Mandel promises bigger, better Just for Laughs festival

Comedian Howie Mandel is promising a bigger and more exciting Just For Laughs festival this summer -- even with founder Gilbert Rozon out of the picture.

"Our whole thrust is moving forward and not thinking about what was," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Tuesday.

"It's not about one person."

Just For Laughs was rocked last fall after several women came forward with allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment against Rozon, who was also majority stakeholder.

The Canadian-born Mandel led an investor group that acquired the festival in March after it was put up for sale.

The new owners also include U.S. talent agency ICM Partners.

Mandel, 62, described Just For Laughs as an "an amazing feat" and that everyone involved is "really energized" in moving it forward.

Rozon, who stepped down as president in October, said he would sell his shares in the company in response to the allegations, which he has denied and have not been proven in court.

When asked if the festival's headquarters could be transferred to the United States, Mandel replied that such a move would negate the essence of the event.

"Being in Canada and in Montreal, which is where there are two languages, makes it truly an international festival and gives it more gravitas than if this was some place in Pennsylvania," Mandel said.

He also said he wants nothing more than to be involved with Just For Laughs and get it recognized "as the mecca" outside Canada.

"Once I started my career, this is probably the first place that embraced me," Mandel said, noting he and his wife lived in Montreal for a year in the 1970s.

"I don't think there's anything more powerful in the world of comedy and means more worldwide, as far as discovering and creating careers, than this festival in this town."

Mandel also stressed no changes are planned to the organization and that he wants the festival to have a greater digital presence on different platforms.

"Maybe even live broadcasts on YouTube or Twitch or any of those platforms. . .these are the kind of things we're talking about," he said.

Mandel also appeared to welcome the arrival of the alternative "Grand Montreal comedie fest" and its artists.

The sexual-assault controversy involving Rozon prompted the creation of that festival, which was the idea of stand-up comedian Martin Petit.

Several dozen mainly francophone Quebec comedians joined forces to put together the July 1-15 event, while the 36th edition of Just for Laughs and "Juste Pour Rire," its French version, runs July 11-29.

"There's room for everybody, but I don't find that to be competition," said Mandel.

"I think there's always room for laughter."

In addition to the Montreal comedy festival started in 1983, Just For Laughs produces international comedy tours, TV specials and annual festivals around the world including in Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney, Australia.