LaughFest 2014 is here. The 10-day festival kicks off this Thursday, March 6th in Grand Rapids. This year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is sponsoring the Clean Comedy Showcase series. A two-day comedic set, the Clean Comedy Showcase offers four comedians on each day who bring a great deal of laughs without the vulgarity. During the Showcases, the audience votes for the top comedian to win the “2014 Gilda’s LaughFest Audience Favorite Clean Comedy Award.”
This year’s Clean Comedy Showcase features James P. Connolly, Pat McGann, Robert Mac, and Tony Deyo on night one, and Andy Hendrickson, Louis Ramey, Michael Palascak, and Rik Roberts on night two. Connolly, Mac, and Roberts were gracious enough to speak with me on why LaughFest is important to them.
Roberts, a 100 percent clean comedian, was drawn to this year’s LaughFest as a way to interact with the comedic community as a whole. The majority of Roberts’ shows are solo performances to corporate groups, fundraisers, and private events. LaughFest allows him a “chance to reconnect with [his] tribe.”
Additionally, Roberts advocates for the health benefits of laughter. He says, “I personally see people can let their guard down for an hour and relax listening to a life performer. It’s a total refresher for them…we were designed to laugh!”
Roberts uses these benefits in his own life as well, citing comedy as a way for him to keep his own sanity and “be a part of something bigger than my own show.”
Connolly, another Showcase artist, not only advocates for LaughFest and the benefits of the overall festival cause, but he is also using the Blue Care Network and Michigan Blood sponsored blood drive as another way to get his stance out to the public. Connolly is donating blood at the March 5th blood drive and sharing his experience with local media as a way to inspire others to do the same.
“Now that I’m older and my blood has aged like a fine wine, I’m confident it will have a greater impact. If there is a spike in witty banter and elevated humor in the Grand Rapids area after the blood drive, rest assured it is because people have James P. Connolly coursing through their veins,” jokes Connolly.
Joking aside, Connolly strongly believes in the health awareness of LaughFest. His father passed away after battling for two years with esophageal cancer, which metastasized to his liver. Connolly notes, “Even as the disease zapped his energy, it was still my greatest joy to make him laugh and smile. It was the way I connected with my father. Every day I was able to get a chuckle out of him was a moment of pure happiness for the both of us.”
Mac brings an even more diverse story to the Clean Comedy Showcase. He has been in comedy for the past 20 years and finds LaughFest a way to “come back home” to his home state of Michigan and perform. Mac has not experienced a festival in a few years and wanted to “be back in the buzz professionally.”
In support of the LaughFest cause, Mac has a personal tie to emotional health and wellness. He is currently in the process of starting his own non-profit, Benefits of Laughter. The goal of the non-profit, says Mac, is “to come together for a show that ultimately helps an organization or a health cause as a charitable benefit of the performance.” The non-profit will put on shows for different charities and highlight the benefits of comedy and laughing.
As all three of these Clean Comedy Showcase artists prepare for their night of comedy at this year’s LaughFest, the community is able to get involved in the cause as well. Blue Care Network and Michigan Blood still have blood drive days available.
LaughFest kicks off with another attempt to break a Guinness World Record. Come down to Rosa Parks Circle this Thursday at 6pm and ‘wear your sunglasses at night’ with the rest of the Grand Rapids community.
Photo credit: LaughFest