Northern Michigan Events: Bye Bye Comedy Fest

Northern Michigan Events: For two February weekends in 2010 and 2011, the Traverse City Comedy Arts Festival, spearheaded by Michael Moore, lit up downtown Traverse City with crowds, glowing marquees and laughter. But in an e-letter this morning, Moore announced that he was suspending the 2012 festival, citing a conflict with the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival. Last year, the Microbrew & Music Festival, sponsored by Porterhouse Productions, moved from the Grand Traverse Resort to downtown Traverse City—it happens on the same weekend as the Comedy Festival. According to Moore, the two events coexisted okay when separated by 6 miles, but not when both took place downtown. As he wrote in his e-letter:

"The result of doing the events on the same weekend in our second year was that a number of shows were interrupted by drunks who had been to the beer fest and decided to visit the Comedy Fest for some yucks. Unfortunately, no one told them that the audience was there to see the famous comedians we brought in, and not them in their happily inebriated state. We didn't have to deal with this in our first year, when we were a stand-alone event. In our second year, anticipating problems, we had paid security, but we didn't have enough to deal with the disruptions — and we will not ask our volunteers to act as bouncers."

A 2013 Comedy Festival is under discussion.

What do you think about the conflict between the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival and the Comedy Arts Festival? Let us know in the comment box below.

Read Michael Moore's entire letter:


Many of you have been asking about the upcoming 2012 Traverse City Comedy Arts Festival. The long and not very funny story behind the answer goes back a whole year, when we made it clear to Porterhouse Productions (the for-profit organization behind the new Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival), and to the City of Traverse City, that we will not do a repeat of 2011, when Porterhouse moved their beer fest to downtown — and on the same weekend as the Comedy Fest.

One would think that with our nine months of winter when tourist activity is at a minimum in TC, it might be a good idea to spread out downtown festivals rather than to jam them onto the same weekends. Isn't that what would be best for the local economy — to create events on different weekends in the winter, not on the same ones? Even in the summer, how would the community respond if we decided to hold the film festival the same week as the Cherry Festival? Kind of counterproductive, don't you think?

So after the beer fest announced late in 2010 that they were going to hold their event downtown (originally it was held at the Grand Traverse Resort), and on the same weekend we had reserved for the second Comedy Fest, the City helped us get together with other area festivals to come to an agreement on a 2012 schedule that would allow each festival to have its own weekend in our third year. We thought that the issue was resolved. Porterhouse later insisted they were going to hold their beer fest on the same weekend as ours anyway.

The result of doing the events on the same weekend in our second year was that a number of shows were interrupted by drunks who had been to the beer fest and decided to visit the Comedy Fest for some yucks. Unfortunately, no one told them that the audience was there to see the famous comedians we brought in, and not them in their happily inebriated state. We didn't have to deal with this in our first year, when we were a stand-alone event. In our second year, anticipating problems, we had paid security, but we didn't have enough to deal with the disruptions — and we will not ask our volunteers to act as bouncers.

We chose not to deal with this again in 2012, and asked the beer fest to please not cram their fest onto the same weekend. Unlike the for-profit beer fest, the Comedy Fest is a non-profit, community-based and community-run project of the Traverse City Film Festival. Our only mission in putting on the Comedy Fest is to improve the quality of life in TC and help the local economy.

So, when we heard just recently that the beer fest was planning to repeat what they did last year and piggyback off our event — despite the agreement that had been reached — we told them that if the beer fest was scheduled on Comedy Festival weekend, we would bow out. And earlier this week, Porterhouse decided that the beer fest does in fact need to be on the second weekend in February — not just in 2012, but every year in the future.

We had already moved from our preferred date of the third weekend in February to accommodate the Winter WOW Fest. We can't hold it in January as we are in Sundance making deals to bring next summer's films to TC.

So, sadly, we are suspending the Comedy Fest this year. This is not what we want to do. But we aren't going to compete with people drinking a lot of beer. One of the reasons comedians like to come to our festival is because it is a refreshing change from the clubs they play and the drunks they have to deal with most everywhere else.

We will decide later next year if we'll be bringing it back in 2013. We appreciate any feedback you can give us.

We thank the City and the DDA for doing their best to help resolve this problem and for their efforts to coordinate the scheduling of festivals onto their own weekends. We feel most sad for the Comedy Fest fans who will miss out on all the great comedians we had planned to being to Traverse City this year.

