Northern Michigan Events: The 2013 Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival wrapped up Sunday with more comedians, more admissions, more bonfires, more kids dancing on Front Street, more movies, more cherries, and more Water Winter Wonderland than ever before.
The four-day celebration of good humor surrounded by large drifts of snow logged 16,000 admissions indoors, and saw outdoor crowds that far exceeded the festival's wildest expectations for this first-ever collaboration between the festival organizer — Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival — and their new partner, the National Cherry Festival.
More than 50 comedians and filmmakers took the stage during the festival to entertain the audiences, who endured sub-freezing temperatures and ice-packed roads to attend the performances. Colin Quinn and Kathleen Madigan opened the festival to sold out houses, and the great Dick Gregory delighted audiences with a 90-minute concert after receiving the TC Comedy Fest "Legends Award" from Michael Moore.
"What you need in Traverse City," observed Gregory, "are more white people." He added, "I absolutely love it here."
This year's festival also featured appearances by the "World Champion" of everything, Judah Friedlander ("30 Rock"); Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman (husband and wife on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), and a long list of America's top stand-up comics, including Doug Benson, Todd Barry, Robert Wuhl, Neal Brennan, Ian Edwards, John Fugelsang, Eddie Pepitone, T.J. Miller and Pete Holmes.
Saturday night also saw the start of a new annual festival tradition with Paul Provenza and Troy Conrad's "Set List: Stand Up Without a Net," which featured seven comedians who braved the stage to improvise stand up sets based on topics shown to them on the spot for the first time.
Audiences were proclaimed to be "good laughers, but even better lovemakers" by festival co-founders Jeff Garlin and Michael Moore, who wrapped the live performance portion of the festival on Saturday night with the best-ever version of Garlin's annual Late Night Combo Platter in front of a standing room only crowd of happy, free ticket holders in the basement of Horizon Books.
Outdoors, the hugely popular Monster Dog Pull featured canine entrants from the smallest of pooches to three beautiful Newfoundlands who were later found enjoying a pastrami and cheese at Frenchies. The Friday night bonfire and the Saturday night laser light shows were also big crowd pleasers. "The outdoor 'Free and Frozen on Front' venue was met with great enthusiasm. From the Ferris Wheel, to the ice skating rink to the sledding hill, there were thousands of happy festivalgoers participating all weekend long, non-stop," said National Cherry Festival Executive Director Trevor Tkach.
Over $1,300 was raised at the Cherry Pancake Breakfast, held in the Park Place dome on Sunday morning. Proceeds will benefit the Fresh Food Partnership and local area food pantries.
The festival's newest venue, the InsideOut Gallery, was home to fringe shows, improv and Michigan comedians — and saw near capacity audiences at almost every show.
More than 600 volunteers and 250 individual and business sponsors pitched in to make the event possible.
"It has been a powerfully good thing working with the great people at the National Cherry Festival. The volunteers and sponsors were unfailingly generous and brilliant. And I'm particularly proud of the job our weather manager did for us — the huge snowflakes and sunshine were magical," said Traverse City Film Festival Executive Director Deb Lake. "We couldn't have asked for better, in any category."
"What can I say?" said festival co-founder and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. "This year's festival — the third one we've put on — was our second best one yet. The comedians were funny, the audiences were funny and the guy who thought of building a 50-foot high Ferris Wheel and plopping it in the middle of Front Street, he's pretty funny, too."
Festival watchers said the "Frozen Ferris Wheel" idea was, in fact, Moore's, as was the crazy idea to take a hose and flood Front Street, turning it into an instant "People's Ice Rink" (as he called it).
Added festival co-founder and TV and film star Jeff Garlin: "Next year, we're installing a Tilt-a-Whirl and a zip line from the Park Place Hotel to the Captain’s Quarters Men's Haberdashery, with a quick stop at the fudge shop." Garlin did not explain which of Traverse City's 47 fudge shops he was referring to.
So will the festival now continue to be an annual event?
"Absolutely," said Moore. "There is simply no way we can go through nine months of winter up here without a break for some insane, mad laughter. Before the comedy fest, most of us looked like Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining' by February. Now, with the Comedy Fest, we're all more like a Canadian version of the Kardashians."