Rainn Wilson at Just For Laughs 2023.

ComedyPRO Recap at 2023 Just For Laughs Festival

Every year we pack a bag and head North to Montreal, Canada and attend the world’s largest comedy festival – Just For Laughs. For the last 15 years or so we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing JFL’s “festival within a festival” known as ComedyPRO. Its programming is geared towards the industry and both aims to celebrate comedy’s biggest names while highlighting the next generation of funny people.

ComedyPRO jams more fun events into 3-4 days than most other festivals, and that’s a huge effort given that JFL is a month-long festival chock full of headlining acts, galas, street performances, and more. What sets ComedyPRO apart is its signature events like New Faces, awards show, comedian keynotes, State of The Industry Address, and panels that both aim to teach and entertain.

Let’s start with the Awards Show, an all-star event full of red carpets, speeches, laughs and some tears. Highlighting those that had a serious impact on the landscape including Abbott Elementary creator/star Quinta Brunson (Comedy Person of The Year), road dog Bert Kreischer as Stand-up Comedian of the Year whose Fully Loaded brand has not only entertained thousands but gave many comics the chance to hit the road with him. Ronny Chieng received the Breakout Star of the Year as he’s not only a touring monster but has a rising movie career. Every awards show must showcase budding talent and this year that distinction went to Canadian comic Mae Martin who seems to be all the buzz coming off their Netflix comedy Feel Good and recently-announced podcast with Fortune Feimster and Tig Notaro.

ComedyPRO Awards Show Honorees

Rainn Wilson too picked up a Comedy Impact Award because of the work he’s done to benefit the scene. Spoiler, Wilson also delivered a rousing keynote about this very cause that was endearing, thoughtful, and compelling.

Rainn Wilson at ComedyPRO 2023
Rainn Wilson. Keynote photo by JFL/Susan Moss.

In addition to Wilson’s keynote, every year the State of The Industry Adress draws attendees to a room at the Doubletree for a comedian to deliver a roast of the business naming names and calling people out. In years past comedian Andy Kindler has held the honor, but this year the one and only Jessica Kirson took the stage to roast fellow comics, managers, agents, trends. As usual, nobody was safe. 

Jessica Kirson at Just For Laughs.
Jessica Kirson. State Of The Industry Address photo by JFL/Susan Moss.

The panel makeup of ComedyPRO is one to behold. Whether it be Ramy Youseff discussing how his faith plays into his comedy or the trio of new SNL sketch writers Please Don’t Destroy sitting down to discuss the process, JFL ComedyPRO is known for making these unique moments happen.

Please Don
Please Don't Destroy. Photo by JFL/Susan Moss.

Perhaps the best example of this year was also one of our most-anticipated panels. That was live table read of the movie Airplane! directed by the movie’s creator David Zucker. The star-studded cast that included Brad Williams, Donnell Rawlings, Joel Kim Booster, Sasheer Zamata, Kyle Kinane, Debra Digiovanni, Tom Papa, and more all took the stage to bring the script of to the stage with Zucker to run through the script of one of our most-beloved films. 

 Airplane! Live Table Read at Just For Laughs
Airplane! Live Table Read

In addition to highlighting the best in the industry, ComedyPRO also eyes the future, for many year’s they’ve partnered with Variety’s 10 Comics To Watch list to honor those selected with both a party and a live showcase.

That brings us to the fest’s signature event, New Faces. A list of new talent that has grown immensely in scope and importance over the years. It’s one of the most celebrated events of the festival that has spawned many imitators, but nobody does it better. There’s a long list of comics that got new faces and have since had illustrious careers within their field. You cannot have too many conversations without someone asking who we were going to see there. Over the course of the week we were treated to more than 10 events ranging from stand-up, improv, creators, repped faces, unrepped, Canadian, and international faces. It’s a portion of ComedyPRO programming that deserves it’s own deep dive, so it’s a good thing we covered this year’s class quite extensively here.

We’d like to thank JFL for their hospitality, specifically Christine Walters and her team of ComedyPRO organizers for once again showing us what a comedy festival should look like. If you missed it, we sat down with Walters a few weeks back and talked at length about the behind-the-scenes of the festival.

We’re already planning our return next year. 

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