Join us June 15-18, 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.

Nebraska-based festival seeking young magicians

February 24, 2016
February 24, 2016

Calling all young, aspiring magicians: A Nebraska-based comedy and magic festival has an opportunity that may be too magical to believe.

A select number of magicians ages 10 to 18 will be chosen to take part in the “Magic & More” portion of the ninth annual Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk in June. The festival pays tribute to the legacy of Johnny Carson, who grew up in Norfolk. In addition to being the host of “The Tonight Show” for 30 years, Carson got his start as a magician and continued his interest in magic throughout his life.

The 2016 festival kicks off Wednesday, June 15, with the “Magic & More” performance featuring Derek Hughes, a 2015 finalist on “America’s Got Talent” and the host of last year’s “Magic & More” show in Norfolk. Also performing in Norfolk will be Chipper Lowell, a master of magic, juggling, comedy, illusions and circus tricks, as well as Les Arnold & Dazzle, who combine humor and dance with strong magic tricks.

Derek Hughes

Prior to the performance, the young magicians will be given the opportunity to perform their favorite trick for those attending the festival. They’ll have the chance to meet the professional magicians and get some pointers from Hughes. Also on hand will be Richard Barrett, manager of the famed Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, Calif.

“For young people interested in magic, this will be a fantastic opportunity to perform their favorite trick and get some feedback from professionals,” said Susan Warneke, who is coordinating the youth involvement for the festival.

For those interested in auditioning to participate, here’s what they need to do:

 Shoot a video performing their best trick and either upload it to YouTube or copy it

 Provide your name, mailing address, phone number and email address to the festival along with either the DVD or the YouTube link. The information can be mailed to Susan Warneke, Great American Comedy Festival, Box 2435, Norfolk, NE 68702.

 All submissions must be received by April 15, 2016.

 Festival representatives will review the submissions and select 3-5 magicians to be guest performers at the festival on Wednesday, June 18. They’ll be provided tickets to the festival performance and be given the opportunity to meet with the professional magicians.

 For more information, young magicians (or their parents) can contact Warneke at or 402-860-2500.

“The festival’s magic show is one of the highlights each summer. This year, instead of offering magic classes for young people, we decided to give them a chance to actually be part of the festival,” Warneke said. “It should be a great opportunity for all those involved.”

About the Great American Comedy Festival 

The “Magic & More” performance set for Wednesday, June 15, kicks off the 2016 Great American Comedy Festival, and there’s plenty more to come.

The festival features 20 up-and-coming comedians from across the United States who will compete for the festival’s top prize. They’ll be joined by headliners Tom Cotter and Rocky LaPorte, whose stand-up comedy qualified them as finalists on “America’s Got Talent” and “Last Comic Standing,” respectively.

The Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award also will be presented during the 2016 festival.

The festival will take place Wednesday, June 15, through Saturday, June 18, primarily at the Johnny Carson Theatre in Norfolk.

For more information about the festival, go to or contact Lori Williams, the festival’s executive director at 402-750-3516.

‘Magic & More’ Show promises to entertain and astound

February 24, 2016
February 24, 2016

‘Magic & More’ show promises to entertain and astound

This year’s comedy-magic show at the 2016 Great Amerian Comedy Festival promises to entertain and astound, hearkening back to the days of variety shows. The festival kicks off Wednesday, June 15, with its annual “Magic & More” show as a tribute to Johnny Carson’s lifelong interest in magic.

Richard Barrett, manager of the famed Comedy and Magic Club in Los Angeles, again selected the lineup of performers for this year’s show. “I’m really excited about the show this year,” he said. “Norfolk and the surrounding community have been so great to me and this show. I’ve really tried to book acts that are appropriate for kids but still appealing to adults. And I’ve think we’ve done that again. If you’ve enjoyed the shows in the past, you’re going to have a blast at this one.”

Scheduled to perform are Chipper Lowell, Les Arnold & Dazzle, and a return visit from Derek Hughes.

Derek Hughes

Hughes, who also will serve as the show’s host, has had quite the year after hosting the “Magic & More” show in Norfolk last summer. He spent much of the summer appearing on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” where he advanced all the way to the finals. That led to him touring across the country, headlining at sold-out comedy clubs, theaters and colleges. He has spent the first few months of 2016 working alongside Michael Carbonaro to create bewildering effects for the upcoming season of the hit TruTV show, “The Carbonaro Effect.”

Barrett said, “It’s pretty cool to see the rest of the country realize what we’ve known for years: Derek is one of the brightest minds, quickest wits and most mind-blowing magicians in the world.”