At least we'll all still be able to drink beer, and that can't be so bad.

Yours, Michael Moore

Read the Porterhouse Productions announcement on its change of venue for the 2012 Traverse City Comedy Arts Festival

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    I think there are a lot of good and smart people in Traverse City who could have figured a way to resolve Mr. Moore’s issues and keep both events going. Sad to hear this. Maybe Mayor Estes could get the parties together and get a solution going.

  • Anonymous

    According to informed sources, Porterhouse Productions has held its festival on the second week in February since its inception. Moore attempted to move the festival last year, but Porterhouse held firm.

    Moore’s dig that Porterhouse is a “for-profit” organization shows he’s using that smokescreen to cover up the real reason for the cancellation: poor planning and intractability within the TCFF organization.

    Sure, Porterhouse is a “for-profit” organization and the TCFF is a “non-profit” 501 (c)(3) organization but you should ask yourself: how much money is actually spent on local charitable programs other than festival related expenses? According to the TCFF’s 2009 IRS form 990, the organization donated less than $3,000 to the Traverse City library system in the form of DVDs. That’s it.

    In addition, the Festival’s 2009 revenue exceeded $2 million dollars, and nearly all of the expenses were festival-related. The TCFF’s stated mission is to organize and run the festival, and the State Theatre which are both fine ventures.

    And let’s not forget that nearly 2,000 people donate untold hours of labor every year–the festival itself having only two paid employees.

    When Michael Moore throws his proverbial weight around and slams a local event production organization for providing entertainment to the fastest-growing area of Michigan, he belies his image as Northern Michigan’s Lord Bountiful and reveals another side–a spiteful, vindictive bully.

    Oh, and Moore wants you to buy his new book for Christmas.

    Good PR? There are some things money can’t buy.

  • Anonymous

    It’s too bad there has to be an ego battle of who got the day first, taking away a huge income for downtown traverse city in the form of the comedy festival.

  • Anonymous

    It is unfortunate to see Michael Moore use the same tactics against others that have been used against him buy large business interests that he has explored in his films. Lets get some facts out on the table so that folks can come to their own informed conclusions:
    1.Porterhouse Productions, (PHP), prior to the FIRST year of the Traverse City Winter Micro Brew & Music Festival, (TCWMBMF), did extensive research. This was done so that there would be NO conflicts with other events in order to make it an annual event. These events include Winter Wow, MI Brewers Guild Winter Fest, Suds and Snow, Brewski, to mention a few and yes the Comedy Festival as well. These events took place before and after the Porterhouse festival. Without the Brewers and their beer it is not an authentic festival as it is designed to be.

    2.Year Two for both events: The Comedy Festival moved their dates to the same weekend as the Traverse City Winter Micro Brew & Music Festival. The TCWMBMF moved into Old Town. The reason for the move by the TCWMBMF was their interest with the Good Works Collective and a sincere desire to boost economic activity into Old Town and Downtown Traverse City. This is consistent with the branding of the event. PHP pays for the services of many local businesses and artist in the course of producing these events. These businesses in turn support the community as well. Porterhouse is examining other location options for 2013 but typically these arrangements are made a year in advance. There have been overtures by other venues for 2013 location of the TCWMBMF.

    3.Porterhouse Productions has repeatedly reached out to both the Comedy Festival and the Film Festival to collaborate so that all the events would be more successful. This practice is done around the country when this type of situation comes up. The Sum, (dollars brought into Greater Traverse City Area) would greater when the recourses of both groups when they are collaborative as apposed to when then when they stand-alone/competing. Many people see these events as a very natural fit together.

    4.This will not be the last time that a situation this will take place. If we do not learn how to work together, it will set a poor president and weaken our potential for presenting other events in the future. NO Event Producer wants to walk into a hostel environment with “Turf Wars”.

    5.PHP also provides to the TCFF at no charge the nice green fencing that is used at the Film Festival for the last two years. PHP gets a Sponsor listing in program materials only, no dollars. Does the TCFF pay for the musicians and other local services that they use for the film festival?

