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Johnny Carson Lesson for Educators

September 28, 2015
September 28, 2015

The Great American Comedy Festival is happy to provide this Johnny Carson Curriculum for educators.

Find it here:

The Passing Zone to add variety-show element to festival’s comedy magic show

April 6, 2015
April 6, 2015

This year’s comedy-magic show at the 2015 Great American Comedy Festival promises to entertain and astound, hearkening back to the days of variety shows.

The festival kicks off Wednesday, June 17, with its annual comedy-magic show as a tribute to Johnny Carson’s lifelong interest in magic.

Richard Barrett, manager of the famed Comedy and Magic Shop in Los Angeles, again selected the lineup of performers for this year’s show.

“I’m thrilled to have so many world-class performers on this bill. We’ve got a really cool blend of magic and variety this year with The Passing Zone bringing something to the show that we haven’t presented before,” he said.

Scheduled to perform are The Passing Zone — made up of Owen Morse and Jon Wee — along with magicians Christopher Hart, Tina Lenert and Derek Hughes.

The Passing Zone is a top-notch comedy act that is enhanced by their juggling skills and other extraordinary feats, Barrett said.

“Jon and Owen are two headlining comedians that also happen to do things that you and I can’t do — their many Guinness world records prove that,” Barrett said. “They’re just an amazing act that will leave you with a giant smile on your face.”

The two were performing at the Comedy and Magic Club in Los Angeles when they were asked to perform on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” in 1990. They became one of Carson’s favorites and were asked back to perform again.

Barrett said Hart is everything anyone can want in a magician.

“He’s funny, a little mysterious, charismatic and makes you ask, ‘How did he do that?’  He’s won just about every meaningful award for magicians,” he said.

Movie fans also may be interested in knowing that he played the disembodied hand known as Thing in the Addams Family movies.

“That’s a pretty cool credit,” Barrett said.

Lenert is revered in the magic community. She combines mime and magic in her “Maid in Heaven” act that has won countless awards including stage magician of the year from the Academy of Magical Arts.

“She’s a great storyteller and puts on a performance that is beautiful, heartwarming, and funny all at the same time,” Barrett said.

Lenert is married to magician Mike Caveney, who was part of the festival’s 2013 comedy-magic show.

Hughes, who will serve as the show’s host, is another familiar name. He performed in Norfolk at the 2012 festival.

“Derek is one of the rising stars in the world of magic. He is the guy that you will be discussing during your car ride home from the show — he’ll leave you in a state of wonder and disbelief,” Barrett said.

Hughes will also be leading magic classes, including card tricks, for students and adults while in Norfolk. More details on the dates and times for those classes will be available in the coming weeks.

festival plans ‘red carpet night’

April 6, 2015
April 6, 2015

Looking for a taste of Hollywood? The Thursday, June 18, performance of the Great American Comedy Festival may be for you.​

Prior to the 7 p.m. festival show in the Johnny Carson Theatre, the grounds of Norfolk High school will take on the appearance of a red-carpet event — literally.

From 5:30 to 7:00 p.m., local personalities will host the premiere, welcoming and interviewing those attending as they make their way to the theater. Car doors will be opened for guests as they arrive and paparazzi will be on hand taking photos — all to add to the glamour of the evening.

The first 100 people who arrive with tickets to the Thursday show and post a red-carpet selfie to the comedy festival’s Facebook page or Twitter account will be entered into a drawing for two free tickets to the Saturday festival show and an invitation to a post-show party to meet the comedians.

Louie Anderson to return for 2015 Festival

April 6, 2015
April 6, 2015

He liked Norfolk so much the first time that he’s decided to come back.

Comedian, author and actor Louie Anderson — who was a featured performer at the 2011 Great American Comedy in Norfolk — will be making a return trip this summer for the 2015 festival.

“He was so funny and great to have with us back in 2011. We’re very excited to have him again be part of the festival,” said Paula Pflueger, chairwoman of the 2015 event set for Wednesday, June 17, through Sunday, June 20.

Anderson will be the headliner for the festival performances at the Johnny Carson Theatre on Thursday, June 18, and Friday, June 19. Tickets for all the festival performances now are available.

Hosting the June 18 and 19 shows will be Brian Kiley, the winner of the 2014 professional stand-up competition at the festival.

Kiley, who, in addition to performing, also serves as a writer for Conan O’Brien, topped the field of 20 comedians last June. He also performed in Norfolk in December to open for Bill Engvall.

Comedian Brian Regan was previously announced as the headliner for the Saturday, June 20, festival performance.

Anderson has been described as one of the most versatile and successful comedians working in Hollywood today.