5aabcf00-900c-484d-9dda-a00eb32c6e5a 6ef6c813-32e0-4d6d-bd3f-fbd192c179b5

Les Arnold & Dazzle are universally respected and admired in the magic community, Barrett said. “They combine humor and dance with some very strong magic tricks. The act is fun, upbeat, playful and timeless,” he said. What appears to be the typical magician with an assistant are actually two superior entertainers equally skilled at delighting audiences, he said.

Chipper Lowell is a master of many skills – magic, juggling, comedy, illusions and circus tricks.  “He’s as funny as a headlining comedian while he’s performing world-class magic and juggling dangerous items. Chipper’s energetic and engaging persona whips the crowd into a frenzy each time,” Barrett said. “He’s delightful and astounding at the same time.”

Continuing the festival’s tradition of engaging young people in the art of magic, the festival is inviting aspiring magicians ages 10-18 to audition for the chance to perform their best trick to those attending the “Magic & More” show and meet with the professional magicians.

The Great American Comedy Festival will present its ninth year in June, with performances from Wednesday, June 15, through Saturday, June 18. Headlining the festival shows will be comedians Tom Cotter and Rocky LaPorte. The Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award also will be presented.

For more information on the festival, go to or contact Lori Williams, the festival’s executive director, at 402-750-3516. For more information on how young magicians can audition to be part of this year’s festival, contact Susan Warneke at

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:

Magic classes, Red Carpet Premiere, ‘Tonight Show’ clips and more!

May 29, 2015
May 29, 2015

There’s going to be plenty of magic taking place in conjunction with this summer’s Great  American Comedy Festival. And a different kind, too.

Sponsored by Nucor Steel, the comedy festival will again be offering magic and card  trick classes on its opening day — Wednesday, June 17 — and again on Friday, June 19. Taught by Derek Hughes, the professional magician who will host the Wednesday  evening “Magic & More” performance at the Johnny Carson Theatre, there are three classes  planned. On Wednesday, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., a “grab bag of magic” class for ages 9­13 will take  place at the Elkhorn Valley Museum auditorium in Norfolk. From 3 to 4:30 p.m., a “card tricks  with Derek” class for ages 14 and up will be held at the same location.

All magic class materials will be provided for those registering to take home with them.  The registration cost is $25 and there is a limit of 20 participants in each class.

Then on Friday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, an “Up  Close with Derek Hughes” class will be offered for adults 21 and older. It will focus on “up  close” magic and card tricks. The cost to register for that class also is $25. To register, go to For more information, contact  Susan Warneke at 860­2500.

While those classes will feature actual magic, other parts of the festival will feature  events that will be magical, or special, in their own way.

Thursday: Red Carpet Premiere The festival will, literally, “roll out the red carpet” on Thursday, June 18, from 5:30 p.m.  to 7 p.m. in front of the Johnny Carson Theatre prior to that evening’s performance. Designed to have the feel of a Hollywood red­carpet event, all of the comedians and  talent participating in the festival, as well as local and area dignitaries, have been invited to  participate. They’ll be dropped off by limousines and town cars in front of the theater where local  media personalities will be on hand to interview them, take photos and broadcast live. Paige Pflueger, Miss Nebraska Teen USA, and radio personality Austen Hagood will host  the event and interview guests as they arrive. In case of inclement weather, the activities will take place inside the theater lobby. Members of Norfolk High School’s Panther Posse will be on hand to assist the public with taking and posting “selfies” to the festival’s social media outlets for a chance to win festival tickets to the Saturday, June 20, performance featuring Brian Regan, as well as the festival’s  private post­show gathering.

Friday: Johnny Under the Stars For those seeking to laugh along with Johnny Carson, the festival and the Norfolk Arts  Center is planning a free “Johnny Under the Stars” outdoor showing of video highlights from  “The Tonight Show” on Friday, June 19. The event will take place in the arts center’s outdoor garden and begin at 10 p.m. after the  festival performance at the nearby Johnny Carson Theatre concludes. In case of inclement  weather, the showing will take place inside the arts center. Saturday: Mingle with the comedians Following the Saturday, June 20, festival performance at the Johnny Carson Theatre,  Divots in Norfolk will host a post­show gathering starting at 9 p.m. Many of the comedians who performed at the festival are expected to attend, giving  Norfolk and area residents a chance to visit with them and relive that evening’s show.

