There’s a lot of controversy around a recent decision by SiriusXM Canada to turn their Canada Laughs channel over to the people behind the famous Just for Laughs festivals.
Until now, Canada laughs exclusively played stand up comedy submitted by Canadian comedians, curated by SiriusXM producers. We’re told it provided a significant revenue stream to comics from up North. This weekend, word spread that the channel was changing. That Just for Laughs would now curate the channel with their own content, and Canadian comics would be out of luck.
As of Sunday, no official word on the change has been released yet from SiriusXM Canada or Just For Laughs, but but our sources told us us that comedians and labels who had previously submitted tracks to the channel were being notified of the change just before the weekend. Word started to spread around social media, and comedians were pretty unhappy with the news that independent Canadian comics were being pushed out. Some sources estimate that this could be a collective six figure loss for contributing Canadian comics who had come to depend on that revenue to supplement their income. And there were odd (and unsubstantiated) rumors that Just for Laughs would only be playing pre-2012 content, leading many to speculate that this was somehow to avoid paying royalties to comedians.
Hello! I'm retweeting a lot today and this is why. We could really use your help. Thank you! pic.twitter.com/8J8SL1yumx
— Amanda Brooke Perrin (@brookeperrin) February 24, 2019
Hundreds of Canadian comics wrote thousands of angry posts, outraged about the decision. Paul F Tompkins got involved to expressed solidarity and support. Tomkins shared a post on Twitter from Canadian comic Graham Clark summing up the issue. One comedian, Nick Carter wrote, “I remember feeling sad, driving five hours to break even doing a show. Then amazingly, somewhere between Ottawa and Kingston, I heard one of MY bits come on @canadalaughs. In that moment I remember thinking “Wow, I wish this was late 90’s Brett Butler instead.” Heather Miller, a comedy wife, posted, “My WHOLE FEED is about @siriusxmcanada and the blow that’s been dealt to Canadian comedy. I’m sick to death over it. This affects my family directly. @canadalaughs was such a joy. The new voices, the true art-such a loss!” Pete Zedlacher, a SiriusXM Top Comic winner wrote “I stand with my #CanadianComedy family with this news that #JustForLaughs has taken over #SiriusXM #CanadaLaughs and replaced homegrown comics’ comedy albums with out-of-date and non-Canadian performances from the #JFL archives. Unacceptable. And we demand answers.” Matt O’Brien, another SiriusXM Top Comic winner wrote “there are a lot of great people that work for @justforlaughs and @canadalaughs that have done so much. it’s heartbreaking to have this happen with two companies that have given so much and that I support.” Steph Tolev called the move horrific. “I pay my rent off this in the states on top of having a part time job!!!! Why are you taking the ONLY THING US CANADIAN COMICS HAVE AWAY?!?!?!? My new album that I RECORDED in Canada won’t be played!!!”
Enter Howie Mandel.
After being tagged and even targeted with some serious anger, Mandel posted that the information circulating was false and that he would hop on Facebook live to set the record straight. As promised, he did, although what he said didn’t sound too far away from what the Twitter posters were saying.
Hey Canadian comedians you are reacting to leaked misinformation. I’ll go on Facebook live in 30min to give you the scoop.
— Howie Mandel (@howiemandel) February 25, 2019
“There’s been some misinformation,” Mandel said in a Facebook livestream as he paced around his home. He spoke briefly about the importance of Canadian comedy, clarified that SiriusXM Canada is not the same as SiriusXM America, and then got into the heart of the matter. He said one of the stations on SiriusXM Canada was curating 100% solely Canadian comics, but implied that they weren’t doing it well enough as far as SiriusXM Canada was concerned. “A lot of it was really good and a lot of it was comedians who were independently recording and submitting their own stuff and getting royalties. For whatever reason- I’m not in the SXM business- but they approached us because they wanted to retool that station. When networks want to retool things it means they are not totally satisfied with how their customers are receiving it.” He emphasized that SiriusXM approached JFL to ask for help with the channel, and not the other way around. And JFL said yes. “Because thats what we do. We promote comedy.”
Howie seemed upset that information had “leaked” about the new channel. “This was supposed to be a very fun announcement and I couldn’t wait to make it. As it worked out, somebody leaked this misinformation and people have been all over social media decrying the fact that supposedly we bought the station and no royalties will be paid and we’re taking money out of pockets.”
Mandel says he believes that the new arrangement will strengthen the reach of Canadian Comedy and hints that if JFL hadn’t taken over, the channel would have disappeared, and the platform would have been lost. “This is an asset to every Canadian comic because I promise you… this was going away. This, is an asset. You can still make money, you can still program and you can still be a part of JFL,” he said.
As far as how the new channel will operate, Mandel said that Just for Laughs has a library, and they plan to use it. They will be using content not only from Canadian Just for Laughs festivals, but also from partners in America, Australia, and Britain. He said there will still be room for Canadian comedians and not just those who perform at the company’s network of festivals. Content will still be accepted from independently recorded Canadian comedians. He also clarified that “everything that is programmed on that channel will receive a royalty.”
He closed his live feed by saying Goodnight, I love you and “sorry” as only a Canadian could say it.
Canadian comedians and supporters seem unsatisfied with the clarification and continue to post their concerns. They seemed particularly unhappy that Howie botched the name of the channel that means so much to them, and to their income streams.
It seems like there’s room to compromise here- and if anyone can work it out, it’s probably Howie Mandel, who has been a supporter and fan of comedy for as long as he’s been performing it, if not longer.
Watch the video and read reactions below.
— Alex Pavone (@MrAlexPavone) February 25, 2019
— Martha O'Neill (@Martha_ONeill) February 25, 2019
in a harried live stream from his mansion—grand piano, floor-to-ceiling art—Howie Mandel explained that Canada Laughs, whose name he couldn't remember, asked JFL to curate content for them because their customers were dissatisfied, & that without JFL the station was "going away"
— Seth Simons (@sasimons) February 25, 2019
To simplify what @howiemandel said, its not that Canada Laughs is going away, its just that independent Canadian comics will now have to compete for air time with EVERY COMIC ON EARTH WHO PERFORMS AT JFL.
And that JFL is the one who makes that call.
— Darren Elmore (@darrenelmore) February 25, 2019
@howiemandel did you know Canadian Comedians lobbied for Canada Laughs so that we could have a place for our work. Your Facebook live was smug & arrogant and confirmed everything we heard. No misinformation. Bad deal for Canadians. But I guess that’s Howie do it. #justformoney
— Kathleen _ McGee (@Kathleen_McGee) February 25, 2019
@howiemandel You told us we are reacting to misinformation, yet you described exactly what we read was going to happen with the channel. The fact that you didn't even know it was called @canadalaughs speaks volumes.
— VULGAR ASSASSIN (@BILLYonaire_GSN) February 25, 2019
— Alannah Brittany (@AlannahBComedy) February 25, 2019
thank howie looking forward to hearing the scoop cause I've been listening to @canadalaughs all weekend and hearing all old stuff like this so mayhbe you're programming is broken. pic.twitter.com/LW06E1Yd8Z
— Michelle Shaughnessy (@Michellesfunny) February 25, 2019