His big break came in 1984 with his debut performance for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

“Every comic, especially from my era and before needed to be on Johnny Carson to be relevant. That’s the HBO. That’s the Comedy Central. That’s the YouTube of that time. Johnny was it,” Anderson said during his first appearance in Norfolk.

He went on to perform at standing-room-only crowds in Las Vegas, hosted for several years the “Family Feud” television series and is the author of several best-selling children’s books.

In 1995, Anderson put his creative energies to work on the Saturday morning animated series “Life with Louie.” The long-running series based on his own childhood and his life with his father won three Humanitas Prizes for writing on a children’s’ animated series, making him the only three-time recipient of this award.

Anderson said his comedy routine these days reminds him of his roots when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” that first time.

“I have a chance to cheer people up and have them forget about their troubles,” he said. “In this current world, that’s a great honor and a blessing.”

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Want to learn more?

For more information about the festival, go to Tickets for festival performances will be available for purchase online at the website or at Insurance Associates in Norfolk as of the afternoon of Monday, April 6.

Brian Regan to headline 2015 Great American Comedy Festival

March 24, 2015
March 24, 2015

One of the best and most respected comics performing today will be coming to Norfolk in June to headline the 2015 Great American Comedy Festival.

Brian Regan

Brian Regan

“Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock look up to him as a hero,” said Eddie Brill, the festival’s artistic director.

One of the ways Regan has made his mark has been by blazing a trail of laughter without the need to be shocking to get a laugh. One reviewer wrote, “What’s interesting is that most people won’t even realize this until the end of the show when they think, ‘Wait a minute. There isn’t one joke of his that I couldn’t tell my boss or my kids.’ ”

Paula Pflueger, festival chairwoman, said festival organizers are thrilled that Regan will be performing for a Norfolk audience. “People are going to love him,” she said.

This year’s festival is set for Wednesday, June 17, through Saturday, June 20.

In its eighth 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.

Brian Regan

Brian Regan

The Saturday finale also will feature the presentation of the annual Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award.

Growing up, Regan said his comedy influences were Johnny Carson, Steve Martin and the Smothers Brothers. Regan – whose older brother, Dennis, was part of the 2013 Great American Comedy Festival, finishing second in the professional stand-up competition – made his first appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in 1995 and has performed on the show about 30 times.

He has released two critically acclaimed comedy DVDs and set a record for five sold-out shows at a performance hall in Salt Lake City, Utah, eclipsing the previous record of four straight sold-out shows by Jerry Seinfeld. He typically tours and performs in theaters in 80 cities each year.

He’s best known for turning mundane situations – like going to the eye doctor to get fitted for glasses, or trying to decide how many Fig Newtons to eat in one setting – into side-splitting stand-up material.

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Want to learn more?

For more information about the 2015 festival, go to Tickets are expected to be available for purchase online as of Monday, April 6.

Norfolk’s comedy festival is ‘home of the good laugh’

March 24, 2015
March 24, 2015

Organizers of the Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk, Neb., were looking for a new way to describe the annual event that pays tribute to the legacy of Norfolk native Johnny Carson.

They found it via a team of eight talented and creative advertising and public relations students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Thanks to the students’ ideas, the festival now is now to be known as the “home of the good laugh.”

Festival organizers worked last year with Prof. Stacy James at UNL in having one of her senior-level classes work with the festival to develop an integrated marketing communications plan for the festival. They did research on other festivals, conducted a survey of festival attendees, created advertising ideas for print, radio and digital, studied social media possibilities and more.

The end result was a comprehensive package of marketing and public relations ideas and strategies for festival organizers to consider – including creating the theme of “The Good Laugh” that plays off Nebraska’s theme of “The Good Life.”

“We couldn’t be happier with what Stacy and the students came up,” said Lori Williams, the festival’s executive director. “We’ll be making extensive use of their ideas for the 2015 festival and in years to come.”

Iconic candy brand Chuckles adds a sweet touch to Festival

March 24, 2015
March 24, 2015

Chuckles named the official candy of the comedy festival created in honor of Johnny Carson.

You can’t have a comedy festival without comedians. Or laughter. Or funny material.


Chuckles Candy

Organizers of the 2015 Great American Comedy Festival – which is based in Johnny Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Neb. – say they think a comedy festival needs an official candy, too.

Especially when it has a name like Chuckles.

“We think it’s going to be great fun to pair up the Great American Comedy Festival with Chuckles candy,” said Kent Warneke, founder and past chairman of the festival. “It seems like a natural.”

