LaughFest veterans return:
Mike Birbiglia, Jim Gaffigan and Sinbad
by Tyler Lecceadone
The nation’s first-ever community-wide festival of laughter, Gilda’s LaughFest, has announced its line up of talent and shows for the festival’s fourth year to be held March 6 to 16, 2014. The headliners announced include: Lily Tomlin, making a special appearance in partnership with Broadway Grand Rapids; Chris Tucker; and LaughFest veterans, Mike Birbiglia, Jim Gaffigan and Sinbad. This year’s Signature Event will feature Emmy award winning comedian, longtime TV personality and late-night talk show host Jay Leno. Several other acts were also announced for LaughFest, along with a “$50,000 Challenge” by five local companies to raise funds specifically for Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids Children’s cancer, grief and emotional health programs.
“As we enter our fourth year, we are thrilled to continue building upon such a great community festival,” said Joanne Roehm, festival director of LaughFest. “The first three years have given us a solid foundation and we’re continuing this tradition of laughter by featuring stand-up comedy, improv, music, dance, speakers, pets, children’s shows, free professional and amateur showcases and a variety of other acts to give everyone the opportunity to laugh together.” Roehm also noted that more announcements of talent and details will be made as the festival draws closer.
In addition to the headliners, who were announced, other acts coming to LaughFest 2014 include Netflix’s Arrested Development actress, Maria Bamford; YouTube sensation Miranda Sings with special guest Colleen Ballinger; comedy trio Todd Barry, Rory Scovel and Nick Thune; and stars of TruTV’s Impractical Jokers, The Tenderloins, made up of Sal Vulcano, Joe Gatto, James Murray and Brian Quinn.
Officials also detailed the Gun Lake Casino Presents National Stand-Up Comedy Showcase, which features two showcases with 10 seriously funny comics: Cameron Esposito, Aparna Nancherla, Johnny Pemberton, Baron Vaughn, Joe Zimmerman, Tone Bell, Kurt Braunohler, Carmen Lynch, Barry Rothbart, and Hampton Yount.
The Best of the Midwest Competition, underwritten by Wolverine Worldwide, will feature 10 Midwestern comics duking it out for the $2,500 cash prize. Competitors are Johnny Beehner, Kevin Bozeman, John Conroy, Maggie Faris, AJ Finney, Drew Frees, Mike Lebovitz, Matt McClowry, Bryan Morris and Ms. Pat.
Bissell Presents the Clean Comedy Showcase, underwritten by Blue Cross Blue Shield, features two showcases with eight comedians who specialize in bringing serious laughs without vulgarity. Performers include James P. Connolly, Tony Deyo, Robert Mac, Pat McGann, Andy Hendrickson, Michael Palascak, Louis Ramey, and Rik Roberts.
The Family Friendly Series, presented by Meijer, includes performances by Milkshake, a band on a mission to create great rock music for kids; Super Saturday Kids Zone, a themed carnival for all ages; and Saturday Nite Teen Zone, a 13 and up hangout for teens.
The Bud Light Presents Blue & Late Night Comedy Series features two great performers, 30 Rock’s Judah Friedlander, and author and Chelsea Lately writer and round table guest, Jen Kirkman.
LaughFest’s Best will feature late night shows with little sampling of comedians from across the festival. And local comedy troupe River City Improv, representing Calvin College, will put on a show that weaves skits, games and songs with audience suggestions to create a unique entertainment experience.
Blackout Diaries is an interactive show featuring standup comedians and regular people telling true drinking stories, while the audience asks questions.
Carly Aquilino, Chris Distefano, and Andrew Schulz, of MTV’s hit reality comedy series, Guy Code, will focus in on the different codes that exist between girls and guys in a snappy and entertaining fashion.
New and returning activities include FUNderwear 5K presented by Universal Forest Products, Seriously Funny Family Adventure Challenge, and People and Pets.
Additionally LaughFest is expanding its presence in the West Michigan community, by bringing shows to Holland and Lowell, Mich. Holland shows will include Christian comic Jeff Allen, Kids Joke Night, Holland Chorale, Klompen Comedy, Laughter Yoga and community showcases. Shows in Lowell include PJ Walsh, Kids Joke Night, Laughter Yoga and community showcases.
As a way to raise funds specifically to support programs at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, five community sponsors have come forward to match funds raised through the “High Five” campaign. This year the campaign aims to raise $100,000 for children living with cancer or grief, and for in-school emotional health programs. Local companies Terryberry, Feyen Zylstra, Pioneer Construction, Eenhoorn, and American International Foods will match each $5 donation, up to $50,000. Individuals interested in donating to the “High Five” campaign may do so by purchasing a button at a participating restaurant or business in West Michigan, or by donating at www.laughfestgr.org.
“Last year we saw phenomenal success with our ‘High Five’ campaign,” said Wendy Wigger, president of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids and LaughFest. “This year a stellar group of local companies has generously given us another matching grant for this campaign. Our goal is to secure $50,000 worth of five dollar gifts from the community and then these companies will match each gift, up to $50,000 worth of matching funds. The money generated from this campaign will directly benefit our children’s programs.
LaughFest 2014 will include 200 plus free and ticketed shows that feature over 60 artists at 40-plus venues in Grand Rapids, Lowell, and Holland during the 10 days of the festival. Festival ticket packages range from $60 to $175 and will be available to the public beginning Friday, November 15, 2013 at 9 a.m. online at www.laughfestgr.org or by phone at (616) 735-HAHA (4242).
Individual tickets are priced from $7 to $60, excluding the Signature Event. These will be available beginning Friday, January 10, 2014 at the VanAndel Arena Box Office or at Ticketmaster outlets through closing day of the Festival.