Join us June 14-17, 2017!

Archive for month: March, 2016

Fred Willard to receive Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award at 2016 Great American Comedy Festival

March 29, 2016
March 29, 2016

Fred Willard Fred Willard — one of this generation’s most gifted comic actors and a favorite of Johnny Carson while serving as host of “The Tonight Show” — will be the recipient of the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award at this summer’s Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk, Neb.

Known for his quick wit and improvisational expertise, Willard appeared with Carson on “The Tonight Show” more than 50 times and followed that up with 100 appearances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Eddie Brill, the festival’s artistic director, described Willard as “one of the most talented and respected actors and comedians this country has ever known.”

“His list of accolades is as diverse as it is impressive. Mr. Willard has been entertaining audiences for many decades including over 50 films, over 80 TV shows, and he continues to make people laugh today with his hilarious and improvisational expertise,” Brill said. “We couldn’t be more proud to present him with this year’s Johnny Carson Legend Award.”

Willard will be on hand in Norfolk to receive the award during the Saturday, June 18, festival gala at the Johnny Carson Theatre. Tom Cotter will serve as the headliner that evening and host the finals of the festival’s stand-up competition.

The festival began in 2008 as a way to pay tribute to the legacy of Johnny Carson, who grew up in Norfolk. The festival annual presents the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award, one of only two awards in existence that bear Carson’s name. Past recipients are David Steinberg, Ed Asner, Cloris Leachman, Stephen Wright, Dick Cavett, Kevin Pollak, Bill Dana and Jimmie “J.J.” Walker.

Jeff Sotzing, who serves as president of Carson Entertainment and will be on hand for this year’s festival as part of a panel discussion on “The Tonight Show,” was pleased to learn of Willard’s selection. “He’s a great choice,” said Sotzing, who was Johnny Carson’s nephew.

A four-time Emmy nominee, Fred Willard is an alumnus of The Second City and a founding member of the classic improv group, the Ace Trucking Company. In his movie career, Willard’s work in “Waiting For Guffman” earned him an American Comedy Award nod for Funniest Supporting Actor. For his performance in “Best in Show,” he won the Boston Film Critics Award, the American Comedy Award and a tribute from the American Film Institute.

Some of his other film work includes “This Is Spinal Tap,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “For Your Consideration.” He starred as the only human in the Academy-Award winning film, “WALL-E.”

He first came to prominence as ambitious but dimwitted sidekick Jerry Hubbard to Martin Mull’s smarmy talk-show host Barth Gimble in the satirical series “Fernwood Tonight” in Willard received a Daytime Emmy Award for his role on “The Bold and The Beautiful.” He received three Emmy nominations for his recurring role on the TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond” as Robert Barone’s father-in-law, Hank MacDougall. In 2010, he received an Emmy
nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on the ABC series “Modern Family” as Phil Dunphy’s father, Frank Dunphy. He was an original cast member of the NBC comedy series “Real People” He has made more than 1,000 television appearances, beginning with “Get Smart” to recent appearances on “Raising Hope,” “Franklin and Bash” and “Hot in Cleveland”and the HBO series “Family Tree.” He can soon be seen in the upcoming Netflix movie, “Mascots.”

He and his wife, Mary, have been honored for their charity work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Actors and Others For animals. He also has received a commendation from the City of Los Angeles for “outstanding humanitarian and philanthropic work that helps to further the goal of making the City of Los Angeles a better place.”

Lineup of professional comedians at 2016 festival is revealed

March 22, 2016
March 22, 2016

Eddie Brill couldn’t be more pleased.

The 20 professional comedians who have accepted invitations to be part of this summer’s Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk are talented, diverse and, most of all, funny, said Brill, who serves as the festival’s artistic director.

“We have an incredible mix of comics from all walks of life, and many of them have already starred on major TV shows and in film,” said Brill, a stand-up comic himself and former comic booker for David Letterman.

