This past week I showcased for Just For Laughs in Ottawa, Ontario. Drove 6 hours for 6 minutes of work. 6 minutes and 48 seconds to be precise. According to Neil Bansil, the JFL booker, he visited 62 showcases, across 12 cities and got to see 615 Canadian comedians perform.
For those who don't know, Just For Laughs is the world's biggest comedy festival and operates out of Montreal, Quebec but has spread its wings to various other locations across Canada and the world. For Canadian comedians, JFL serves as a bridge to corporate work or American television. Those opportunities are available and if you're the right fit you may find yourself in all sorts of interesting partnerships.
It's also a television program geared towards an American audience which means they have parameters to which they balance their programming that take a lot of factors into consideration. As a young comedian, it was easy to direct frustration at JFL, because there was this idea that getting on JFL was the one thing you needed to get "put over" in this industry. That's not exactly true. They're a business like any other business and the gap in the past came from Canadian comedians seeing themselves as contestants in their own careers and not running their independent careers like an independent business, which it is.
The JFL of today stands to gain a significant amount of growth over the next 30 and so do independent comedians in Canada. Canadian spots have been historically limited but with JFL broadening their reach globally, diversifying their distribution paths and creating more content opportunities in general - work for Canadian comedians will naturally compound over time.
So this is the time to squeeze in. If you're a comedian in Canada and you're not border-hopping any time soon then there needs to be a shift from the previous "lottery mentality" towards "targeted partnering". How would you be an asset to their program? Are you familiar with their different segments? Do you have content topics they haven't delved into yet? Is your perspective clear and unique enough to stand out on its own? Are you actively developing your own audience?
That last question is the big one and one that a lot of comedians seem to struggle with. "If I have my own audience then why would I need JFL?" I would argue you should never "need" any business entity, or platform, because the market changes and we need to be open to pivoting when necessary.
You don't need JFL and JFL doesn't need you.
Let's get that out of the way.
But they are an industry leader hosting world-wide events in the industry you're working in. You should be excited about working with them, on the right thing, that makes sense to both of you. That's the hallmark of a good partnership. It's a good mindset to have towards any collaboration. It's less slanted and when you're in the "partnership state" it's not about what the other can do for you but what you can do for each other.
Self-awareness is probably our greatest asset on and off stage so it's important to know where you stand. Looking at the number of comedians who showcased alone, it's fair to say that the odds aren't cooked in your favour, so if this year isn't your year, then you have more time to work on your act, develop your craft, build your audience and ultimately enjoy your life.
Look at your showcase as an introduction to a new booker who is clearly passionate about standup comedy. Neil has produced and performed live comedy shows. He displays a growth mentality to everyone he meets so even if you didn't ace your showcase enough to get booked on the show this year, you may have still aced your introduction with a booker who now knows you exist and is aware of what you bring to the table.
A lesson I've learned in 14 years of standup comedy is that we have so much time ahead of us. We're used to racing the clock, "I only got 6 minutes to perform, okay I got 12 minutes, gotta nail this middle spot 20 on the dot...", but in life we only get the light once and that's when it's all over. Until then, we have so much time to fail forward, work on our craft and enjoy the journey.
Jim Carrey has this quote, where he witnessed his father fail at a career he never wanted, and that's when he realized that you can fail at something you don't want so you might as well fail at something you do want.
I'm leaving optimistic about the future of comedy. This or That thinking doesn't really help us anymore. When we pull back to the macro, we see room for everyone at the table, but the growth path starts with ourselves. Never put the weight on your partnerships to pull your career. That's on you. If you shift the ownership to yourself, then no one has the power to thumbs-up or thumbs-down your path. You just need to keep betting on yourself, developing your skills, reinvest into your own development and own every inch of your own journey.
Now's the time to squeeze in. Focus on you, what you're doing and lean into the partnerships that make sense for your next steps, and do the things necessary to keep you on this Earth for as long as possible so you can keep playing the infinite game.