Health » Fitness

Lily Tomlin Headlines at Gilda’s Laughfest

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Tuesday Mar 4, 2014

The nation's first-ever community-wide festival of laughter, Gilda's LaughFest, has announced its line-up of talent and shows for the festival's fourth year to be held March 6-16 in Michigan. The headliners announced include Lily Tomlin, making a special appearance in partnership with Broadway Grand Rapids. Also appearing are Chris Tucker and LaughFest veterans, Mike Birbiglia, Jim Gaffigan and Sinbad.

"As we enter our fourth year, we are thrilled to continue building upon such a great community festival," said Joanne Roehm, festival director of LaughFest. "The first three years have given us a solid foundation and we're continuing this tradition of laughter by featuring stand-up comedy, improv, music, dance, speakers, pets, children's shows, free professional and amateur showcases, and a variety of other acts to give everyone the opportunity to laugh together."

This year's signature event will feature Emmy Award-winning comedian, longtime TV personality and late-night talk show host Jay Leno. Several other acts were also announced for LaughFest, along with a "$50,000 Challenge" by five local companies to raise funds for the High Five campaign, which benefits Gilda's Club Grand Rapids Children's cancer, grief and in school emotional health programs.

In addition to the headliners, other acts coming to LaughFest 2014 include Netflix's "Arrested Development" actress, Maria Bamford, YouTube sensation Miranda Sings with special guest Colleen Ballinger, comedy trio Todd Barry, Rory Scovel and Nick Thune, and stars of TruTV's "Impractical Jokers," The Tenderloins, made up of Sal Vulcano, Joe Gatto, James Murray and Brian Quinn.

Other events include the Gun Lake Casino Presents National Stand-Up Comedy Showcase, the Best of the Midwest Competition, and Bissell Presents the Clean Comedy Showcase, with eight comedians who specialize in bringing serious laughs without vulgarity.

The Family Friendly Series, presented by Meijer, includes performances for kids and teens, the Seriously Funny Family Adventure Challenge, and People and Pets, celebrating how funny our furry (or not so furry) friends can be.

The Bud Light Presents Blue & Late Night Comedy Series features two great performers, "30 Rock’s" Judah Friedlander, and author and Chelsea Lately writer and round table guest, Jen Kirkman. LaughFest’s Best will feature late night shows with a sampling of comedians from across the festival, and local comedy troupe River City Improv will do skits.

Blackout Diaries is an interactive show featuring standup comedians and regular people telling true drinking stories, the hosts of MTV’s hit reality comedy series, Guy Code, will focus in on the different codes that exist between girls and guys, and FUNderwear 5K encourages racers to wear their finest underwear over their running clothes to create a hilarious and one of a kind moment.

As a way to raise funds specifically to support programs at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, five community sponsors have come forward to match funds raised through the "High Five" campaign. This year the campaign aims to raise $100,000 for children living with cancer or grief, and for in-school emotional health programs.

"Last year we saw phenomenal success with our ’High Five’ campaign," said Wendy Wigger, president of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids and LaughFest. "This year a stellar group of local companies has generously given us another matching grant for this campaign. Our goal is to secure $50,000 worth of five-dollar gifts from the community and then these companies will match each gift, up to $50,000 worth of matching funds. The money generated from this campaign will directly benefit our children’s programs."
LaughFest 2014 will include 200 plus free and ticketed shows that feature over 60 artists at 40-plus venues in Grand Rapids, Lowell, and Holland during the 10 days of the festival.

And in an effort to set a Guiness World Record, they will kick off the festival by inviting guests to wear sunglasses in the dark, with the hope of beating the current record for largest number of people wearing sunglasses in the dark, made in July 2012 by 1,642 participants at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ill.

"This year’s festival kickoff with our attempt to break another World Record is going to be seriously fun. This free event will help set the stage for 10-days of laughter for the health of it," said Wigger. "And what better way to shun the winter blues than with the optimistic donning of bright yellow sunglasses!"

Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids provides free emotional healthcare to children adults, families and friends on any kind of cancer journey or those grieving the death of someone in their life due to any cause. The comprehensive program, delivered by licensed healthcare professionals includes education, structured sharing times, networking, lectures, workshops and social activities.

Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids is one of the largest and busiest of the 52 affiliates in North America. The organization runs entirely on charitable donations and currently serves more than 10,000 individuals each year at its clubhouses in Grand Rapids and Lowell, Mich., in various schools and in five community centers.

Gilda’s LaughFest was created by a team at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids in 2011. Since inception, LaughFest has averaged 55,000 attendees per year. Proceeds from the festival will go to support the free cancer, grief and emotional health programs offered through Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

For information or tickets, call 616-735-HAHA (4242) or visit or

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.