The “funny twenty” — as they collectively are known — will take to the stage of the Johnny Carson Theater on Thursday, June 16, and Friday, June 17, and perform six minute of material each in hopes of advancing to the gala finale of the festival on Saturday, June 18.

A panel of professional judges will have the task of selecting four comedians each night to make up the group of eight performers on Saturday.Brill said it should come as no surprise that the talent level of the comedians at the festival continues to increase. “The reputation of our festival is growing worldwide and, as a result, the quality of the comedians we bring into Norfolk to honor Johnny Carson gets stronger and stronger. You won’t want to miss one show this year.”

While the festival’s headliners bring name recognition and star power to the annual comedy event, it’s the 20 comedians who are the heart and soul of the festival, Brill said. That’s because the festival was created to pay tribute to the legacy of Johnny Carson, and Carson liked nothing more than to give comedians on the cusp of stardom a chance to perform on “The Tonight Show.” In its own way, the festival seeks to do the same thing by auditioning and inviting comedians to perform in Norfolk, he said.

Here are the 20 comedians who will be performing at the 2016 festival:

Joe List

Joan Fagan

John Wing

Jimmy Brogan

Jim Flannigan

Jaye McBride

Kendra Cunningham

Chris Fairbanks

Chloe Hilliard

Ted Pettingell

Matt McClowry

Leonard Ouzts

Dwayne Perkins

Drew Dunn

Travon Free

Phoebe Robinson

Sarah Tiana

Alex Edelman

Mark Normand

Katie Grady

Comedian Rocky LaPorte will serve as the headliner for the Thursday and Friday performances. Tony V — who was a finalist in last year’s professional stand-up competition in Norfolk — will be the host for both evenings.

“The Tonight Show”: Entertaining and evolving through the eras

March 15, 2016
March 15, 2016

panelNORFOLK, Neb. – Producers from three different eras of “The Tonight Show” will be special guests at a featured part of this summer’s Great American Comedy Festival in Johnny Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Neb.

Taking part in a panel discussion at the Johnny Carson Theatre on Saturday, June 18, will be Josh Lieb, producer and showrunner of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”; Dave Berg, a past co-producer of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and Jeff Sotzing, president of Carson Entertainment and a producer of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

“ ‘The Tonight Show’ has been and continues to be such a huge part of the entertainment landscape. To bring producers from three different eras of the show together on one stage promises to be a memorable event,” said Kent Warneke, founder and past chairman of the Great American Comedy Festival, an annual summer event since 2008 in Carson’s hometown.

The 90-minute discussion will allow the three producers to share stories and anecdotes, show video clips, answer audience member questions and more. The event is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 18, and is free to the public.

“We don’t believe anything like this has ever taken place before, so we want as many people as possible to take in and enjoy this historic presentation,” Warneke said.

About the panel presentation’s featured guests:


Josh Lieb

 Josh Lieb serves as the producer and showrunner of “The Tonight Show Jimmy Fallon.” He won seven Emmy Awards as writer and producer of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and has written and produced multiple other television shows, including “The Simpsons” and “NewsRadio.” A graduate of Harvard University, he also is a New York Times best-selling author. In 2013, he wrote and directed a series of comedic shorts to raise money and awareness for the charity Water.Org. Stars featured in the shorts included Matt Damon, Jessica Biel, Sir Richard Branson, and Bono. He is the grandson of the late Charlie and Lil Lieb, of Omaha.


Jeff Sotzing Jeff Sotzing was studying videotape editing at Pasadena City College, when his uncle, Johnny Carson, invited him to join the staff of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” He worked his way up to production assistant, then associate producer and, ultimately, as producer until the final show with Carson was broadcast May 22, 1992. Sotzing now serves as president of Carson Entertainment and also sits as an adviser to the John W. Carson Foundation, a nonprofit trust that provides funding to hundreds of organizations.


Dave Berg Dave Berg, who now is a writer and columnist for The Orange County Register, was a co-producer for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “The Jay Leno Show,” where he also appeared in numerous comedy sketches. He has written a book, called Behind the Curtain: An Insider’s View of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. Prior to his work with Leno, Berg was a producer for “The O’Reilly Factor,” a writer for NBC News and the Los Angeles bureau chief for CNBC.

