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Inaugural comedy festival a success

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Posted: Monday, June 23, 2008 12:00 am

Traditional story formats work fine for, well, traditional news stories.

But a story designed to wrap up the inaugural Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk? Traditional doesn't seem to cut it.

So permit me, if you will, to share a monologue instead.

Not one that's necessarily funny, mind you, but one that focuses on the highlights of the past week from my perspective, as festival chairman.

As much as anything else, the festival was a success because of how well the visiting comedians and entertainers were treated. And not just by the host families and other volunteers (although they did a tremendous job) but by everyone the guests encountered.

"I can't believe how nice you all are," said Deacon Gray, the Denver comedian who won the stand-up competition.

Gray and his fellow comedians said they want to come back to Norfolk next year - so they can continue to make jokes about having only one taxi in all of Norfolk and, of course, to ponder why Norfolkans don't agree on how to pronounce the name of their own community.

The graciousness of local and area residents also became evident early last week when the festival's board of directors learned that the production crew from St. Louis politely but firmly insisted that a camera needed to be placed smack in the middle of the main section of seats at the Johnny Carson Theatre - seats that already had been sold.

But when the affected ticket holders were contacted and learned of the situation, they were willing to move to different seats to allow for the best possible filming of the festival's performances.

I and other members of the festival's board of directors spent a lot of time in recent weeks focusing on ticket sales and the need to generate sufficient revenue to make this year's festival a break-even proposition.

To that end, the support in the final days leading up to the festival offered by Nucor Steel and Vulcraft, Affiliated Foods Midwest and Faith Regional Health Services to buy large quantities of tickets for their employees was tremendously appreciated.

But board members quickly discovered something even more important than dollar figures and ticket totals - whether audience members were enjoying themselves.

That they did.

"That was so much fun." "That was better than I had expected." "Those guys are good." "We're going to come back tomorrow night because it was so enjoyable."

Those were the kinds of comments heard frequently from audience members - and they're what especially made the time spent planning the festival all worth it.

Speaking of time, I can't even begin to estimate how much of it it was spent by festival board members and the staff of the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce. They all gave of their time and talents because they simply wanted to help Norfolk create a new community festival tradition that would honor the legacy of Johnny Carson.

Lora Young, Sheryl Schmeckpeper, Sarah Pinkelman, Jim Curry, Brian Masters, Chris Rempe, Earl Mitchell, Linda Libengood, Dennis W. Collins, Michael Brogan, John Stinson, Denny Reeves, Donna Herrick, Anne Ausdemore, LuAnn Schindler, Ivan VanDyke, Kay Tibbels, Ruthie Galitz and Tammy Wright - they're the heroes of this thing.

Just an extra word or two about Lora Young.

Back when the first organizational meetings were being planned, I remember thinking to myself, "I don't think we're going to be able to pull this off the way we want to without paying someone to lead us through it."

Enter Lora Young. As director of the Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, she willingly and enthusiastically assumed that role as part of her job. The festival received the benefit of, in effect, a paid staff member without having to pay her anything. It wouldn't have happened without her involvement and leadership.

So that's the end of my monologue. It's already too long. And, as mentioned previously, it wasn't funny.

But I think - I hope - it was worth reading.

© 2015 The Norfolk Daily News . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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