Chuckles is produced by the Ferrara Candy Co., of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. First arriving on the sweet scene in 1921, Chuckles has been making kids (and more than a few parents!) happy for nearly a century. With five flavors in each pack, Chuckles puts a smile on the face of a wide range of tried-and-true fans with its multi-flavored sugar-coated jelly rectangles.

“We are thrilled to be participating as the official candy for the Great American Comedy Festival,” said Dawn Sykora, marketing director of Iconic Brands for Ferrara Candy Co. “We can’t think of a better fit for the Chuckles brand and are honored to help celebrate comedy and this long-loved brand together in honor of the legendary Johnny Carson.”

Warneke approached Ferrara this past fall about being a new part of the Great American Comedy Festival in 2015. It is set for Wednesday, June 17, through Saturday, June 20, in Norfolk, primarily at the Johnny Carson Theatre.

The festival annually features 20 up-and-coming professional comedians who compete for the festival’s top prize. The Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award is also annually presented.

New comedy Showcase shows set for February

December 14, 2014
December 14, 2014

The Comedy Showcase is set for Thursday, Feb 5 in West Point at the West Point Community Theatre and Saturday, Feb 7 in Norfolk  at Divots Conference Center.

Show time is 7:30 pm for both shows.  Tickets are $20 + fee.

Tickets go on sale the week of December 15.

Check back for more information and to purchase tickets.




Steinberg honored with Legend award; Los Angeles wins stand-up competition

June 16, 2014
June 16, 2014

The seventh annual Great American Comedy Festival’s final performance Saturday night began as it should — with a video tribute to Johnny Carson.

After all, the festival was created to pay tribute to the legacy of Carson, who grew up in Norfolk and went on to host NBC’s “The Tonight Show” for 30 years.

That’s why the rainbow-colored lights created stripes on the Johnny Carson Theatre’s normally red curtain — just like the multi-colored curtain on “The Tonight Show” when Carson hosted it. Several large photographs of Carson lined the stage, and the set of the show was re-created on the theater stage.

Memories of Carson were a frequent theme throughout the 2½ hour performance that attracted a crowd of more than 1,000 despite the evening’s threatening weather.

David Steinberg, for example, entertained the audience with stories of his association with Carson.

“My career, to me, was the ‘Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,’ ” Steinberg said. “Once you made Johnny laugh, it was everything.”

But the recipient of this year’s Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award made more than Carson laugh in his career — entertaining audiences as a stand-up comedian, writer, actor and, more recently, an acclaimed director and producer.

He made 140 appearances on “The Tonight Show,” which is second only to Bob Hope, and also was the youngest person to serve as a guest host on the show.

When he came on the stage and again as he exited it, he was honored with a standing ovation. In between, he was interviewed by Eddie Brill, the festival’s artistic director. Steinberg’s award was presented by Dirk Petersen, general manager of Nucor Steel, the festival’s presenting sponsor.

Brian KileyAnother highlight of the evening was the finals of the festival’s stand-up competition. Eight comedians advanced from shows earlier in the week to compete for the top prize that was won by Brian Kiley of Las Angeles, who is a writer for the Conan O’Brien late-night show.

“I’m just blown away that I won because this was such an impressive group of comedians,” Kiley said.

While on stage, Kiley’s routine involved jokes about his baldness, his wife and the pool boy for a pool he doesn’t have.

Joe Zimmerman of New York City, who tied for third with Mark Pitta of San Francisco, said he was excited to see Kiley win.

“It was a great show and a lot of fun,” Zimmerman said. “I felt good about my routine when I left the stage.”

Michael Somerville of New York City finished second.

Earlier Saturday, the festival hosted the finals of an amateur stand-up competition, which was won by Kris Covi, an attorney from Omaha.

The evening show was topped off by a final stand-up performance from Jim Breuer, who first came to fame as a member of the cast of “Saturday Night Live.”

Breuer said he enjoyed being part of the festival and that it was a great way to honor Carson.

“I watch Johnny Carson reruns almost every night with my parents,” he said. “This festival was awesome, and I would love to come back if they ask me to.”

Robot not coming

June 12, 2014
June 12, 2014
“Sartran” may be a $6 million robot, but that evidently doesn’t mean it’s indestructible.
The comicbot that was scheduled to be part of the children’s festival Saturday in downtown Norfolk will not be making its two scheduled appearances.
Ron Davis, the owner of the robot, had sent the robot in for repairs and upgrades earlier this spring, with the assurance that it would be completed in time for Saturday’s Norfolk appearance. But earlier this week, he found out that the work that needed to be done was more extensive than originally thought, making it impossible for him to keep the Norfolk commitment.
The children’s festival, however, is still a go for Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a variety of activities planned for children ages 11 and under.