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ICM Partners expands comedy portfolio with Just for Laughs acquisition

Comedian Howie Mandel lounges backstage at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas prior to a 2005 performance.
(Beatrice de Gea / Los Angeles Times)

Talent agency ICM Partners is expanding its comedy portfolio with the acquisition of the Just for Laughs Group, the Montreal-based organization behind the world’s largest comedy festival as well as comedy tours and TV specials.

ICM is partnering with Canadian comedian Howie Mandel to lead an investor group to acquire Just for Laughs.

Terms of the deal haven’t been revealed, and no other investment partners were named in Wednesday’s announcement. But ICM said the deal will allow Just for Laughs to keep the same leadership and personnel in place.

Mandel, who is a client of ICM, said in a statement that he has performed at Just for Laughs numerous times during the last 10 years. “I am very excited to be part of this group of investors that will ensure the festival’s long term success, while growing their global comedy brand,” the comedian said.

Founded in 1983, Just for Laughs organizes an annual comedy festival in Montreal featuring stand-up comics from around the world. This year’s festival, running July 14 to July 28, will feature comedian-actor Kevin Hart.

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The company has a global reach with subsidiaries in the United States and France. It has production and distribution businesses in more than 135 countries, and its programming is seen on more than 100 airlines worldwide.

ICM said that the festival will continue to be held in Montreal each summer and that jobs and offices will remain in the Canadian city. But the agency said it will be looking for opportunities to expand into new geographic territories and explore new digital ventures.

“Comedy is now a global business, and it transcends borders and languages and cultures more than it ever did before,” Chris Silbermann, managing director at ICM Partners, said in an interview. He said ICM will continue to send clients to the festival and to scout for new talent.

Public appetite for stand-up comedy has risen as Netflix and HBO have offered their subscribers a wider array of TV specials. Netflix has spent millions of dollars in recent years to lure big names to its streaming service, including Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Amy Schumer.

ICM represents numerous A-list comedians, including Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres.

ICM’s acquisition comes at a time when talent agencies are broadening their businesses by investing in content companies. The push has sparked some controversy with groups such as the Writers Guild of America over whether agencies have too many conflicts of interest.

david.ng@latimes.com

@DavidNgLAT


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