MONTREAL – Just For Laughs Group has appointed a familiar face to oversee operations going forward, tapping a longtime executive as president on Monday.
Bruce Hills, who had served as chief operating officer for the Montreal-based company for the past 19 years, enters the new job immediately.
Hills, a 32-year veteran of the festival, was instrumental in establishing and growing Just For Laughs Montreal, known as Juste pour rire in French.
“I just feel like the timing is just right for all the great things we want to do,” Hills said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
The appointment comes as the production company’s ownership situation became clearer last week with Bell Media announcing it had joined a group of investors in buying the company.
The BCE Inc. subsidiary completed an agreement with Groupe CH to join talent agency ICM Partners and comedian Howie Mandel in the acquisition of Groupe Juste pour rire.
Mandel led an investor group that acquired the festival in March after it was put up for sale following allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment against co-founder Gilbert Rozon, who was also a majority stakeholder.
The company went through turbulent times while the transaction involving the Quebec entertainment giant’s shares was being settled.
“It’s been a real challenge, no question,” Hills said of the past several months. But the strategy employed by staff was simple: have faith and focus on creating events.
Hills will oversee the English side of the business with a French content boss yet to be named. He sees the new ownership group as providing a base of support it hasn’t had previously.
“I really believe that we can expand our media business significantly,” he said. “That’s going to be a huge priority — in the U.S. primarily, but internationally as well.”
“In addition to that, we see no reason why there shouldn’t be more festivals elsewhere when they’re strategically aligned and show potential to be profitable and produce a first-class comedy event.”
Hills said that it’s not just a matter of duplicating the hugely popular Montreal festival, which runs July 11 to 29.
The company also runs events in Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney, Australia. Hills said it’s about coming up with ideas that make sense in other prospective markets.
“We never want to replicate Montreal, we want to do something unique for the market,” Hills said. “Montreal is the heart-and-soul, it basically feeds everything else, so that’s our focus.”
Going forward, there will also be a big focus on digital content and fully exploiting filmed assets in Montreal as well as relationships with talent.
Hills said they will also look to grow the scripted and non-scripted parts of the business.
“We’re primarily known as a stand-up production company and candid camera production company and we believe there is significant growth outside of that,” Hills said.
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