The Great American Comedy Festival debuted in Norfolk in 2008 as a way to pay tribute to Carson’s legacy. It has since become one of the nation’s leading comedy festival, attracting headlining performers like Brian Regan, Drew Carey, Robert Klein, Paula Poundstone and Louie Anderson.

The festival also annually presents the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award. Past recipients have included David Steinberg, Dick Cavett, Stephen Wright, Cloris Leachman, Ed Asner and Kevin Pollak.

In continuing Carson’s tradition of giving up-and-coming stand-up comics a chance to shine, the festival also features 20 comedians on the cusp of stardom who audition for the chance to participate in the festival before Eddie Brill, the festival’s artistic director and former warm-up comic for David Letterman.

The festival also features a family magic show, reflecting Carson’s lifelong interest in magic.

Tom Cotter, Rocky LaPorte to headline 2016 Great American Comedy Festival

March 8, 2016
March 8, 2016

Tom CotterAn all-star lineup of comedians will be coming to Norfolk in June to headline the 2016 Great American Comedy Festival.

Tom Cotter will be returning to the comedy festival to headline the festival’s gala finale on Saturday, June 18. He’ll be joined in Norfolk by Rocky LaPorte, who will headline the festival shows on Thursday, June 16, and Friday, June 17. And Tony V – a finalist at last year’s festival – will return to host the Thursday and Friday performances.

“We’re excited to be bringing a mixture of familiar faces and new faces to this year’s festival. Get ready to laugh,” said Lori Williams, the festival’s executive director.

Tom Cotter, who has performed at the festival twice in the past, was the first comedian to ever reach the finals of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” finishing as runner-up. He’s had his own special on Comedy Central, won several comedy festivals throughout the nation and has been seen on “The Tonight Show,” “Last Comic Standing” and “The Today Show.”

“We are so honored to have Tom Cotter as our headliner this year,” said Eddie Brill, the festival’s artistic director. “His meteoric rise to the top of the comedy world is no accident. His well-crafted material and unique delivery is wowing audiences all over the world. This is one festival you do not want to miss.”

Rocky LaPorte’s appeal comes from his everyman, clean, streetwise style of comedy. He’s become one of the most sought-after comedians after being a finalist on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” He was a featured comic on Showtime’s The Godfathers of Comedy, has appeared in two movies with Tim Allen and recently traveled with Drew Carey to entertain U.S. troops in Iraq. He also has filmed his own Comedy Center special.

“Rocky LaPorte is, hands down, one of the funniest comics in this country. His charming, clean and insightful comedy will have the audience in stitches,” Brill said.

Rounding out the 2016 festival lineup is Tony V, who was among the top comedians at last year’s festival in Norfolk and is returning this year to serve as the host for the professional competition. Along with being a popular headliner at clubs and colleges across the nation. Tony V has worked with Jay Leno, Dennis Miller, Stephen wright and Adam Sandler.

“In all my years of comedy, the best host I have ever worked with is Tony V. He’s hilarious, and knows how to move a show a long with expertise,” Brill said. “His integrity and his willingness to work with and mentor younger comics fits right in with what we do here in Norfolk.”

In its ninth year, the festival – which has been voted in the past as Nebraska’s top tourism event – continues its mission of paying tribute to the legacy of Johnny Carson, who grew up in Norfolk.

The festival will again feature a comedy-magic show on Wednesday, June 15, for persons of all ages; and comedy showcases on Thursday, June 16, and Friday, June 17, featuring performances by 20 up-and-coming comedians from across the nation.

The Saturday, June 18, finale also will feature the presentation of the annual Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award. “It’s going to be another funny, special year for the festival,” said Michael Brogan, festival chairman. “You won’t want to miss it.”

Want to learn more?

For more information about the 2016 festival, go to

Tickets are expected to be available for purchase online as of early April.