Fall of Just For Laughs founder forces Quebec comedians into new routine

After allegations leave fest’s future up for debate, a thriving humour industry is feeling its way forward.

Gilbert Rozon, founder and president of Just for Laughs, accepts the prestigious Icon Award at the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on Sunday, March 12, 2017. (PETER POWER / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

MONTREAL—When Quebecers think of comedy they think of Gilbert Rozon.

That has been true since 1983, when Rozon founded the world-famous Just for Laughs festival. It is a vehicle that launched the comedic careers of many in this province and gave him the stature of a pre-scandal Harvey Weinstein in Quebec’s humour industry.

But after allegations emerged of sexual harassment, inappropriate touching and rape involving Rozon, he became the Weinstein of Quebec in an entirely different way.

One comedian, François Morency, responded to the allegations on Facebook, saying that he had been involved in Just for Laughs since 1993 and credited its platform for his success. But the scandal that rocked the humour industry in Quebec illustrated that “the show business is one of illusions.”

“It’s a little world that often leaves the impression that we all know each other. We do, but we don’t know each other as much as we thought, clearly,” he wrote.

The impresario’s fall has been swift. With a late-night statement on Oct. 18, just before publication of a newspaper report in which nine women recounted their experiences, Rozon resigned as president of Just for Laughs, as vice-president of Montreal’s chamber of commerce and commissioner of the city’s 375th anniversary celebrations.