Take two of Traverse City’s most beloved festivals, the National Cherry Festival and Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival, put them together and whaddaya get? The Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival—a raucous, wonderful long weekend of fun just when Northern Michigan needs it most: mid-February. Despite a winter so cold even ice is leaving and heading south, the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival is defying the odds and returning to the historic venues of downtown Traverse City February 13-16, 2014.

Star of stage and screen and stellar stand-up comic Rosie O’Donnell (“The View,” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” “A League of Their Own”) will open the festival on February 13 at 8:30 pm at the historic State Theatre. “Rosie O’Donnell is the greatest, and she’s the perfect comedian to open this year’s fest,” said Moore. “She is bold and brash and an American original — and she embodies exactly what our festival’s motto is about: ‘Comedy is Dangerous!'”

Operating under the mission of “a dozen comedians, a bunch of movies, thousands of laughs—and 200 inches of snow,” the festival will feature top nationally-renowned comedians in concert, including Michael Ian Black (“Wet Hot American Summer,” VH1’s “I Love the…”), Tig Notaro (“In a World,” “This American Life”), Stephen Lynch (Tony-nominated musical comedian), and Tim Meadows (“Saturday Night Live”), plus an improv group or two, comedy films, open mic sets, and family-friendly comedy.

Jeff Garlin is taking a break from taping his hit TV show “The Goldbergs” to do his podcast “By the Way” at the City Opera House. Also coming to TC are ComFest veterans TJ and Dave, Mike Toomey, and Sarah Tiana, as well as newcomers Dan St. Germain, Matt Braunger, Kirk Fox, and Alex Edelman. Set List with Paul Provenza and Troy Conrad will return, and Celebrity Autobiography will make its Traverse City debut. The full comedy lineup will be announced on Tuesday, January 28.

And because we all know winter can make us prisoners of the indoors and turn the unsuspecting a little cuckoo (repeatedly typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is a sure sign something is amiss), the Traverse City Film Festival and the National Cherry Festival will continue their historic partnership so that Front Street can again be the site of free family fun.

The size of the outdoor festivities will be doubled this year, covering the entire two-block length of downtown. Returning favorites all right-smack-dab-in-the-middle of the street include a free ice skating rink, an awe-inspiring Ferris wheel, and a big sledding hill featuring a mountain of snow. Other attractions include an irresistible hot chocolate contest, the ever-popular monster dog pull, plus a ton more family events produced by the National Cherry Festival. And the Grand Traverse Pie Co. is on board for a bike away at the 25 cent kids movie on Saturday morning, and for a Cherry Pie Make & Bake on Saturday.

Exciting new additions to the frozen lineup include a zip line down the 100 block of Front Street (yes, that’s right—you’ll be able to fly in the air with 20-below wind chill assaulting your face) and an ice-stravaganza the likes of which Traverse City has never seen. Expanded ice offerings include a fleet of stunning handcrafted ice sculptures and demonstrations, ice mini-golf, and a dramatic “Fire & Ice” display that will invite you to behold the wonders of the natural world—and enjoy a s’more while you’re at it.

But without a doubt, the absolute highlight of “TC Ice World 2014” is the International Ice Bar in the Polar Vortex tent — home to the festival’s evening parties on Friday and Saturday nights. Admission to the parties is free for anyone with a ticket or ticket stub from one of the festival’s paid comedy shows, and the general public can enter for only $5. Inside the Vortex, partygoers can imbibe the native drinks of Olympic delegations from around the world at cash bars using ice luges, and nosh on free gourmet hors d’oeuvres featuring potentially germ-ridden bowls broken pretzel shards, pizza rolls, bagel bites, and more.

Comedy venues for the festival include the State Theatre, the City Opera House, the Old Town Playhouse, InsideOut Gallery, and Horizon Books.

Events will be priced so that all people will be able to attend—and many of the events will be free.

It is hoped that the festival will help stimulate the local winter economy. Michael Moore still predicts that “within five years, planeloads of people, hopelessly trying to escape global warming, will come to Traverse City, Michigan, to enjoy comedy in the freezin’ cold.”

Trevor Tkach, executive director of the National Cherry Festival, said, “We’re excited to be working with the Traverse City Film Festival again to create a one-of-a-kind event that will benefit the whole community during February, National Cherry Month. With our snow-moving skills and the film festival’s ability to present the world’s top comedians indoors… inside… where it’s warm, the festival is truly a win-win for everyone—except my frostbitten extremities.”

Sponsorships are available for comedy shows, outdoor events and attractions, and movies. “Sponsors make it all possible, and ensure that we can give ice skaters two skates instead of just one,” said TCFF executive director Deb Lake. “Sponsors get lots of perks including first option for tickets to all shows, but most importantly, they make a really good thing happen for the community. We love working with the Cherry Festival and we are terribly excited about this year’s expanded Free on Front offerings. It’s a lot like the Open Space gift we are able to give to the community during the film festival, and we hope the comedy festival will create a similar special magic downtown in winter.”

Tickets go on sale January 31 at 12 noon online at wintercomedy.org and in the State Theatre box office.

Cornerstone: Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival

Photo(s) by Angela Brown