LaughFest will take over the city of Grand Rapids with 10 days of comedians, laughter, and awareness from March 7 – 17, 2013. A series titled LaughteRx focuses on health awareness and the benefits of laughter. LaughteRx features three different speakers, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, including Vanessa King, Terri Tate, and Kelly Epperson. To cap off the series, Spectrum Health hosts keynote speaker, Dr. Bernie Siegel and Scott Burton.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with David Abbott, Creative and Development Director for Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. Abbott came back to Grand Rapids in time to charge the start of Gilda’s LaughFest four years ago and has successfully used his personal experience, professional experience and passion for healthy well-being and community as catalysts for LaughFest and Gilda’s Club.
Kristin Coppens: Explain the background on the start of LaughFest.
David Abbott: Gilda’s LaughFest comes as a initiative to invest in our community and expand the legacy of Gilda Radner, who personally used laughter and community as a support system for her cancer and grief journey. LaughFest is not just about comedy, but also about laughter in general, through music, dance, art, and the like. We would like LaughFest to encompass everything that brings people to a place of laughter.
KC: Why laughter? What does this mean for the mission of Gilda’s Club?
DA: In life, we run into speed bumps, and the hardest thing to do is to pull yourself out of that ‘space of hurt.’ That’s where laughter comes in. Laughter pulls you out of that space and becomes a contagious form of emotional health and well-being.
KC: Describe the LaughteRx event.
DA: The focus of LaughteRx is to showcase and promote the value of emotional health and benefits. The individual speakers are not only specialists in laughter entertainment, but also encourage and structure their presentations around conversations of emotional well-being and laughter benefits. For example, Terri Tate, one of the speakers, has overcome cancer herself and tells her story of regaining her voice, literally and figuratively. LaughteRx stresses the emotional benefit to our community and its businesses, places, people, and the like.
KC: What are your goals for this year’s LaughFest?
DA: Clearly one of the top priorities is fundraising. We make sure that the majority of all proceeds go straight into the three programs within Gilda’s Club, focused on grief and cancer support. However, we also place importance in the growth of the community, through economic development, and specifically, through the awareness and change in atmosphere. ArtPrize, for instance, creates a palpable change in the atmosphere of the Grand Rapids community—you can hear people talking about it wherever you go. That profound growth and change is in line with our LaughFest mission as well.
KC: What do healthcare and laughter have in common, in your opinion?
DA: At Gilda’s Club, we mirror the mission you have at BCBSM in that we simply want to help people live healthier lives both physically and emotionally. There is truly much to be said about the notion of laughter being the best medicine. It’s about having a positive outlook to your situation and allowing that outlook to make a world of a difference. It’s like believing that cancer is just a part of our world—some people get it, some people don’t. It’s not about having to learn a lesson. It’s about positivity in healthcare—about embracing the road that you’re placed on.
KC: What else should we know about LaughFest and LaughteRx?
DA: Our goal is recreate that Disney World feeling. You know, when you look back at those pictures, or souvenirs, and those products become momentous to a specific memory. We want LaughFest products and experiences to provide that same feeling and allow you to remember the laughter and the good memories.
How do you use laughter to counteract an otherwise negative moment?
Photo credit: LaughFest