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ICM Partners acquires Just for Laughs comedy festival

Just for Laughs Group, the company behind Montreal’s Just for Laughs, the world’s largest international comedy festival, has been acquired by an investor group led by booking agency ICM Partners and its longtime client, Canadian comedian and actor Howie Mandel.

In addition to Just for Laughs Montreal, the company organises comedy tours, TV specialists and festivals around the world, including in Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney, and has subsidiaries in the US and France and production/distribution business in some 135 other countries.

“Just For Laughs has done a phenomenal job of producing the world’s most respected comedy festival for decades and have built that into a very successful global comedy business,” says Chris Silbermann, managing director of LA-based ICM Partners.

“We see a great opportunity to work with Just for Laughs to grow the global comedy brand”

“We see a great opportunity to work with them to grow the global comedy brand, in both French- and English-speaking comedy, while allowing the team on the ground in Montreal to continue to produce the festival as they have so successfully for all these years.”

ICM made two acquisitions last year, of broadcast news agency Headline Media Management in March and speakers business Royce Carlton in October. Its music roster includes Celine Dion, the Beach Boys, Barry Gibb, Anderson Paak, Dave Stewart, the Skins, Little Simz and Mike Will Made It.

The 36th Just For Laughs Festival will take place in Montreal from 14 to 28 July.


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Small screen: BIG stars!

Around five years ago, Dan Steinberg received a call from his trusted friend TJ Markwalter at The Gersh Agency asking him to put on some shows by the then little-known (at least in the adult offline world) YouTube star Miranda Sings.

“He said: ‘Don’t ask what it is. Don’t even look at the video. Just put it on sale and trust me,’” recalls Steinberg, who runs US-based promoter Emporium Presents. “In the midst of confirming the shows, my marketing director sent me a link to her YouTube channel. I immediately called TJ and I was like: ‘Seriously? Is this a joke?’ He said: ‘I told you not to look at it. Just watch the ticket sales.’”

Sure enough, the show sold out instantly, prompting Steinberg to travel to Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival to watch Miranda Sings perform a matinee concert in front of 2,000 screaming pre-teen girls in person. “It was the loudest show I’ve ever been at,” he remembers. “I quickly decided two things: ‘One, I never need to be front of house for one of these shows again. And two, we really need to get into this space.’”

“‘Don’t ask what it is. Don’t even look at the video. Just put it on sale and trust me'”

Half a decade later, tours by comedy YouTube stars and new media artists now make up between 15–18% of Emporium’s revenue, with the company’s expansion into the non-traditional entertainment sector mirroring one of the fastest-growing areas of the touring business as more and more vloggers, musicians and social media personalities break out of the online realm and into the live arena.

“We’re still living in rock’n’roll and country tours, but YouTube and multimedia sensations are definitely becoming a larger part of our business, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon,” says Steinberg, pointing to the global reach of Miranda Sings, whose one-woman show – a satirical mix of off-key singing, comedy, lecturing and lame magic, performed by classically trained singer and actress Colleen Ballinger – continues to pack out venues around the world.

Read the rest of this feature in issue 70 of IQ

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