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Just For Laughs files for creditor protection, says 2024 festival 'will not take place'

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The 2024 Just for Laughs comedy festival has been cancelled as the Montreal company behind it tries to avoid bankruptcy.

The Groupe Juste pour rire inc. announced Tuesday it is seeking creditor protection under Canada's Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

"Unfortunately, the 2024 edition of the Just for Laughs Festival will not take place, at least not at the same time and in the same form as it customarily has," a statement from the company states. "Once the restructuring is completed, we hope that the festival will take place in 2025."

The group notes its board of directions "extensively" considered all available alternatives before coming "to the conclusion that the financial situation of the organization left no other choice than to initiate formal restructuring proceedings."

The group also blames a "very difficult financial situation given the significant changes in our business landscape," pointing out that the media and free festival industries have faced particular hardships in recent years.

"The global pandemic forced us to effectively cease operations for two years, with significantly reduced revenue, while carrying nearly all of the associated overhead costs," the statement reads. "The pandemic was followed by the inflationary times we continue to experience, meaning our cost structure increased appreciably, exerting unprecedented financial strains."

Julien Provencher-Proulx, a spokesperson for Groupe Juste pour rire inc., confirmed to The Canadian Press that 75 employees -- around 70 per cent of its workers -- were laid off Tuesday. The festival has featured many of the biggest names in standup comedy, including Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer and Jerry Seinfeld.

In addition to ticketed indoor shows, the French and English festivals featured free outdoor performances. The festival drew hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, showcasing big names and giving a platform to local and Canadian comics.

"The Just for Laughs festival gives comedians in this country something to shoot for and sadly we don't have a lot of things to shoot for," said comedian Brent Butt.

The news comes as a surprise to up-and-coming comedians who were hoping to perform at the festival.

"I'm in shock, and I'm definitely very sad. My love of stand-up comedy developed because of that festival," said Montreal comedian Abby Stonehouse. "It's disappointing and sad because it's something that a lot of us look forward to during the summer."

She points out that being part of Just for Laughs is a major opportunity for local comedians.

"It's such a great opportunity, such an amazing platform that we all wish to be part of," Stonehouse said. "We work all year round to potentially be part of this festival."

The Groupe Juste pour rire inc. says during the restructuring process, it plans to maintain operations "albeit in a scaled-down format" as it considers looking for investors or selling parts of the business.

In addition to the English and French festivals in Montreal this summer, a number of other performances in Quebec have also been cancelled.

Provencher-Proulx tells The Canadian Press that people can return their tickets to the box office where they bought them or contact their credit card company if they purchased tickets directly from the festival.

Just For Laughs, the largest international comedy festival in the world, was founded in 1983.

The company is 51 per cent owned by Bell and Montreal event promoter Evenko, while Los Angeles-based talent agency Creative Artists Agency owns 49 per cent.

-- with files from The Canadian Press.

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