Sometimes the weight of life calls for a healthy dose of the best medicine out there: laughter.
The Grand Rapids comedy scene is one that shows unwavering support for local talent and puts the city on the map with big names like Seth Meyers, Chelsea Handler, and Trevor Noah.
Below is your guide to exploring the people and places of the Grand Rapids comedy scene so you can keep laughing all year-round.
Enjoy a night (or two) out on the town during LaughFest as proceeds from the comedy shows benefit Gilda's Club Grand Rapids.
Photo Credit: LaughFest
Do the names Seth Meyers, Sinbad, Trevor Noah, Tiffany Hadish, and Kathy Griffin ring a bell?
These are just some of the big names in comedy that have made audiences in Grand Rapids laugh out loud during Gilda’s LaughFest, an annual 10-day festival every March that encourages people to celebrate “laughter for the health of it.”
You’ll find both ticketed and free events during LaughFest, featuring stand-up comedy, improv, live shows, film screenings, author talks, community showcases, and more. Many shows also spotlight local comedians and comedy acts, including River City Improv and Comedy Outlet Mondays.
Every “seriously funny” LaughFest event benefits Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. The local nonprofit provides free emotional healthcare programs and resources to people battling cancer, caring for loved ones with cancer, or grieving the loss of someone due to any cause.
Find more details about specific shows and times by visiting LaughFest’s website.
Dr. Grins Comedy Club
Dr. Grins Comedy Club, located inside The B.O.B., is the local epicenter of regular appearances by nationally and internationally recognized comedians. Dr. Grins has featured acclaimed comedians since 1998, including Chelsea Handler, Dave Attell, Craig Robinson, Michael Che, Kevin Nealon, and Aries Spears.
“In my 10 years with Dr. Grins, there have been over 500 weeks worth of amazing shows,” says Brian Palm, general manager of Dr. Grins. “We bring in top talent all year round, which most clubs cannot say.”
Dr. Grins offers one show every Thursday at 8 PM and two shows every Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and 10:30 PM, plus additional seasonal shows.
The club also supports local comedians through weekly open mic nights on Thursdays and an annual Funniest Person in Grand Rapids contest that typically includes about 80 comics.
River City Improv
Local comedy troupe, River City Improv, has been making people laugh for the past 25 years.
During shows, cast members base their performances largely on live audience suggestions, similar to the format of shows like, Whose Line Is It Anyway?
River City Improv comedians have performed in 100 cities in 23 US states and Canadian provinces since the group formed. For a calendar of upcoming local appearances, visit River City Improv’s website.
Co-founder Rick Treur says the group’s mission of providing clean, clever comedy is crucial now more than ever.
“There is so much negativity and divisiveness in the world right now, so coming to a show for two hours and just laughing is good for the soul and mind,” says Treur. “We’re able to offer people a break from some of the craziness of the world and a different kind of craziness for a bit.”
Treur adds that many alumni have found success performing with Second City in Chicago and in the film and TV industries, like Marc Evan Jackson (The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and Kiff VandenHeuvel (BioShock Infinite, La La Land, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).
Comedy Outlet Mondays is now hosted at The Comedy Project.
Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids
The Comedy Project (Coming Soon)
The Comedy Project was created to build a community for comedians and performers, while offering them a place to grow in their craft, mentions co-founder Ben Wilke.
“We really believe everyone can benefit from our classes — kids looking to be more social, students who want to try comedy, professionals who want to work better with their teams, and anyone looking to become an improviser,” says Wilke.
Starting in April, the Comedy Project will offer rotating improv, sketch, and comedy variety shows, a comedy training center, and space for private events. In addition to the post-apocalyptic decor adorning its walls, The Comedy Project will also offer a diverse food menu and full bar filled with local drafts, special mixed drinks, and a moonshine bar.
Comedy Outlet Mondays
Part of the Comedy Project's regular programming will include Comedy Outlet Mondays (COM), a weekly comedy variety show that features local and out-of-town comedians. The show is currently hosted at Dog Story Theater.
Each week, audiences see a new variety of stand up, sketch, improv, video shorts, magic, puppetry, satire news, and other types of experimental comedy, as well as live musical guests. COM ends each show with an improv “jam session” that invites audience members to participate in short-form improv games and more.
“The Grand Rapids improv and sketch comedy scene is alive and thriving, and has made every COM show something new, hilarious, and unique to our city,” says Eirann Betka-Pope, COM producer. “A supportive community, ample opportunities, and a strong passion for cultivating comedy has made COM a perfect stop for a date night, a group of friends looking for a good time, or a solo trip to try something new.”
Grand Rapids Civic Theatre offers sketch and improv comedy classes.
Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
People of all ages can learn to tune in to their inner comedian through the nationally-recognized Grand Rapids Civic Theatre School of Theatre Arts.
The school offers a comprehensive community theater education program with classes ranging from musical theater to sketch and improv comedy.
Students from age four to adult can apply for six-week classes that are offered in the fall, winter, and spring. All classes are led by experienced theater professionals, and the school also provides special workshops and mini-classes on select topics throughout the year.
Open Mic Nights
There are a few bars and restaurants around Grand Rapids that offer open mic nights specifically for local comedians to practice their craft.
Garage Bar & Grill, located at 819 Ottawa Avenue Northwest in Grand Rapids, opens its stage to comedians on Monday nights at 9 PM.
Fulton Street Pub, located at 801 Fulton West in Grand Rapids, welcomes comedians on Wednesday evenings for Hump Day Hilarity beginning at 10 p.m.
Grand Rapids is a hotspot for comedy, so whether you’re looking to laugh or become a better comedian yourself, there are plenty of opportunities at your fingertips.
Where is your favorite place to laugh in Grand Rapids? Let us know in the comments below!