Back for its seventh year, the always thought-provoking, very funny, 10-day fundraiser, LaughFest, kicks off on March 9. With comedians, speakers, yoga sessions and more there’s something for everyone during LaughFest, including performers like Iliza (from NBC's Last Comic Standing), Joel McHale and Howie Mandel, who will headline the Signature Event on Tuesday, March 14 at DeVos Place. All proceeds from LaughFest benefit the free cancer, grief and emotional health support programs offered through Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.
In addition to nationally known comedians, you can see plenty of local talent during LaughFest. Here are a few acts you won’t want to miss.
See Matt Lauria Thursday, March 16, 8:30PM at the Pyramid Scheme, as part of Rockin’ Homegrown Jam with the Legal Immigrants. Photo courtesy of Seyferth PR.
As the youngest of 31 cousins, Matt Lauria learned early in life that being funny was an effective way of getting people to listen to what he had to say. At first he thought he’d use those skills to be a talk show host. “As far back as middle school,” he recalls, “I forced friends to do talk shows with a camcorder my mom rented from GRPS!”
About a decade later, he won the Last Bronco Standing comedy competition his junior year at Western Michigan University and he was hooked. In his early years, Lauria did what lots of new comics do: he emulated comedians he admired. But time and experience taught him that he was better served finding his own voice. “I realized that you have to tell who you are – that’s why you’re entertaining,” he explains.
Lauria has been involved with LaughFest from the get-go and the Homegrown Show has been on the docket since 2012. You can see this year’s show, Rockin’ Homegrown Jam with the Legal Immigrants, which includes Lauria, three other local comedians, and a band, on Thursday, March 16 at 8:30PM at the Pyramid Scheme. Why a band? “Every comedian wants to be a rock star and every rock star thinks they’re funny,” explains Lauria. So they put the two together and, after each comedian does his sketch, they’re joined on stage by the Legal Immigrants band and sing a live song. “We’re terrible, so you can see why we stay in our comedian role,” laughs Lauria. The show ends with a fun house number that includes everyone.
LaughFest is an event Lauria looks forward to participating in annually. “It’s unbelievable to have this festival here,” Lauria says. “It’s like if I were a guitarist and all of the sudden Woodstock was in my backyard!” Although he travels about 30 weekends a year for shows and participates in other festivals, the comic, who’s worked with Jon Lovitz, Tracy Morgan and Amy Schumer, says LaughFest is unique. “It’s so cool that it’s a community wide festival. It’s not just about comedy but it’s about yoga and all of these other things that make you really want to be a part of it. I love that it makes everyone come out not only to laugh but to raise money for such a great cause.”
Brian Borbot: Curator, Sunday Night Funnies
The man behind Sunday Night Funnies: Brian Borbot. Photo courtesy of Seyferth PR.
Although Brian Borbot has done plenty of standup comedy – he was even a participant on NBC's Last Comic Standing – for the past nine years, he’s spent a lot of time curating the lineup of comics that comprise Sunday Night Funnies.
The venture began in the fall of 2008 when Borbot approached a restaurant/bar in Douglas, MI about doing a show that featured local comics. After a short time, he relocated the concept to his hometown, Grand Rapids, where Sunday Night Funnies found a home at the Riverfront Hotel (then a Radisson) for the next eight years. This past January, the Sunday Night Funnies moved to Holly’s Bar and Grill at the 131 Hotel Plaza on 28th Street.
On any given Sunday night (except for Super Bowl Sunday and Christmas), you can see about 10 comics with varying degrees of experience. “I include a mixture of comics with different lifestyles and perspectives,” says Borbot, “and I’d put my show up against anyone else’s as far as talent.”
Around the time of LaughFest’s inception, Borbot was diagnosed with throat cancer. “I always say that if I was going to have cancer, it might as well have been at that time, because LaughFest was just starting,” he recalls. Borbot decided to use Sunday Night Funnies to raise money for the cause and eventually the show became part of the LaughFest lineup of events. Last year they raised over $4,200 for Gilda’s Club.
This year, you can catch the Sunday Night Funnies as a part of LaughFest on March 12 and 19, both of the Sundays that fall during the 10-day festival. They’ll have a 50/50 raffle and a silent auction, as well as a few live-auction items to benefit the cause.
Dan Terpstra: PechaKucha GR 20 (images) x 20 (seconds)
Dan and Michelle Terpstra, organizers of the Grand Rapids PechaKucha. Photo courtesy of Seyferth PR.
Dan Terpstra is a creative guy. He went to school for music production, makes a living as a successful photographer, and loves talking to people. The loves talking to people part is important: that’s how he finds many of the participants for PechaKucha, which he hosts four times a year, one of which takes place as part of LaughFest, which you can see on March 15, at Wealthy Theatre.
PechaKucha. It’s a concept that originated in Japan in 2003 and the gist of it is that you sit back and enjoy a fast-paced and inspirational evening that’s sometimes funny and sometimes serious. PechaKucha consists of an amalgamation of passionate speakers who present 20 images for 20 seconds each, delivering their message while the supporting slides scroll – which gives them precisely six minutes and 40 seconds to get their jokes, messages, and thoughts across.
Terpstra’s brother, Rob, had seen PechaKucha shows in Houston and Milwaukee. He decided to bring one to Grand Rapids, which was the 426th city to join the movement and is now in over 900 cities. When Rob found out he needed to go into treatment for cancer, he handed the reigns to Terpstra, who’s been spearheading the Grand Rapids PechaKucha with his wife, Michelle, ever since. Joining forces to make money for Gilda’s Club during LaughFest was a no brainer: “I’m a huge fan of humor and I figured if we we’re going to make some money, let’s give it to Gilda’s Club,” Terpstra explains.
“Audiences can expect something funny, tragic and inspirational,” says Terpstra. His job is to find the right combination and decide who speaks when. “I’m like the kid in the basement making a mix tape.”
The LaughFest PechaKucha show will include 12 segments (some segments have more than one speaker). “Stu McCallister will talk about why being comedian isn’t always funny, the Pop Scholars are going to riff on popular media things, and a we’ll have a group from in town, called Funny Girls (#WeAreFunnyGirls). They’re an amazing group of women who do all these things to empower women to live to their fullest potential,” he says. Audiences can expect a friendly and intimate format. “It’s very fast, often funny, and always entertaining.”
LaughFest 2017 is your chance to "laugh for the health of it." Get tickets through LaughFestGR.org and enjoy some seriously funny stuff.