Kevin Pollak to receive the 2015 Johnny Carson Comedy Legend Award

April 28, 2015
April 28, 2015


Kevin Pollack

Comedian, actor, impressionist and filmmaker Kevin Pollak will be this year’s recipient of the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award — and Eddie Brill couldn’t be more pleased. “Not only does he have his hands in so many creative pies … he does them all well,” said Brill, the creative director of the Great American Comedy Festival. “His resume is chock full of amazing accomplishments, and he was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite guests.”

Pollak will be on hand to receive the award during the Saturday, June 20, finale of this summer’s Great American Comedy Festival, presented by Nucor Steel. He’ll interrupt his work on a new movie to make the trip to Norfolk for the eighth annual festival that began in 2008 to pay tribute to Carson.

“We are extremely excited to have him in Norfolk,” Brill said. Pollak joins an impressive list of previous comedy legend award winners, including David Steinberg, Stephen Wright, Ed Asner and Cloris Leachman. It is one of only two awards in existence today that bear the Carson name.

Pollak has captured the attention of audiences worldwide with his range of both dramatic and comedic roles. He has appeared in more than 70 films, as well as countless television projects, and has established himself as one of the few stand-up comedians to have a successful dramatic film career. In addition to his acting talents, he has also proven himself as both a writer, producer and, more recently, a director and a talk show host. Pollak first started performing stand-up comedy at the age of 10. He became a touring professional stand-up at age 20. In 1988, he was featured in his first HBO stand-up special.

Kevin Pollack 2

It was Pollak’s role in Rob Reiner’s “A Few Good Men” that proved his ability to stand out while sharing the big screen with dramatic heavyweights Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson. Soon after, he was co-starring with icons Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in “Grumpy Old Men” and its sequel, “Grumpier Old Men.” In 1994, he had a major role in “The Usual Suspects,” which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and won two Academy Awards. In more recent years, while continuing to co-star in more than 45 films since 2000, he has returned to stand-up comedy. He hosts his own Internet talk show — called Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show — and does a comedy podcast called Talkin Walkin, which features him speaking only in the voice of actor Christopher Walken.

Pollak starred in two of his own HBO stand-up comedy specials and was named by Comedy Central as one of the Top 100 comedians of all time. “Having Kevin in Norfolk to be part of the Great American Comedy Festival will be a true honor,” said Paula Pflueger, chairwoman of this year’s festival. “Along with Brian Regan,Louie Anderson and all the other entertainers, it’s going to be a fantastic festival.”


Want to learn more? For more information or to buy tickets, go to Tickets can also be purchased locally at Insurance Associates in Norfolk.

* * *

The ‘Funny Twenty’ to perform at Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk

April 15, 2015
April 15, 2015

John Fugelsang co-hosted “America’s Funniest Home Videos” for two years and has acted on numerous television shows, including “CSI.” As a comedian, he’s made more than 20 appearances on HBO’s “Politically Incorrect” and has performed the U.S. Comedy Festival in Aspen and the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal.

And where’s he going to be this June? In Norfolk for the 2015 Great American Comedy Festival presented by Nucor Steel. Fugelsang is one of the 20 stand-up comedians invited to take part in the eighth-annual festival set for Wednesday, June 17, through Saturday, June 20.

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, said Eddie Brill, the festival’s artistic director. 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 20 comedians to perform in Norfolk at the Johnny Carson Theatre, Brill said. This year, Brill said, was, once again, extremely challenging to narrow the list of invitees to 20. He conducted auditions in cities across the nation and reviewed video clips submitted by hundreds more wanting to be part of the Norfolk event.

In the end, he selected a group that he simply describes as “the funny 20.”

In addition to Fugelsang, here are the other 19 comedians who will be part of the festival:  Rob Haze, Costaki Economopoulos, Ryan Donahue, Jim McCue, Negin Farsad, Jim Short, Lary Reeb, Ryan Noack, Ed Driscoll, “Tony V”, Keith Lowell Jensen, Tony Deyo, Emma Arnold, Sarah Tiana, Ben Gleib, Jackie Kashian, Brad Wenzel, Andy Sandford and Maggie Maye.

Ten will take to the stage of the Johnny Carson Theatre on Thursday, June 18, and the other 10 on Friday, June 19. The top four from each night — as selected by a panel of comedy professional judges — will advance to the finals of the festival’s stand-up competition on Saturday, June 14.

Comedian Louie Anderson will serve as the headliner for the Thursday and Friday performances. Brian Kiley of Los Angeles — who won the professional stand-up competition at last year’s festival — will be the host for both evenings.

Want to learn more?

For more information or to purchase tickets, go to or locally at Insurance Associates, 1900 W. Pasewalk Avenue