Laughter is really the best medicine. Laughter is good for both your physical and mental health. Even in the darkest of times, finding something to laugh at or a friend to laugh with can ease the deepest pain.
No one knows this better than Wendy Wigger, president of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. Gilda’s Club is a local nonprofit offering emotional support to those diagnosed with cancer or going through a grief journey of any type. The organization puts on the annual LaughFest event each year in West Michigan.
“When you bring people together in laughter you are creating a community of support, much as you do when you create a community for the emotional tough stuff in our life,” Wigger said.
“Gilda Radner, our namesake, talks in her book, ‘It’s Always Something,’ about having lost her funny when going through this chapter of cancer in her life, and when she was able to connect to others is when she could find her smile and laughter back.”
At the heart of LaughFest is the concept of building a community of support.
Wigger said when the “festival of laughter” was first created eight years ago; it had several goals, one of which was to “increase the dialogue around the importance of emotional health.”
“When it comes to cancer or grief, or any other significant event in one’s life, we know there are many factors impacted. And when it comes to cancer, we have some of the best medical care in the world in our own backyard, but it’s not just the physical, it’s also the emotional impact when significant things in our life happen.
“I often call it the glue that keeps us together when everything else feels like it is falling apart. We wanted to raise the understanding of the importance of emotional health.”
One thing the group sitting around the table conceptualizing what LaughFest could be hit upon that really struck a chord and helped the group define the type of event it wanted to create was that “not everyone laughs at the same things, but everyone laughs.”
“That is what launched the direction –all things that bring laughter and community into our lives,” Wigger said. “It’s not just about the comedy, but also about the health benefits of laughter that launched the festival in a direction of wanting to include all things seriously fun and funny that bring a smile or laughter into people’s lives.”
She noted LaughFest is more than a comedy festival. It’s filled with fun activities like the Funderwear Run, Pajama Jam, the Seriously Funny Family Adventure Challenge and more. The festival really runs the gamut in terms of events that elicit laughter.
“Whether it’s some of the incredible comedic talent we have coming in or families participating in the Seriously Funny Adventure Challenge or the Kids Rock Hip-Hop, it’s an opportunity for people to connect with one another and share the health benefits of that great emotion, laughter, is just amazing,” Wigger said.
And with over 260 ticketed and free events, LaughFest certainly promises “something for everyone.”
Wigger said events are categorized on the LaughFest website to help people navigate the huge roster of events and performances taking place during the 10-day festival.
This year’s LaughFest includes performances by headliners including Tiffany Haddish, Trevor Noah, Anjelah Johnson, Maria Bamford and more, local acts like River City Improv, Pop Scholars and Teresa Thome, and several fun activities to bring on the giggles, such as Second City: Guide to the Symphony, Super Saturday Kid’s Zone and much more.
The performances and activities take place at venues across Grand Rapids as well as in the surrounding communities of Holland and Lowell.
Going into its eighth year, Wigger is very pleased with the way the festival has caught on in the community as well as its ability to attract some of the best talent in comedy to West Michigan in the middle of March – not always the most opportune time for attracting visitors to the city.
“It’s been a marvelous thing to see how the community has embraced LaughFest,” she said. “The festival itself has helped to create visibility for who we are and what we do in our mission of emotional health support for cancer and grief.”
She added, “We’ve had so much feedback from the talent that’s come in about our warm and welcoming community.”
LaughFest takes place March 8 -18. Visit LaughFest GR for more information.
*Photos courtesy of LaughFest