Beginning in 1983 as a small, French language comedy festival in Montreal, the name Just For Laughs is now known by most Canadians and all around the world.
After adding English speaking comedians in 1985, the festival has since grown to be the premiere showcase to Hollywood for comedians. Deals are struck, careers are made and lives are changed. The reality is, the path to making it as a comedian flows through Just For Laughs. Since adding several television shows and now satellite festivals, like JFL 42 in Toronto, the brand has done nothing but grow. Bringing new comedy and comedians to fresh audiences is a way of life for the organization.
“I’ve been lucky enough to go up to Just For Laughs three times,” says comedian Phil Hanley, “But this is my first time on the tour. I’m excited.”
The Just For Laughs Roadshow pulls into the Flato Theatre on April 4 featuring four festival alumni, including Hanley.
“I live in New York now but I’m originally from Ontario so, it’s gonna be great to be in my home province on the road,” he said.
Between leaving Ontario and landing in New York, Hanley has built up an impressive resume. He’s appeared on shows Late Night with Seth Myers, The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson and @midnight with Chris Hardwick. He also had his own comedy special air on Comedy Central and just last year played the lead in the film Sundowners.
“For me, to be able to come home to Ontario and be able to perform in these great theatres is just great,” explains Hanley. “I feel really lucky. I’m grateful for this.”
One of the things that has set Hanley apart from his peers is his ability make each of his shows different. He moves some jokes in and out but the real spontaneity comes from his ability to work the crowd and get laughs from just chatting with those in attendance.
“I started doing crowd work because, when you’re an opener, you have to fill whatever time they give you,” Hanley recalls. “I had 10 minutes of jokes and they would have you go up for half an hour. Now I do a lot of it, if the audience feels right. I really like the idea that every show I do is different.”
As an admitted fan of the legendary improvisational music group The Grateful Dead, this approach makes perfect sense to him.
“You obviously want people to laugh but more and more, as I get older, you want people to feel like they got to know me as a performer and my personality.”
He’s joined on the tour by other festival vets Sara Schaefer, Tone Bell and Steve Simone. Each performer has a resume that reads like a manual of how to become a great, young, comic.
“I’ve known Sara since I first moved to New York. She’s great!” says Hanley. “I certainly know of Tone and Steve, I’ve heard their stuff, and I really look forward to working with them.”
For Hanley, this is the good life.
“This has always been my dream,” he says. “My goal was to live in New York and be a working comic. It’s a great life.”
The Just For Laughs Roadshow at the Flato Markham Theatre on April 4. Tickets are available by calling 905-305-7469