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Headliners announced for 11th Great American Comedy Festival

April 4, 2018 GMT

NORFOLK - Two comedians with a combined stage experience of several decades will grace the stage of the 11th Annual Great American Comedy Festival in June.

The festival is set for Thursday –Saturday, June 14-16, at the Johnny Carson Theatre in Norfolk. All shows are at 7 p.m. There will also be an adults-only Late Show Friday at Divots featuring the 10 standup comedians who will perform Friday and Saturday evening at the theatre. According to organizers, the Late Show offers the audience a true comedy-club experience.

The festival is presented by Nucor Vulcraft Nebraska, Cold Finish Nebraska, Nucor Steel Nebraska, and Nucor Detailing Center.

Headliner for the festival’s Saturday Gala is Joel McHale. Rich Little will precede him on the stage as the Friday evening headliner. The Friday and Saturday evening shows will also feature professional stand-up comedians from around the country. The always-popular, family Magic Show kicks off the festival on Thursday evening.

McHale is best known for his role on the comedy series, Community, where he played fast-talking lawyer Jeff Winger who was forced to return to college when his law degree was revoked. While in college, he became the reluctant leader of a group of misfits. The show aired on NBC for five seasons and one season on Yahoo.

McHale can currently be found on Netflix playing former Community co-star Chevy Chase. He has also appeared opposite Will Forte in A Futile and Stupid Gesture. He is currently starring in a weekly Netflix show, The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale.

Canada native Rich Little is described as a master mimic of more than 200 voices. He has perfected the voices of U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. He enjoyed skewering political figures and was liked and appreciated by many.

“You do me better than I do,” President Reagan told him several times.

Little made countless appearances on network talk/variety shows. Some of his favorite current impressions are of stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood. He also does impressions of Kermit the Frog, the late Andy Rooney and Dr. Phil.

He began his “career” at the age of 12 when he answered teachers’ questions in their own voices. To get dates, he’d learn the girl’s favorite actor and call her up imitating that actor. When he showed up to pick up his date, he would apologize and say that actor couldn’t make it. That stopped when a girl told him her favorite was Lassie.

The Great American Comedy Festival was created in 2008 to pay tribute to the legacy of Norfolk’s favorite son, Johnny Carson. Little guest hosted The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 12 times.

Comedy festival organizers believe the Little-McHale headliner combination will be enjoyed by a wide spectrum of comedy lovers. “Both comedians bring a long history of comedic brilliance to our Johnny Carson Theatre stage,” said Lisa Wattier, 2018 festival chairperson. “Netflix, NBC and E! fans are very familiar with the works of Joel McHale while Rich Little has entertained for decades on many different network talk/variety shows.

In 2015, McHale wrapped the 12th and final season of E!s The Soup, a satirical look at pop culture and current events. He recently wrapped The Happytime Murders for STX opposite Melissa McCarthy. His next project was the independent film, Assassination Nation, for Sam Levinson, which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has been acquired by NEON/AGBO.

McHale has also starred in The Great Outdoors on CBS, The X-Files revival on Fox and A Merry Friggin’ Christmas opposite Robin Williams. He hosted the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2014 and the ESPYS on ABC in 2015.

Little has been honored as “Comedy Star of the Year” by the American Guild of Variety Artists, has produced nine comedy albums and three HBO comedy specials. He also won Emmy-awards for the TV special, Rich Little’s Christmas Carol. One of his appearances on HBO was as Johnny Carson in the movie, The Late Shift, which dealt with the race to succeed Carson on The Tonight Show.

He has a star on the Hollywood, Canadian, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas Walks of Fame.

Talent bookers for this year’s festival are Austen Hagood and Chase Pflueger. “Austen and Chase have devoted countless hours to their pursuit of quality talent for this year’s festival. We are thrilled with the results of that hard work and know that the talent they have lined up will make for three evenings of great entertainment,” said festival co-chair Becky Wacker.

The annual Great American Comedy Festival opened in 2008 when Norfolk’s annual fall festival, LaVitsef, was discontinued. The festival was the brainchild of Norfolk Daily News editor Kent Warneke, often described as the Father of the Great American Comedy Festival. Warneke also served on the festival’s Board of Directors for many years.

Lori Williams served as the festival’s executive director for many years after the resignation of Lora Young. “Both Kent and Lori led the festival to new heights,” Wattier said. “What started as a small, local event has evolved in to a festival with a stellar reputation throughout the comedy industry. The comedians we have brought in over the years are second to none and many are thrilled when we ask them to return.”

The Great American Comedy Festival has been featured on ABC News, in the New York Times, the Charlotte News-Observer, the Miami Herald, Variety magazine, the Hollywood Reporter, the New York Daily News, media across Nebraska, and many others.

“Some comedians have called our festival the best in the nation,” Wattier continued. “We treat our comedians well and offer them experiences they don’t find at other comedy festivals. That is why all but one of the original nine comedy festival winners were excited to return to our 10th anniversary festival last year. And the one who couldn’t return was in China at the time.”

Wacker noted that the comedy festival is no longer a competition as it was for the first nine festivals. “The talent was so outstanding it was nearly impossible for our judges to determine the best, so we have abandoned the competition format. Now, each featured comedian will perform his or her timed sketch without the pressure of a competition,” she said.

The Great American Comedy Festival Board of Directors is currently led by Wattier, Wacker, treasurer Linda Libengood and secretary Jean Hopkins. Warneke and Williams no longer serve on the Board.

For more information and tickets, visit GreatAmericanComedyFestival.com.