RE: Just for Laughs and SiriusXM Canada

The Canadian Association of Stand-up Comedians (CASC) has been communicating directly with Just for Laughs (JFL) and SiriusXM Canada about the corporate partnership to allow JFL to revamp and rebrand SiriusXM “Canada Laughs 168” as “Just for Laughs Radio”.

The questions CASC is seeking answers to from JFL and SiriusXM Canada are relevant to messages they have sent directly to Canadian comedians, as well as in a video recently posted by part-JFL owner, Howie Mandel, on Facebook. In our Town Hall we plan on addressing the specifics of those questions, what we have learned thus far, and what Canadian comedians can constructively do in response.

CASC celebrates the fact that Just for Laughs (JFL) has become a leading expert in producing comedy events for live audiences, as well as producing recorded audio and video comedy content for mainstream and digital platforms. They have made Canada a world-class event destination for comedy audiences from around the world. The economic spinoff to Canadian communities is impressive and vital.

CASC also champions the profile and financial success that SiriusXM Canada, “Canada Laughs 168” has brought over the years to numerous Canadian comedians. The opportunity to be heard, generate income, and develop more comedy content from a unique Canadian perspective has also had economic spinoffs to many Canadian communities.

That said, neither of these entities would enjoy their reach and success without the content provided by Canada’s world-class comedy professionals. Canadian comedians have justifiably earned a reputation of being amongst the best anywhere.

Therefore, CASC believes that JFL and SiriusXM Canada are only part of the picture in terms of Canada’s legacy and future as a global leader of comedy content, created by Canadian performers. As a result, the corporate partnership between JFL and SiriusXM Canada to create “Just for Laughs Radio” has the potential to have negative financial implications on the careers of countless Canadian performers, as well as on the economies of communities across the country.

Although JFL receives large cultural grants from the Canadian government, it seems fewer and fewer Canadian comedy performers are being invited to perform at the Festivals produced by JFL, especially in the featured roles that result in recorded audio and visual content that pays royalties to artists. Many Canadian comedians are invited to perform at JFL without being paid at all, often on shows featuring international acts that earn respectable sums. Canadian comedians are excited to share the stage with, and enjoy comedy performed by, international talent. But, comedians who come to Canada from outside the country to perform at Just for Laughs events take the earnings and revenue generating potential back to their home countries and communities.

With a JFL revamping and rebranding of “Canada Laughs 168” to become “Just for Laughs Radio” on SiriusXM Canada, many non-Canadian comedians will get the profile and revenue success that used to be 100% dedicated to Canadians. The fees for play on the previous incarnation of Channel 168 represented a significant portion of many comedians’ incomes. The financial situation of many comedians is marginal and a loss of this regular income stream can be the difference between affording or not affording necessities. Moreover, there are many Canadian comedians who haven’t been, and may never be, invited to perform at JFL events. Are they to expect that their independently produced comedy content will suddenly fit with the JFL brand?

Unlike a live event, radio is regulated by The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), with strict mandates to broadcast Canadian-produced content. The Canadian content rules system is designed to increase exposure of Canadian performers and writers to Canadian audiences. In other words, the SiriusXM licence for “Canada Laughs 168” was approved to promote and protect the artist and creative communities of Canada, not to simply enrich Canadian producers of comedy who exhibit non-Canadian entertainers in Canada. The corporate partnership to create “Just for Laughs Radio” may not reflect a strong commitment to the primary intent of the CRTC Canadian content rules system.

The SiriusXM Canada comedy channel was granted a licence to broadcast a Canadian brand of comedy, not just the brand programmed by JFL. Furthermore, if Canadian performing artists are no longer the primary content providers who are featured on-air, the result is a weakening of economies in Canada, and a weakening of comedy content from a unique Canadian perspective.

CASC is not suggesting that only Canadian artists should get the economic infrastructure of support offered by JFL and SiriusXM. But, if Canadian performers are largely left out of the mix it is an economic failure by the industry stakeholders that operate these events and program the radio broadcasts, as well as the government departments who use public tax dollars to fund them, and the public organizations that regulate them.

On behalf of our Members, our expectation is for this to change so that Canadian comedy performers are included significantly in the comedy industry infrastructure in this country. Not only because it’s what we think is fair. This needs to change because it makes strong economic sense in terms of an even more comprehensive spinoff of financial and cultural benefits here in Canada.

We must strive for more than making Canada known geographically as the place to attend a great comedy event.

It is imperative that our government funding is channelled towards, and our leaders of industry are primarily concerned with, working together with Canadian performers to reinforce Canada’s legacy as a comedy nation proud.

CASC Executive Committee, with contributions from Simon Rakoff