by Bri Kilroy
One of the best things about being human is our ability to ignite and share laughter with one another, and use it as a light to illuminate the dark times we face. It’s amazing how much laughter can do for you, physically and mentally. That’s why Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids has reserved 10 days every March for the past six years to inject Grand Rapids with hilarious performances and activities including improv, film, showcases and some of the biggest names in stand-up.
In its seventh year, Gilda’s LaughFest is a festival of laughter unique to Grand Rapids that invites locals and visitors alike to get in on the joke with both free and ticketed shows, merchandise and interactive events like the FUNderwear 5K (March 12) and the Seriously Funny Family Adventure Challenge (March 19).
Each year aside from setting up a series of laughable community events, festival organizers bring a bundle of comedians to perform stand-up showcases throughout multiple Grand Rapids venues. Performances are organized in categories from Family Friendly to Clean Adult Laughs to Mature Audiences Only, ensuring a show for every sense of humor that saturates the Grand Rapids personality. This year’s signature event features an evening with Howie Mandel (March 14 at DeVos Place), who has delivered unforgettable laughs for 30 years as a television host and comedian. Tickets for the full event including dinner and the comedy show are $250 and show only tickets are available for $100.
Additional comedy superstars gracing Grand Rapids stages include Joel McHale (March 11 at DeVos Performance Hall), Iliza Shlesinger (March 17 at Fountain Street Church) and Katt Williams for a festival encore performance (March 26 at Van Andel Arena). Featured comedy showcases tickle funny bones with multiple comedic performances in one show. The Best of the Midwest Competition (March 15 at The B.O.B.) rallies eight up-and-coming comedians from Michigan and its neighboring states, who bring their best bits to the stage in hopes of winning the $2,500 cash prize determined by audience vote.
Studies show that laughter has the power to lower blood pressure and stress levels while giving you a killer ab workout (okay, you won’t emerge from a laughing fit with a chiseled midsection, but the expansion and contraction of stomach muscles during the deed certainly revs up an ab workout), but what you can really feel good about while partaking in LaughFest activities is 100 percent of the proceeds goes to Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. Gilda’s Club uses the funds from ticket sales and merchandise purchases to support families dealing with cancer or grief through their programs; so, when you’re cracking up at a LaughFest performance, feel free to let your smile linger a little longer because your support is helping someone through a difficult time.
A festival that sports laughs around every corner in a big city like Grand Rapids needs a hub where people can buy show tickets, score free flex passes, browse the new LaughFest fashion merchandise and accessories, relax in a gloriously overstuffed LaughFest chair and find information that guides them through the funny festival. That’s where the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s GoSite comes in, serving as LaughFest Central from now until March 19. Stop in during open hours to absorb everything you need to prepare for the funniest week of 2017.
Tickets for all activities and performances can be purchased online or at LaughFest Central (101 Monroe Center, Grand Rapids). For full event schedule and updates, visit LaughFestGR.org.
What: Gilda’s LaughFest 2017
Where: Downtown Grand Rapids
When: March 9-19
Why: For the health of it.
Bri Kilroy is a Grand Valley and AmeriCorps alumna who learned to type through vigorous Mavis Beacon trainings. She also passes as an artist, illustrator and author of this bio.