When the stage lights go up Thursday evening for the first performance of the 2019 Great American Comedy Festival, it will culminate many months of work by the festival board of directors and planning committee.
“Everyone on every sub-committee has a vital role to play," said Lisa Wattier, the festival’s executive director. "It truly does take a village to put this thing together every year."
The comedy magic show kicks off the 12th annual festival Thursday and will be followed by the comedy showcase Friday with Dave Coulier as headliner. Paul Reiser headlines Saturday's festival gala. Shows are at 7 p.m. at the Johnny Carson Theatre, except for the Cable ONE late night show Friday at 10:30 at Divots.
The festival is presented by Nucor Steel Nebraska, Nucor Cold Finish Nebraska, Nucor Detailing Center, and Vulcraft Nebraska. The festival is also made possible with the support of the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment.
The festival’s board board and committee members begin their work in August. After board members are elected, the next step is forming the planning committee of about 25 members, including board members.
Then comes the formation of subcommittees that focus on areas such as budget, marketing and social media, fundraising, booking, printing, ticketing, travel, lodging, host families, legal, production, late night show, theatre green room, talent entertainment, and lobby.
The booking sub-committee immediately goes to work, for example, investigating possible magicians or comedians for the next festival.
Wattier said the festival costs many tens of thousands of dollars to produce every year and the success of the fundraising sub-committee determines the caliber of entertainment at the next festival.
"Our festival sponsors are very generous," she said. "We couldn't do this without them. We rarely are turned down in our request for financial support from past sponsors."
Comedians from past festivals have been treated to a picnic/hayrack ride at the Bruce and Connie Zimmerman farm near Battle Creek, tour of the Johnny Carson exhibit at the Elkhorn Valley Museum, tour and picnic at the Johnny Carson home, participate in a photo op at the Johnny Carson mural in downtown Norfolk, and a Runza feed.
“The life of a comedian is really a fairly isolated life," Wattier said. "They travel from one city to another, usually alone, to perform. They spend time alone in their hotel rooms, take a taxi or Uber alone to their gig site, then perhaps eat or have a beverage alone after their show.”
So, a goal of the festival is to provide something different for the comedians.
“We try to fill their hours here with fun," Wattier said. "That is why so many want to return.
All the different faces of the festival require the volunteer work of many people, Wattier said.
"The work gets done every year. And the vast majority of our board of directors and planning committee members are ready to do it all over again next year after the festival ends and a brief hiatus,” she said.
"The audience enjoyment is also a great incentive to do it again," she said. "We love to hear that laughter and know we have done our job when we hear it."
She also noted that that the response of the magicians and comedians about their Norfolk experience is another great incentive. "They are all so appreciative of their great experience in Norfolk," Wattier said.
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Want to learn more?
For tickets and information, visit www.greatamericancomedyfestival.com. Tickets will also be available at the door.