONTREAL Going into this year's 17th edition of the Montreal Just for Laughs comedy festival, organizers were talking about a refocused event that spotlighted creativity and new talent more than ever before.

And the strategy paid off.

Ticket sales were up, outdoor attendance for the free street festivities rose, the industry was out in full force and the reviews were mostly upbeat for the shows at the fest, which ran July 15-25.

"We decided to re-define Just for Laughs and put content above everything else," says Gilbert Rozon, president of Groupe Rozon Juste Pour Rire, the company that runs the festival.

Adds festival CEO Andy Nulman: "We had great programming, great marketing, good weather and good luck. Everything worked."

Ticket sales surged 15% at the Montreal fest, with 222,548 comedy fans turning up. In addition, just over 1 million people took in the free outdoor comic entertainment on St. Denis Street in downtown Montreal.

The laugh fest hosted 874 artists from around the globe, with 1,372 free al fresco shows and 631 ticketed indoor gigs. Performers included Jerry Springer, Rob Lowe, Luke Perry, David Hyde Pierce, Howie Mandel, Emo Philips, Mike MacDonald and Dom Irrera.

Hot tickets included quirky Italian quick-change performance artist Arturo Brachetti, whose one-man show was extended to July 31; standup comic Richard Jeni, who sold out eight nights at the Gesu theater; and the unusual performance piece "Slava's Snowshow," which was also extended until July 31 at the Theatre du Nouveau Monde.

At Club Soda, 34 of 35 shows were complete sellouts, including 11 "Nasty Shows," one of the fest's most popular events.

"There were a lot more productions, and there were a lot more tickets on sale," says Just for Laughs vice president Bruce Hills. "I think we had the right balance. We had more shows and better shows. The diversity was there, from theater to standup to `Slava."

Some 1,000 industryites from the U.S., Japan, France, Australia and Germany made the trek to the event, and, for the first time, the lest created a full-scale sidebar of symposia to cater to the business crowd.

Hills says that he expects to see several deals inked in the days to come. The only deal signed at the festival involved 22-year-old Atlanta comic Michael Roof, who inked a pilot deal with Warner Bros. and the WB Network.

"He had not been seen by a lot of industryites," says his manager, Dave Becky, from 3 Arts Entertainment. "It was a great opportunity for him to be seen, and he was ready. Nobody knew him from Adam, and everyone loved him."

Just for Laughs and Second City also announced that they have inked an exclusive deal in which the sketch-comedy troupe will mount a best-of show at the festival on an annual basis.

For the first time, several shows were broadcast live on the Canadian webs Canal Indigo, the Comedy Channel, TV5 and Tele-Quebec.

Just for Laughs has also inked a deal with the BBC in which the U.K. net will broadcast eight 30-minute shows based on material from the fest under the title "The Full Mounty"; WDR in Germany is airing a 90-minute spec; and TROS in the Netherlands is producing 10 30-minute programs. As usual, the CBC in Canada will show 13 Just for Laughs segs during the upcoming season.

Montrealer David Pryde was the Eastern-division winner of the Comedy Night in Canada Competition, while Dan Quinn from Vancouver took top honors for the Western division.

Several prizes were handed-out at the Eat My Shorts! short-film festival, with the Eat My Shorts! Industry Award going to "Ladies' Room" from helmer Eugenia Ives and "true" from director Charles Stone III, and the Joe Boxer Audience Award to "Script Doctor" from directors Adam, Scott, and Jordan Fields. France's Christophe Aleveque received the Discovery Award (Prix Revelation).
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Title Annotation:comedy festival
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CQUE
Date:Aug 2, 1999
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