July | Bruce Hills
In honor of the Just for Laughs festival celebrating its 40th anniversary, we chose it’s President Bruce Hills as JETELOVE’s Montrealer of the month.
I had the pleasure of working with Bruce some 30 years ago when I was a Logistics Coordinator at the festival alongside Ben Mulroney. Bruce started out as a driver, working at the festival in its early years. Having worked his way up, as busy as he was, he always made a point of checking in with his teams, patiently offering support and guidance. Fast forward some 30 years later, this gentleman still exudes calmness and confidence.
We asked Bruce: “What role do you think comedy plays in this pandemic?”
He says: “Comedy has played a critical role in providing some much needed levity during a universally dark and challenging time. We are overjoyed to be able to bring back Just For Laughs to the city for this historic milestone festival.”
JETELOVE asked: “Has your role changed in the past 2 years? If so, how?”.
He replied: “Initially, we were in the survival phase, like all industries, we pivoted early on to find ways to continue to operate. You need to be smart about your approach and expenditures. We focussed on media production, keeping our T.V productions going, employing many Canadian comedians during some of the most challenging times in the industry.
We were able to produce our first virtual festival in 2020 and we offered our audience the opportunity to enjoy a free online festival to see some of their favourites. In 2021, we did a hybrid festival with shows in NYC and LA.”
We asked: “Do you find a difference in ticket sales this year?”. Bruce says: “Sales are great, better than 2019 so far, but the next few weeks are key selling weeks.”
JETELOVE asked: “What do you feel that audiences today are looking for in a comedy show?”
“They’re looking for an escape from these dark times, now more than ever. People are craving levity. Stand-up comedy is proving to be one of the best forms of live entertainment and a key distraction” he says.
“Where do you see comedy headed?” we asked. Bruce says: “The comedy industry is in constant evolution. These days, the new generation especially is able to discover artists with meta playing a huge role; TikTok, Instagram etc. There is a clear correlation between social media and audience growth, it’s definitely driving business. Many artists are finding a whole new audience who is going to see them live. In addition to discovering many social comedic influencers, such as Quinta Brunson a massive breakout star (ABC’s Abbott Elementary) Anwar Jibawi a very popular comedian with 9 million Instagram followers and 7 million followers on YouTube; we also discover who the new established comedic voices on the rise are, and we book them. Case in point, the very successful podcaster and comedian, Claudia Oshray of "The Morning Toast". She sold out Club Soda twice in record time as well as selling out the Coca Cola Coliseum in Toronto."
With the festival right around the corner, we asked Bruce who he is most excited about bringing in? He says: “There are some great upcoming acts with incredible performers coming to this year’s 40th anniversary celebrations. The Bell center will see performances by Bill Burr and Kevin Hart. Our 40th anniversary Gala will be very exciting with the lineup announced soon! There are solo shows featuring Sam Jay, Moses Storm, James Acaster and Atsuko. This year, the festival has added New Faces shows. Previous New Faces included Kevin Hart, Ali Wong and Amy Schumer.”
Despite Bruce sprearheading Just For Laughs, he says they continue to work very closely with Juste pour Rire. “There are many more bilingual artists these days who offer amazing entertainment to their audiences while introducing them to other artists which they wouldn’t have necessarily seen in another language. For example, Mike Ward and Rachid Badouri who have seen tremendous success.”
JETELOVE asked if there are any comedians out there that he regrets passing on? Bruce says:
“Not really no, but keep in mind that it’s impossible to always make perfect choices. We are very fortunate to have an incredible team of producers along with the best comedy scouting team in the world which scout all year all around the globe.”
“For the past 30 years, you have been so immersed in comedy, did you grow up in a funny family?” He says: “Not particularly although we do have a great sense of humour. My sisters and I would love to watch SCTV, Carol Burnett and Monty Python.”
JETELOVE asked: “Aside from comedy, what other genres interest you? Is it all comedy, all of the time?”. “I am a huge music and sports fan. I’ve been to 4 Olympic games, Grey Cup, Super Bowl, US Open and Wimbledon. I am a huge fan of our National women’s hockey, soccer and basketball teams. I also travel all around the world to see concerts.”
“In what direction are you headed in the next few years at JFL?” He says: “We are constantly growing our digital footprint, reaching all corners of the globe. The past few years, we have added Moontower Just for Laughs Austin, JFL London launching next march, JFL Escapes in Cancun.”
JETELOVE says: “In your lengthy career, you have had much success and have received numerous accolades, how do you stay grounded?” He says: “I believe in family and my team.
I cannot achieve anything without them. I propel them to succeed, I’m protective and appreciative of them.”
“Tell us about one of your all-time memorable moments.” We asked.
“When I was a festival publicist at the time and John Candy hosted an HBO show in 1988. It was live on a Saturday night. I remember the feeling of excitement I had at that very moment when he walked on stage. Another really amazing moment was when the Muppets appeared on stage to a sold-out show and sang their theme song. The audience loved it”
We asked: “Who do you most admire and why?” Bruce says he most admires his parents and his wife Liz. He’s extremely grateful to have such a supportive and driven wife. He says she’s always cool and calm and she sets the tone for the family dynamic.
“What is your best pandemic joke?” He says: “I don’t really tell jokes but I can be funny.”
Thank you Bruce for your passion and perseverance and best of luck to you and to the entire Just For Laughs/ Juste pour Rire family on this celebratory year.
#ontelove #hahaha #brucehills #40years #justepourrire#40ans
The Just for Laughs Festival takes place from July 13th until July 31st
For tickets and schedule, please visit www.hahaha.com