For the last seven years, Paul Ronca, Director of Just For Laughs ComedyPRO and Strategic Development Partner, has been a major force behind the success of Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival.
Since his beginnings as a Talent Producer and later as a programmer for shows ranging in size from small clubs to the prestigious Just For Laughs Galas, Paul became an instrumental creator behind the ever-adapting aspects of the festival, including his role as Director of Just For Laughs ComedyPRO conference, a can’t miss comedy gathering attracting the top talent in the industry (on both sides of the camera). During his tenure at the fest, highlights have included a special advance screening and live presentation with cast and crews of Pineapple Express, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (the most successful French-language film ever), Mr. Bean’s Holiday, with the 2016 line-up including the full cast of VEEP (starring Seinfeld‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and have features such talents as Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, Jay Roach, Paul Feig, Lewis Black, Steven Levitan, Jason Reitman, Ivan Reitman, Edgar Wright, Louis CK, Dan Harmon, Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, Chelsea Handler, Adam Carolla and more.
Paul is a veteran producer committed to the growth and development of Canadian talent and scene. After getting his start in the business first as a writer then stand-up, Paul soon became the owner and founder of Montreal’s first bilingual comedy club, The Comedy Zone, before joining JFL in 2006 and ascending with the growth of the festival. Yet, even in his current role as the Director of ComedyPRO and Strategic Development Partner, Paul remains very active in the Montreal comedy community as a mentor to young comics and efforts to develop the Montreal arts scene for audiences and future generations of performers. Paul’s fundamental objective is to create avenues and bridges that will allow young promising performers and filmmakers the opportunity to develop and to be discovered.
We chat with Paul about his Festival Director role of JFL ComedyPro, his favorite moments at the fest, and the difference between Toronto & Montreal’s comedy scenes.
This year will be your 10th season with Just For Laughs. What have been some of your most memorable moments as a producer?
There are so many to choose from! But the two that really stand out that I played a big role in booking and producing are the screening of Pineapple Express and the accompanying “Apatow for Destruction” show in 2008, featuring Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Russell Brand, Craig Robinson, Ken Jeong & Mike O’Connell (as Million Dollar Strong), Bill Hader and Charlyne Yi. And last year’s “Live Read” of The Big Lebowski, directed by Jason Reitman, which featured Mike Judge, Martin Starr, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Dennis Quaid, Patton Oswalt, Mae Whitman, Olivia Munn and T.J. Miller. Both created a huge buzz around the festival and had line-ups that went around the building. Hmm, we also had “South Park Live” in 2008. That was super cool too, both as a fan and a producer! If I keep thinking, I can name another ten great things…
What were your favorite moments as a die-hard comedy fan?
I created the Just For Laughs Awards Show from the ground up and I’ve produced it ever since it was created in 2008, and it’s always a great opportunity to see the biggest stars up close, in one place. I also love the ‘In Conversations’ and cast panels like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, “Silicon Valley” and “Undateable”. We’ve had so many great ‘In Conversations’ with people like Louis CK, Mike Myers, Todd Phillips, Paul Feig, Armando Iannucci and many more. They’re always amazing to hear because they shed a whole different light on the creators and performers we love so much. These people have amazing creative minds so it’s always enlightening and entertaining to hear them speak. And let’s not forget the amazing keynote speakers we’ve booked since 2008. They’ve all been super great, from Lewis Black to Marc Maron, Colin Quinn, Jim Norton, Patton Oswalt and Dana Gould. And Andy Kindler’s “State of the Industry” (or rant if you want) is a must each year for the fan in all of us.
What motivated you to create the ComedyPRO Conference?
Our President and Founder, Gilbert Rozon. He thought it would be a great idea and compliment to the festival, I thought he was crazy… and he turned out to be right. I’m glad it was given to me to develop and grow because it gave me an opportunity to create something from the ground up that we can all look at today and be proud of… plus I got to keep my job!
What were your goals for the festival?
Our goal was to compliment the festival with an industry event that brought in more comedy industry executives and then build bridges between our daytime industry executives and nighttime performers. It accomplished so much more because it brought us so many amazing new brands to the festival like Funny or Die, CollegeHumor, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, HBO (and more) in addition to the one’s that we’re already here like Comedy Central, FOX, Bell Media, CBC, CBS (and more). We’re now considered the premiere meeting-place of the biggest brands and executives in comedy.
What are the main differences and advantages between Montreal’s and Toronto’s comedy scenes?
There is one big difference: Montreal has a large French population so it is the mecca (or the New York) of French stand-up comedy in North America. Toronto is the hub of English stand-up in Canada and the step most Canadian comics take before heading to the US and overseas. Montreal is so diverse and multi-lingual that it opens up many opportunities for comedians to try their luck and be successful with different groups of people within the same city. However, Montreal is not the perfect gauge for being successful in the rest of North America, so oftentimes comics have a longer adaptation period when trying stand-up outside of Montreal for the first time. The advantage of Toronto is that it presents a comic with the perfect environment to prepare and be ready for the North American scene. What can Toronto comics learn from performing Montreal, and visa-versa? Montreal is a unique opportunity for a Toronto comedian to experience a different culture right here in North America. Learning to adapt to these differences is what makes a comedian stronger and more universal. Toronto presents Montreal comedians with the perfect opportunity to learn about performing in front of a typical North American audience in a big city.
Which shows are on your bucket list at this year’s festival?
There’s still much more to announce before I can tell you all the shows that will be on my bucket list this year. I can tell you without a doubt that “An Evening with the Cast of Veep” is on this list because of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She has been one of the most influential comedic actors of the last 30 years and continues to add to her legendary resume with each passing year. I sat next to David Mandel, “Veep”’s new showrunner at last year’s festival (right before his in conversation with Armando Iannucci) and he told me that he wanted to come back with the cast this year… and he kept his promise. I’m also putting “Living in Fictional Times: A Political Conversation with Lewis Black” on my bucket list this year because Lewis is famous for his scathing critiques of American culture. The timing couldn’t be more perfect as it will take place right after the Republican National Convention and during the Democratic National Convention.
What are some of this year’s must-see events of ComedyPRO?
We made the first of three announcements on May 3rd, so there’s still much more to announce before I can answer this question fully… I can say without a doubt that Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle will be on my must-see list because it was one of the most popular things at the festival last year. It was popular with fans, media and industry to the point where we had to turn people away on a nightly basis. It will also be the first time in our 34-year history that the Just For Laughs Festival will telecast across North-America with a special four-night event and simulcast on Comedy Central in the US and the Comedy Network in Canada.
Considering you’ve been on both sides of performance and have played such an integral part of this year’s festival and ones prior, do you have any advice for beginner comics?
My advice is the same to all comedians: 1) Your number one goal is to perform stand-up because you LOVE it and not because you want to be rich and/or famous. This way, you will feel rewarded every single time you step on stage. 2) Your goal is to be the best you can be and not to be as good or better than Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart or Amy Schumer. Your goals and expectations should be based on your God-given talents and not those of others. If you work hard and improve something every day, every week and every year, you will continue to get better and eventually reach YOUR full potential.
The Just For Laughs Comedy Festival Runs July 13-30, 2016 | Full Festival Details: http://hahaha.com
Follow JFL on Twitter: @JustForLaughs