SiriusXM replacing Canada Laughs with Just For Laughs Radio; Canadian comedians bracing for big royalty hit

SiriusXM Canada and Just For Laughs announced a joint partnership on Monday to launch Just For Laughs Radio this spring on Ch. 168, “with a focus on Canadian artists plus comics from around the world.”

Sounds great, right?

Here’s the thing, though: Ch. 168 already is a thing, Canada Laughs, which is all and only about Canadian comedians.

And if you didn’t already know this, then now you know: SiriusXM pays much bigger royalty fees than Spotify, Pandora or anyone else. So much so, that I know at least a couple of friends who only survive paying the rent thanks to SiriusXM royalties. Yeah, they earn that much from their comedy album tracks getting played in rotation on the satellite radio.

Comedians began learning of the impending switch over the weekend through their record labels.

Word circulated quickly on social media. Nick Beaton posted on Facebook:

Just for Laughs recently purchased the xm station Canada Laughs. THIS IS THE ONLY STATION ON XM THAT PLAYS ANY CANADIAN CONTENT. They will be replacing it with archived Just for Laughs galas. Many of these galas feature American comedians. Meaning, that the Canadian comedians who have been self producing recordings, and have helped to build that channel are now left hung out to dry.

If you aren’t a comedian you likely don’t understand the impact that this has. There is an entity called Sound Exchange that tracks plays and pays residuals to comedians who get played. Without hyperbole this may be the best thing that has happened to Canadian comedians, EVER. The work that Ben Miner was doing helped thousands of comedians make a supplemental income that afforded them the ability to live like human beings. Nothing else in Canada has ever paid this many comedians, this much, this consistently, EVER.

Let me break down in no uncertain terms what is happening, so you can understand the specifics of this.

As someone who get’s played on xm, I receive two sets of payments, one as the artist, and another as the owner of my recordings. What JFL is doing, will take that away for every comic, and instead take ALL of the ownership funds, as the recordings are their property, and only artist rates will paid to the comics who get played, which as I said will be primarily American. If you want some context, last night an image was posted of all the comedy stations on xm and what they were playing. On the station CANADA LAUGHS Jeff Foxworthy was playing. What that means is, Jeff Foxworthy will receive an artist Royalty, and JFL will receive and ownership royalty. ON A STATION CALLED CANADA LAUGHS. If I had of been played at that time instead, I would receive both of those payments. THIS IS DIRECTLY TAKING MONEY OUT OF THE CANADIAN ECONOMY AND PUTTING IT SOUTH OF THE BORDER AND INTO THE COFFERS OF JFL. We shouldn’t have to compete with Jeff fucking Foxworthy for Canadian air time! There is no spin they can give that justifies this.

What has to be realized is that this was so profitable to Canadian Comedians, someone in a JFL office saw that and thought, “shit that’s a lot of money, let’s take it.” THEY ARE NOT PRODUCING ANY NEW CONTENT. THEY ARE TAKING OLD TELEVISION FOOTAGE THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN PAID FOR AND PROFITED FROM AND USING IT TO MAKE EVEN MORE MONEY AT THE EXPENSE OF COMEDIANS.

Comedians are uniting over this and it is very heartening. As upset as I am about this, I’m am so happy to apart of this fucking community and I love you guys and how so many of you are not taking this shit lying down. If you are not a comedian, you can help. There will be other avenues in the coming days and weeks, but right now you can email and tell them what you think about this.

Please take a minute to do it. We need people to speak up.

The Canadian Association of Stand-Up Comedians, a nonprofit formed in 2017, released a statement late Monday seeking answers from JFL and SiriusXM Canada about the change, and holding a town hall to discuss it further. “CASC is not suggesting that only Canadian artists should get the economic infrastructure of support offered by JFL and SiriusXM. But, leaving Canadian performers largely out of the mix is an economic failure by the industry stakeholders that operate these events and program the radio broadcasts, as well as the government departments who use public tax dollars to fund them, and the public organizations that regulate them.”

They also said:

“Although JFL receives large cultural grants from the Canadian government, fewer and fewer Canadian comedy performers are being invited to perform at the Festivals produced by JFL, especially in the featured roles that result in recorded audio and visual content that pays royalties to artists. Many Canadian comedians are invited to perform at JFL without being paid at all, often on shows featuring international acts that earn respectable sums. Canadian comedians are excited to share the stage with, and enjoy comedy performed by, international talent. But, comedians who come to Canada from outside the country to perform at Just for Laughs take the earnings and revenue generating potential back to their home countries and communities.”

“With a JFL revamping and rebranding of “Canada Laughs 168” to become “Just for Laughs Radio” on SiriusXM Canada, many non-Canadian comedians will get the profile and revenue success that used to be 100% dedicated to Canadians. The fees for play on the previous incarnation of Channel 168 represented a significant portion of many comedians’ incomes. The financial situation of many comedians is marginal and a loss of this regular income stream can be the difference between affording or not affording necessities. Moreover, there are many Canadian comedians who haven’t been, and may never be, invited to perform at JFL events. Are they to expect that their independently produced comedy content will suddenly fit with the JFL brand?”

Scott Thompson, one of the Kids in the Hall, wrote “Just For Laughs made a terrible decision today that once again treats Canadian comics as second class.”

Howie Mandel took to Facebook Live on Sunday night, during the Academy Awards, to give his side of the story (Mandel became a part-owner of JFL along with ICM last year) and hoping to calm fears. Or in his words, clear up the “misunderstanding.”

Of Canada Laughs, Mandel said (without mentioning the station by name): “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.”

So what is the official position of JFL Radio, according to the SiriusXM announcement?

“The new 24/7 channel, available to subscribers in North America via satellite, online and through the SiriusXM app, will feature a blend of stand-up recorded at various Just For Laughs festivals and events, along with premium content from independent comedy albums. Just For Laughs Radio will highlight some of the best Canadian comedy, as well as some of the most accomplished and emerging artists both near and far.”

“We are very excited about this partnership, which allows us to provide the best homegrown and international comedic talent programming to our listeners,” said John Lewis, SVP, Programming & Operations, SiriusXM Canada. “The new channel will help us to continue our legacy of elevating Canadian talent by providing them with a North American platform.”

“Just For Laughs has always endeavoured to entertain comedy fans with first class performances from both Canadian and International comedians,’ said Bruce Hills, President, Just for Laughs “Our goal with Just For Laughs Radio is precisely the same thanks in large part to the depth and quality of Canadian artists.”

That’s still not sitting well with many Canadian stand-ups.

Monday’s announcement did cite a handful of Canadians: “Just For Laughs Radio will be voiced and hosted by Canadian superstar DeAnne Smith and feature hundreds of legendary comics, including brand-new and archived stand-up content from Canadian artists K. Trevor Wilson, Dave Merheje, Elvira KurtRussell Peters, Norm Macdonald, Sabrina Jalees, Pat Thornton, Mike MacDonald, and many more. The channel will also air weekly shows from celebrated SiriusXM hosts and Canadian comedians.”

The station also will continue producing SiriusXM’s Top Comic, entering its 10th year in 2019. With a $25,000 cash prize and bookings at JFL’s major festivals, the prestigious competition continues to be the biggest in the country. Recorded content from Top Comic will be heard on Just For Laughs Radio, including the Finale airing live from JFL42 in Toronto.

Just For Laughs Radio will officially launch in Spring 2019 on SiriusXM Canada’s Channel 168.

Stay tuned as we learn more.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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