NORFOLK – It’s a flurry of activity at the Johnny Carson Theatre Wednesday as dozens of volunteers prepare for the Great American Comedy Festival.
The commotion is a far cry from what founder and Norfolk Daily News Editor in Chief Kent Warneke had in mind when he first proposed the idea in a newspaper column in 2006.
“Some of the ideas were to maybe bring a few comedians in and maybe have someone who was connected to the show and just do some nice little things in Norfolk,” said Warneke on Wednesday. “But look how it’s grown.”
The Festival has since become one of the premiere comedy events in the nation, drawing national headliners and comedy legends each year.
“[Festival Producer] Eddie Brill deserves a lot of the credit for helping us find and recruit talent” Warneke said. “As does the festival committee and the whole city. To get this kind of a group together is really pretty special.”
Since it’s the 10th year, the Festival is breaking from its normal “stand-up routine”. Instead of a comedy competition, this year’s festival features a magic show on Thursday, a best of the best lineup on Friday featuring past winners of the competition, and the Saturday gala, with a number of comedy greats, including Caroline Rhea, Dick Cavett, headliner Martin Short and comedy legend award recipient Robert Klein.
“The collection of talent that’s going to be here over the next couple of days is unlike hardly anything else in the United States,” Warneke said. “That’s when you get really excited.”
Warneke says it’s comforting to see how the community has rallied around something that began as a simple idea 11 years ago.
“They all want to come together and do something that will honor Johnny Carson,” Warneke said. “You see the dedication and time commitment that people are putting into it. This is a show that isn’t the kind of thing that you would expect to see in a high school theater in a small town in Nebraska.”
As for the next ten years?
“We’ve got our fingers in a lot of different areas that you just never know what might result,” Warneke said.
The Festival officially kicks off Wednesday with a free showing of a documentary on the festival and the TV Special Johnny Comes Home at the Norfolk 7 Theatres.
A full lineup of this year’s festival can be found HERE.