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Can't remember what happened 30 years ago? Just For Laughs can help

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MONTREAL - Just For Laughs wants to make sure everyone is in on the joke when its 30th anniversary special hits the airwaves.

People tuning in to "Just For Laughs 30th Anniversary: 30/30 Hindsight" can download a special app loaded with fun facts so people aren't left scratching their head when the funny folk start mocking such things as cellphones the size of a brick.

"We've created basically a cheat sheet for viewers," says Bruce Hills, the comedy festival's chief operating officer. The show will be broadcast on CBC-TV on Tuesday.

The festival's not judging — the Internet page where the app can be found just notes that some people may be too young to get the joke right away or were possibly a little too preoccupied with other things, like sleeping through history class, to get the reference.

"If someone's in their teens and they hear a bit about Dan Quayle, they can go to the mobile app and find out who Dan Quayle is," Hills said in an interview. (Quayle was George H.W. Bush's vice-president, by the way.)

"You hit it, you can find out who (Ronald) Reagan is, you can find out what a Walkman was or whatever we're referring to. It's done with a sense of humour."

The comedy festival decided to use the app after trying something similar with a TV special on American politics last year. Hills said it's an example of Just For Laughs trying to offer more to fans while spreading its message across multiple media platforms.

He noted with some satisfaction, for example, that Just For Laughs has more Facebook followers than the high-profile Lollapalooza music event and the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Hills admits he finds it a bit mind-boggling when he looks at footage of past festivals and thinks of the stars who have appeared, including John Candy, Jerry Seinfeld and The Muppets.

The two-hour clip show, which is hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos, features quips by comics including Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Jon Stewart, Rick Mercer, Wanda Sykes, Lewis Black, Russell Peters, Drew Carey, Denis Leary and Shaun Majumder.

One of the earliest bits is from 1985 featuring a youthful looking Richard Belzer, known to many TV viewers as Det.-Sgt. John Munch on ''Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.'' There's also a fresh-faced Jimmy Fallon in the mid-1990s. He's just been named to replace Jay Leno as host of ''The Tonight Show.''

There's also a nod at the end to the biggest festival acts.

"Just For Laughs 30th Anniversary: 30/30 Hindsight" differs from the festival's previous anniversary shows, which in some cases were more of a behind-the-scenes look at the festival itself.

Hills said the show provided a unique opportunity to look at the events of the last 30 years through the eyes of some of comedy's top minds rather than just do what amounts to an infomercial on the event or a countdown of some of its most famous alumni.

The themes tackled include Canadian and U.S. politics, racism, the environment, the economy, technology, and gay rights.

"There were just so many subjects where we found such rich material from the comics who came to our festival," Hills said.

He said he was amazed, for example, when he listened to riffs on the first Gulf War and the war in Iraq. Hills said, that if one closed one's eyes, it was hard to tell which war the comedians were talking about.

"For all intents and purposes, there was a Bush involved in both," he said, referring to the conflicts helmed by presidents George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush.

Jokes about technology were another eye-opener.

"You've got comedians joking about huge cellphones the size of a shoe box all the way to comics talking about technology in the last 18 months and obviously it's a whole different subject matter."

And if it's a little bit educational, that's OK too.

"There's no better way to look at history sometimes than in a comedic manner by some of the smartest people that you can ask to comment on it," said Hills.

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