It’s been an exciting week in the world of comedy labor relations, one that thankfully appears to have a happy ending. On Friday rumors began to swirl about changes in the format of Sirius XMs Canada Laughs station. The Montreal Gazette reported that Sirius XM struck a deal to turn its Canada Laughs radio station into Just For Laughs Radio. While stations change names all the time, this was more than just rebranding. The proposed deal with Just For Laughs, the Montreal-based comedy festival that was recently bought by a partnership that includes Howie Mandel, would have lead to the death of Canadian comedians’ one reliable revenue stream: Sirius XM royalties
Under the deal Canada Laughs would have switched from playing tracks from Canadian comedy albums to tracks from Just For Laughs archives. Beyond opening the door to the station playing non-Canadian comedians, it also meant an increase in old content. Playing a JFL set from 2003 might be interesting from a historical standpoint, but how is it better for audiences than a new track from a Canadian voice?
Despite Just for Laughs and Sirius XM announcing the change won’t happen until the Spring, listeners were already noticing a difference. One Twitter user counted just 22 minutes of Canadian material over an entire hour of listening to Canada Laughs.
The response from the Canadian comedy industry was immediate and furious. For over a decade Canada Laughs has been a dedicated source for Canadian comedy across North America, and a major source of revenue for Canadian comics. Because Canada Laughs only plays Canadian comedians, the station provided a way to earn a living for comics outside the club system in the Great White North.
Due to the sudden wave of overwhelming opposition from within the Canadian comedy industry, Sirius and JFL changed their plans on Wednesday evening. In a press release, the companies announced the new station will be called Just For Laughs Canada and will feature 100 percent Canadian content. Canadian artists will also be eligible for the same royalties as they were under the previous channel.
Brue Hills, President of Just For Laughs, used the release to apologize to Canadian comics, stating, “We’ve listened carefully to the concerns of Canadian artists and regret the stress we have caused the comedy community. We are invested in the growth of Canada’s comedy industry and are working to include even more Canadian talent in all our initiatives. To that end, we will continue to engage directly with the industry and work with CASC [Canadian Association of Stand-up Comedians] to strengthen and advance Canadian comedy.”