Unemployed since last Wednesday, Patrick Rozon, former head of the creative department of the Just for Laughs Group, returns for the first time to a debacle that he did not see coming.

In a few minutes, on March 5, Patrick Rozon was stripped of all his projects and his entire team. But there’s no question of crying. No time. With the support of a single colleague, the former head of creative direction of the Just for Laughs Group had to ensure the transition and accompany all the shows from the house to their new home.

“Then on March 15, when ComediHa! announced that he was resuming Waitress [a musical comedy which will be presented in the summer], that’s when it hit me”, he confides during his first long interview since the events, somewhere between the sadness that mom, it’s over, and the conviction of having given everything. His booming laugh, which betrays his presence during every show he attends, has remained intact.

The time for questions had then finally come, one of which still torments him: have the shareholders of Just for Laughs done everything possible not to abandon their employees? “Experiencing what we experienced, it’s certainly annoying,” he admits, “because we were all struggling to find solutions. »

Although he was aware that financial problems were plaguing JPR, it was by reading the newspapers that he learned of the total amount of his debts, amounting to 49 million. “According to my calculations, I came in at more than 5.6 million. » He was also unaware that the 2018 transaction, through which Just for Laughs had passed from the hands of Gilbert Rozon to those of Bell (26%), Groupe CH (25%) and Creative Artists Agency (49% ), had been possible thanks to a leveraged buyout.

“The first thing that happens when news like that breaks is the feeling of guilt,” explains Patrick Rozon. I see myself at home counting how much debt I personally brought to the company. It was when I became aware of the scale of the portrait that I understood that even if I had found 50 successful shows, it would have been very difficult. »

In 2015, Patrick Rozon took a sabbatical from the Cité-des-Jeunes secondary school in Vaudreuil-Dorion, where he taught drama, in order to direct Zoofest, the long-running counterpart to the festival created in 1983 by cousin from his father. By succeeding Gilbert Rozon at the head of Just for Laughs in 2018, he inherited an image crisis caused by the allegations against the founder.

His greatest pride? “It was to have been able to convince the industry here and elsewhere that Just for Laughs was a festival and a company they could trust,” he replies, acknowledging in the same breath that he had been a little too eager in his desire for updates.

“Maybe I got in too quickly with the youth, the new artists, the new concepts,” he analyzes, forgetting those who love their classics. ” Example ? The musical Hair, whose critical success did not materialize at the box office in 2023.

A desire which proved fruitful on several occasions, notably during the block party of Aba and Preach in 2019 on a Place des Festivals teeming with people – “If you knew the number of people who asked me: who are they? others ? » – and the interactive journey inspired by the work of François Pérusse, in 2023.

But never mind, during the announcement last March, many concluded that the flair of Gilbert Rozon had never found a worthy successor. “All the organs of the company were functioning, but there was no more heart,” his sister Luce told La Presse on March 5.

“It’s difficult to compare myself with someone who has managed a company for 35 years,” observes Patrick Rozon. “Gilbert was certainly very strong in lobbying and politics, but it will no longer be done in the same way in 2024. What is certain is that we would have needed more time to establish our vision and that we had a lot of obstacles in the way, including a pandemic. »

As for his decision to scuttle the galas, a concept on which Just for Laughs has built a good part of its reputation, Patrick Rozon maintains that it was inevitable. While in another era, participation in one of these evenings could catapult a comedian, the means to carve out a place in the sun, with the advent of social networks, have multiplied.

In 2022, Just for Laughs learned that Bell was not renewing its license to broadcast the galas, precipitating the decision to hold a final one in July 2023.

“If we had had a TV license, we might have continued,” explains Patrick Rozon, “but we would still have had to revamp the formula, because the product really needed it and, since 2021, tickets have been selling less. »

While saying he is relieved that Just for Laughs ended up in the hands of a Quebec company, Patrick Rozon is obviously thinking of the hundred employees who will have to find new jobs. Last Thursday, he still had not met Sylvain Parent-Bédard, founder of ComediHa!, about a possible contribution to the future of Just for Laughs.

He hopes that the new owner embraces the entire multiple identity of the festival from next summer, in particular by reconnecting with street arts, absent from the transitional ComediHa! salutes Montreal, which will be held in July. It also seems imperative that Zoofest not be shelved.

But that Montreal must do without a comedy festival in the summer? Patrick Rozon refuses to consider it.

“It’s going to take some thinking about all the festivals, because what we have is unique and we have to take care of it. Yes, it’s partly about money, but it’s also about promotion. Everyone in the world needs to know that summer is where it happens in Montreal. »