LaughFest kicks off 11th year


Gilda’s LaughFest begins at 6 p.m. Thursday with headliner Justin Willman and continues through Sunday.

The virtual festival, presented by Gun Lake Casino, will have 30 events, along with social media content and contests, much of which will be free. A $40 premium pass allows access to all four headliners.

Willman is a magician and comedian who is the host of the Netflix show “Magic for Humans.” The night will include “The VIP Comedy Show,” an improv comedy roast and in-depth interview at 6 p.m.; “No Laughing Matter,” a discussion about how even in the worst times, there is something funny to talk about at 8 p.m.; and “You Have Two Minutes: Brian Kelly’s Favorite LaughFest Portraits,” where guests can view the work of LaughFest’s official photographer and his time photographing headliners during the festival’s first decade.

Other headliners throughout the four-day event include comedian Tom Papa, who will take the stage at 9 p.m. Friday. He regularly appears on National Public Radio’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me.”

On Saturday, stand-up comedian Ron Funches will perform at 7 p.m., and Michelle Wolf, on-air contributor and writer for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” will take the stage at 9 p.m.

Additional premium content includes “Bunny Bummy: Gilda Radner,” a live play chronicling the relationship between Alan Zweibel and Gilda Radner, and “3 Mics & a Movie!,” which includes the movie “The Hitch-Hiker” being shown while comedians add alternate dialogue and sound effects.

“Through the generosity of Gun Lake Casino as well as our festival partners and community, we are able to create a virtual environment to keep laughter in our lives while we continue to deal with restrictions imposed due to the pandemic,” said Joanne Roehm, festival director. “We are thrilled to have been able to work with many local artists and our national headlining acts, all of whom are committed to raising awareness and funds for Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.”

The festival also will include free activities, including Family Improv Workshop, Kids Joke Time, Laughter Yoga and more. The Seriously Funny Adventure Challenge scavenger hunt will take place during all four days of the festival.

Proceeds from the festival and donations raised will go to support the free cancer and grief emotional health program offered through Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

“Gun Lake Casino is excited to present this year’s Gilda’s LaughFest,” said Carter Pavey, assistant general manager for Gun Lake Casino. “For many of us at Gun Lake Casino, the fight against cancer and the journey through grief is personal. Cancer affects both our team members and guests far too often and without the support services provided by Gilda’s Club, the emotions involved would be difficult to navigate. We hope our long-term partnership helps Gilda’s Club continue to inspire and provide support to our local community.”

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