Vancouver Sun


Country’s answer to Candid Camera is most-exported series


Just for Laughs Gags

Tuesday | CBC

Mark Critch posits a fascinatin­g theory about this country. “When the world thinks of Canada — which is never — it thinks of Good Samaritans,” notes the Canadian comic. Then Critch goes on to mention that “no good deed goes unpunished.” He is specifical­ly referring to the Just for Laughsprod­uced Gags shows, wherein well-meaning folk come to the aid of the seemingly distressed only to have the tables turned on them in highly embarrassi­ng yet highly humorous fashion.

Like having cars flip over on them after trying to change flat tires.

Or trying to return wallets to owners who have mysterious­ly disappeare­d seconds after dropping them.

Just for Laughs Gags is Canada’s answer to that vintage U.S. show Candid Camera. But the Canadian version goes one clever step further. These “gags” are carried out in silence, which means that in transcendi­ng language they can be exported internatio­nally.

The stats speak volumes: Gags is broadcast in 134 countries, is screened on 75 airlines, has had more than 3.7 billion total views on YouTube and registers 3.5 million hits a day among its 4.4 million YouTube subscriber­s.

Small wonder that the show is said to be the most-watched and the most-exported Canadian series in history.

To mark the 15th anniversar­y of Just for Laughs Gags, an hour-long TV package of greatest hits — hosted by Critch — airs Jan. 6 on CBC.

Once again, viewers will be treated to a Jesus pretender walking on the waters of Beaver Lake to retrieve a ball and, later, to Jesus turning water to wine at a drinking fountain. Also included is the sketch of clumsy people dropping their pet tarantulas onto the laps of terrified taxi drivers.

And who can forget pantless cops giving tickets to stunned motorists?

Pierre Girard is one of the chief mastermind­s behind the Gags series. He oversees a team of seven Montreal-based creators who have concocted more than 4,600 gags — which, in turn, have led to the making of 263 half-hour shows.

“These people have been with us from the beginning,” Girard says. “We’ve reached a point where we can’t start with new people. We have a certain mindset and formula, which would make it difficult for others to embark on the program now.”

Girard and his writing crew are in creation mode until March for the next season. They come up with 200 to 300 outrageous ideas a day, before settling on five to 10 gags they will rework for the show.

“But it’s important to point out that we’re not laughing at the people we sneak up on in the show — we are laughing with them. That’s an important distinctio­n,” Girard says.

Girard also says the show has never been sued by participan­ts.

“It doesn’t happen often, but even after people have signed a release, allowing us to use them on the show, we’ll get a call two or three years later from them, asking us not to run gags in which they have appeared. And we’ll take those segments out of the shows for good.”

Bruce Hills, chief operating officer of Just for Laughs, insists that he is forever getting calls or emails from someone, from the far-flung reaches of the planet, about Gags.

So why haven’t others attempted to duplicate the Gags formula?

“They’ve tried, in France, England, Germany and other countries,” Girard says. “They all think that it’s easy to do, but it’s so difficult to pull off well. There are so many different variables involved, from the setting to the weather to finding the right people.”

 ??  ?? Just for Laughs Gags is celebratin­g its 15th anniversar­y with an hour-long package of greatest hits hosted by Canadian comic Mark Critch. Pranks such as the one above have universal appeal.
Just for Laughs Gags is celebratin­g its 15th anniversar­y with an hour-long package of greatest hits hosted by Canadian comic Mark Critch. Pranks such as the one above have universal appeal.

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