The Great American Comedy Festival Keeps Johnny Carson Legacy Alive

The Great American Comedy Festival celebrates a decade of laughs, magic and community.

A tribute to Norfolk-native Johnny Carson, the festival has been held in mid-June every year since 2008. The event brings in comedy and magic acts from all across the country. Festival Executive Director Lori Williams says its been amazing to watch the culture of the festival change over the years, and this year’s lineup is the biggest one yet.

“This is like a reunion. Ten years, and we’re having a family reunion. So virtually everyone that’s on stage tonight has been here before, and they couldn’t wait to come back. And then to add our first headliner to be the Legend recipient, Robert Klein, that’s just got this beautiful synergy of the first and then the ten year anniversary, and then you sprinkle in a little Martin Short, and then well, now we’ve hit the wow factor.”

Williams says she expected the Saturday Evening Gala to sell out. Saturday’s comedy acts were headliner Martin Short, Robert Klein, Larry Miller, Caroline Rhea, Mike E. Winfield, Allan Havey, and Dennis Regan. Williams says she enjoys how each act honors the legacy of Johnny Carson.

“So a few of our comedians have had the pleasure of being on Johnny’s show. Not all of them, Johnny’s been off the air for 25 years, but they know him, they know of him, they know what he was like, and to have a nod back to what his show was like with this Festival: clean, sharp, smart comedy, that’s what these comedians are all about. And then you get to have those treasured stories of a few of them that have actually been with his show, and that’s just priceless.”

This year’s festival began Wednesday and ended Saturday night. The planning committee says couldn’t be prouder of this year’s event. They’ll take July off then begin planning the 11th Great American Comedy Festival in August.

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