Just for Laughs co-founder Andy Nulman on the comedy festival’s Jewish roots—and recent collapse

A crowd gathers for a free performance at Just for Laughs in Montreal in 2015. The world's largest comedy festival filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2024. (Photo by Phil Roeder/Flickr Creative Commons)

On March 5, the biggest comedy festival in the world, Just for Laughs, announced it was cancelling this year’s events in its hometown of Montreal and filing for bankruptcy protection. The news shocked international comics and local Montrealers—but Andy Nulman, who co-founded the festival in 1985 and spearheaded its expansion through the 1990s, wasn’t entirely surprised. Though he took a step back from the company in 1999 and left entirely in 2015, he’d been hearing of JFL’s financial troubles in the media, just as most in-person events had taken a hit since the pandemic.

And yet, as he recounts on Culturally Jewish, The CJN’s podcast about Canadian Jewish arts, seeing that the enormous summer festival would be cancelled entirely still blindsided him—and hit him emotionally. In this in-depth conversation, Nulman discusses the global shifts that led to JFL’s recent troubles, the way Montreal’s Jewish community supported the festival from its earliest days, and why he’s optimistic that Just for Laughs hasn’t truly had its last laugh forever.

Hear in this episode:


Culturally Jewish is hosted by Ilana Zackon and David Sklar. Our producer is Michael Fraiman, and our theme music is by Sarah Segal-Lazar. We’re a member of The CJN Podcast Network. To support The CJN and receive a charitable tax receipt, please consider a monthly donation by clicking here.