    I would encourage DDA and other city leaders not to take sides and keep an open and fair mind when debating these issues especially their public comments and postings on the various websites and blogs. You know what is right and don’t let money or politics drive you to hurt others, especially Porterhouse. PHP through the Good Works Collective is helping downtown districts on their own dime and with an event weekly driving business into Old Town and to Downtown businesses. We all have to play nicely together in the same sand box especially in these difficult economic times.

    In the interest of full disclosure, Porterhouse Productions is a Client, Partner and Friend. I believe in the work that they are doing and the benefits that it provides the community on many levels. I work on many events around the country from Association Dinners, Trade Shows, Political Rallies, and Music Festivals to Presidential Inaugurations, from 50 to 2,000,000 attendees, for both Profit and for Non-Profit groups. Much of the work that PHP does is not in the spotlight but improves the lives of artists, youth and other causes that the citizens of Traverse City benefit from and care about. I hope that the Comedy & Film Festivals (which are the same organization) would see the benefit of this and work together with Porterhouse to make each other more successful. That is Good Business for both groups and for the economy of Traverse City and Grand Traverse County.

  • kc

    As a downtown TC bartender, I am, of course disappointed at losing the prospect of a busy weekend in February. But there are some very important considerations at stake here & I just cannot disagree with the State’s decision not to be a party to the micro-brew-nonsense. Sadly, I see a frightening trend in downtown TC with the UNLICENSED distribution of booze @ both the Women’s & Men’s “Shopping Nights” in downtown TC. #1 It dilutes the sales of “licensed” alcohol vendors #2 It promotes over-consumption as the small servings offered at a multitude of retailers make it difficult for shoppers to monitor their own consumption, while offering the ‘IRRESISTIBLE BAUBLE,” Free Booze! #3 Who’s liable for over-serving these fine folk? Of course it the humble bar staff at the establishments LICENSED to serve alcohol. This WILL pose a problem…and likely sooner than any of us hope.

    Please consider the local tavern industry in your rush to judge the quelling of the Micro-brew fest…It’s hard enough to make it in this economy without the threat of undeserved LCC violations.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure there are legitimate scheduling reasons why the company in the “festival business” seems to be scheduling their events in close proximity and simultaneously with other highly trafficked and popular community festivals (Paella in the Park springs immediately to mind) and I would be cynical to believe it was to profit from the increased traffic. If Mr Moore’s choices are to either cancel the comedy festival, or continue in an unsatisfactory situation, the intelligent choice is to cancel.

  • Anonymous

    An article written by someone who worked both events

  • Anonymous

    Michael Moore is using the same misleading, lying tactics he always uses to prove his points and further his agendas. Traverse City needs to put this guy in his place.

  • Anonymous

    The Porterhouse site reports that to move it’s festival to Superbowl weekend wouldn’t work because too many beer aficionados would be watching that game. Ok. And they can’t move to other weekends because the beer companies are attending other beer festivals. Ok. It also points out that the Comedy Fest had an open bar before the Saget event where he was heckled by some folks that may have had too much before the show. The Microbrew & Music event was not open yet. I hope that these two events can continue. They are both enjoying some success and Traverse City benefits from both of them.

  • Anonymous

    If Mr. Moore and the Comedy Fest folks don’t want intoxicated individuals at their events, might I suggest that they not let those individuals in? Someone had to take their ticket, it isn’t like random Microbrew and Music Festival attendees are wandering over to the Comedy Fest, both events required ticket purchases and most tickets were sold out. I would think that based on the cost of tickets for both events it was more likely that Comedy Fest patrons might have enjoyed an adult beverage or 2 with dinner (or without) at any of the many local establishments.

    It would seem that Mr. Moore is unable to play well with others and thinks that HIS events should have whatever they want and anyone who does not agree should be run out of town. If this is the way that the TCFF folks want to play then I will have to go with Team Porterhouse.

  • Anonymous

    Good thing Porterhouse can hire P.R. people to troll the Internet to slam Michael Moore on this to try to save their image (nice attendance numbers on your Halloween party BTW.)

    I don’t care what the reason is for cancelling, and don’t care if it’s even fair to Porterhouse.
    The value the comedy festival brings to our lives is worth a heck of a lot of sacrifice. It’s cooler than the film fest or the Cherry Fest. I can drink local beer anytime I want. Having quality, live comedy is hundreds of times more valuable.

  • Anonymous

    It will be interesting to see how Moore will CYA after all this negative publicity.