Next month’s Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk promises to be four days of laughter and fun, especially since it’s the festival’s 10th year and 25 years since Johnny Carson stepped down as host of “The Tonight Show.”
“We’re introducing some new elements to the festival, and a slightly different schedule to really make this year’s event something special,” said Mark Zimmerer, festival chairman.The festival — slated to run Wednesday, June 14, through Saturday, June 17 — will again feature evening performances at the Johnny Carson Theatre, but lots more, too, he said.
Here’s a rundown of all that’s planned:
— Throughout the four-day festival
The Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk will be the home to a new traveling exhibit titled “Here’s Johnny: The Making of ‘The Tonight Show.’ ” Created by Jeff Sotzing, Carson’s nephew, the exhibit features previously unseen artifacts from the late-night talk show. During the comedy festival, the museum will offer reduced admission.
— Wednesday, June 14
The festival has collaborated with the CEC-Norfolk 7 Theater to arrange for a free showing of the 1982 NBC primetime special “Johnny Goes Home” that was filmed in Norfolk.
The event is set for 7 p.m. and the free admission will be on a first come, first served basis.
In addition, the evening also will feature a new documentary commissioned by the festival that takes a look back at the making of that 1982 TV special and include interview with some of the Norfolkans involved in the production process.
— Thursday, June 15
The festival’s annual Comedy-Magic Show for the entire family moves to Thursday night this year at the Johnny Carson Theatre and will begin at 7 p.m. Scheduled to perform are illusionists Kalin and Jinger, master juggler Marcus Monroe and mentalists Jeff and Tessa Evason.
— Friday, June 16
The evening’s 7:30 p.m. Best of the Fest performance at the Johnny Carson Theatre will feature eight of the nine past winners of the festival’s professional stand-up competition — Deacon Gray, Kermet Apio, Ryan Hamilton, Pete Lee, Phil Palisoul, Brian Kiley, Brad Wenzel and Mark Normand. The evening will be hosted by Wendy Liebman, a past festival headliner.
Friday evening also will feature the popular Late-Night Show at Divots starting at 10:30 p.m. Scheduled to perform will be many of the comedians who are part of this year’s festival lineup.
— Saturday, June 17
The annual Laugh and a Half Marathon will take place beginning at 7 a.m. along the Cowboy Trail for those interested in participating in a half-marathon, 10k, 5k or children’s fun run.
On Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Johnny Carson Theatre will be the site for a “Tonight Show” Writers’ Panel moderated by Nebraska native and festival alum Dick Cavett. On hand for the event will be Mike Reiss, Andrew Nicholls and Darrell Vickers, all of whom were on the writing staff of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Also participating will be David Steven Simon, co-creator of the new “There’s … Johnny!” television series set to debut this fall. The event is free and open to the public.
Wrapping up the festival will be the annual Gala at 7:30 p.m. featuring comedian Martin Short as the headlining performer and the presentation of the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend Award to Robert Klein, who was the festival’s headliner during its first year in 2008. Also scheduled to perform will be festival alums Larry Miller, Caroline Rhea, Mike E. Winfield and Dennis Regan. Excerpts from the new “There’s … Johnny!” television series also will be shown.
“Come to as many of the events and performances as you can,” Zimmerer said. “There’s nothing else quite like this in the entire Midwest this summer.”