Martin Short, Robert Klein to be two of many stars on hand to mark 10th Great American Comedy Festival
The Festival also will mark 25th year since Johnny Carson stepped down as host of “The Tonight Show”
Organizers of the 10th annual Great American Comedy Festival are pulling out all the stops to make this summer’s event the best one yet.
The event, which is set for Wednesday, June 14, through Saturday, June 17, will also mark the 25th year since Johnny Carson stepped down as host of “The Tonight Show.”
“It’s going to be like a cross between a comedy festival reunion and a cavalcade of stars,” said Mark Zimmerer, chairman of this year’s festival.
Leading off the list of entertainers are comedian and movie star Martin Short, who will serve as the festival’s top headliner, and Robert Klein, who was the headliner at the festival’s inaugural event in 2008. He will return this year as the recipient of the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award.
“We’re thrilled to have both of them coming to Norfolk,” said Lori Williams, the festival’s executive director. “But we’re also excited to have eight of our nine professional stand-up winners from past festivals returning, as well as several headliners from past festivals. It’s a lineup like we’ve never seen before in Norfolk.”
The festival, which was begun in 2008 to pay tribute to the legacy of Norfolk native Johnny Carson, is working closely with Jeff Sotzing, Carson’s nephew, in planning for this year’s festival. Eddie Brill continues as the festival’s artistic director.
“We have worked so very hard over the last decade to bring the best talent in America to Norfolk to celebrate and honor our hero, Johnny Carson,” Brill said. “For our 10th anniversary, we have pulled out all the stops. Over four days in June, you will see the greatest collection of comedy entertainment anywhere in the country, all in one place. You won’t want to miss any of it.”
The festival will have a bit of a different schedule this summer because of the anniversaries being celebrated. Here are the highlights:
— Wednesday, June 14, an opening night tribute to Johnny Carson
Planned is a special showing of the 1982 NBC primetime television special “Johnny Goes Home,” along with airing of a new documentary featuring Norfolk and area residents who were part of the production of that TV special.
In addition, there will be a special sneak peek of the new “There’s …. Johnny!” comedy-drama currently being filmed for the Seeso streaming comedy network. The show will premiere this fall on Seeso, but festival attendees will get the first look at the show being co-created by actor Paul Reiser and David Steven Simon. It tells the fictional story of a young man from Valentine who makes his way to Los Angeles and lands a job with “The Tonight Show” during the early 1970s.
Those Wednesday evening activities will be free and open to the public. Also planned is a reception for festival sponsors.
— Thursday, June 15, the annual comedy-magic show for the entire family.
Traditionally taking place on Wednesday night, the comedy-magic show moves to Thursday this year and again will feature top performers as selected by Richard Barrett, manager of the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Scheduled to take the stage at the Johnny Carson Theatre are magicians/illusionists Kalin and Jinger, Marcus Monroe and Jeff and Tessa Evason.
— Friday, June 16, the “best of the fest” performance.
This show will be headlined by Wendy Liebman, who performed at the 2012 comedy festival. The performance will feature eight of the nine individuals who won the professional stand-up competition at the festival in past years.
Scheduled to perform at the Johnny Carson Theatre are David “Deacon” Gray, who won the inaugural festival competition in 2008; Kermet Apio, the 2009 winner; Ryan Hamilton, the 2011 winner; Pete Lee, the 2012 winner; Phil Palisoul, the 2013 winner; Brian Kiley, the 2014 winner; Brad Wenzel, the 2015 winner, and last year’s winner, Marc Normand.
— Saturday, June 17, writers panel and festival gala.
A free event planned for Saturday afternoon is a panel discussion featuring writers connected to “The Tonight Show” that will be moderated by Nebraska native and entertainer Dick Cavett, who was a writer for the show himself.
The panel discussion will feature Mike Reiss, Andrew Nicholls and Darrell Vickers, all of whom were on the writing staff of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” as well as David Steven Simon, co-creator of the “There’s …. Johnny!” television show currently in production.
The highlight of the festival will be Saturday evening’s gala featuring Martin Short as headliner and the presentation of the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award to Robert Klein.
But also appearing will be these past festival performers: Larry Miller, the 2010 festival headliner; Caroline Rhea, a 2014 headliner; Jake Johannsen, a 2012 headliner; Tommy Johnagin, a 2011 headliner; and Mike E. Winfield, also a 2011 headliner.
Tickets to the festival will go on sale in the coming weeks, Williams said. Festival sponsorships currently are available.
“We wanted to plan something really special for this year’s festival. I think we’ve accomplished that,” Zimmerer said.