Paul Provenza

Paul Provenza, Susie Essman Trekking North for Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival

Paul ProvenzaAs I write this, it’s Jan. 21, 2013 and there’s a cold, blustery, snowy wind blowing outside my window here in Traverse City, Michigan. In short, it’s cold here. Cabin fever time. We need something to break up the winter, and the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival scheduled for Feb. 14-17, 2013 is just the thing.

Founders Michael Moore and Jeff Garlin offered a little sneak peek at a few of the comedians trekking north for the festival, with Moore noting, “Today we are announcing the return of this very popular event which many of you have begged us to do again. Because we’re huge fans of begging (and drones and pie and Manti Te’o), we’ve decided to make this an annual tradition like Flag Day or the Hash Bash.

And they’re partnering up with the National Cherry Festival, too. “We had so much fun at the Winter WOW!Fest on Presidents Day Weekend last year (during which Jeff pulled me on a dogsled all the way up Wayne Hill), we’ve decided to invite the Winter Fun people, the National Cherry Festival folks, to join us and make Winter Comedy Fest weekend one big blowout of laughs, ice sculptures, and tart fruit,” Moore said.

Also look for a comedian tug of war, free winter games and other chillingly fun events. Reserved seating tickets for the TC Winter Comedy Arts Fest go on sale Saturday, February 2, online at, and at the State Theatre in downtown Traverse City.

The entire festival schedule will be announced this Friday, Jan. 25, but here’s a sneak peek at the lineup:

  • Robert Wuhl (“Arli$$,” “Good Morning, Vietnam”), reviewing the facts and myths of American history in a live version of his smash HBO hit show “Assume the Position.”
  • Susie Essman (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Bolt”), lyrically purveying potentially profane streetwise vernacular.
  • Paul Provenza (Showtime’s “The Green Room With Paul Provenza”), kind of returning to his “Northern Exposure” roots.
  • Neal Brennan, Dave Chappelle’s writing partner (“Half Baked,” “Chappelle’s Show”), bringing his Emmy nominated talent North to reveal hypocrisy and injustice.
  • TJ Miller (“Cloverfield,” “How to Train Your Dragon”), acting every inch the EW’s “Next Big Thing In Comedy” and Variety’s “Top 10 Comic To Watch” that he is.
  • Ian Edwards, returning by loud and boisterous popular demand to give us a full show, after he killed during his opening act for J.B. Smoove in 2010.
  • Steve Agee (“The Sarah Silverman Program,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”), doing his great comedian’s comedian thing.
  • Allan Havey (FX’s “Louie,” early host of what would become Comedy Central), sharing what is widely considered to be one of the best stand up acts out there today.
  • Todd Barry (“Louie,” “The Wrestler”), playing himself doing stand up.
  • Pete Holmes (CollegeHumor, “Ugly Americans,” voice of the E*Trade baby), joining our Hot List, just as he’s joined Comedy Central’s.
  • Festival co-founder Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), taking the stage again this year and hosting his Late Night Combo Platter in the basement of Horizon Books.

In addition to the nighttime comedy shows at the State Theatre, City Opera House, Old Town Playhouse, and InsideOut Gallery, the festival will present some new events and great comedy films. Among the early film and event announcements are:

  • Bonfire with free s’mores (yes!) and music on Friday night.
  • Laser Light Show on Saturday night, sponsored by the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Co-Exist? Comedy Tour” with director Larry Brand, producers Rebecca Reynolds and Jim Carpenter, and one of the film’s comedians in person.
  • “The Aristocrats” with director Paul Provenza in person.
  • “Despicable Me” free on Saturday morning, with a bike giveaway sponsored by Grand Traverse Pie Co.
  • Party at ECCO Saturday night.
  • Pancake Breakfast (with cherries!) to benefit the Fresh Food Partnership & local food pantries.

The festival is closing Front Street to traffic Friday through Sunday to hold a bunch of winter games and events for the whole family:

  • The festival is turning part of Front St. into one big Ice Rink with free skate rentals for everyone!
  • We’re building a Big Sledding Hill on another part of Front St. so kids of all ages can go sledding.
  • A winter Ferris Wheel!
jeff Garlin
Jeff Garlin, co-founder of the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival

PLUS: Snowblower Races, Slip’n’Fall Olympics, and Cherry Festival favorites like the Monster Dog Pull, back by popular demand, and Kid Competitions including cherry pit spitting.

The festival is packing in fun for kids of all ages, including family comedy shows to be announced next week. Kids are also invited to celebrate National Cherry Month with the ever-popular “Make and Bake” pie event sponsored by Grand Traverse Pie Company. This free event for kids 12 and under gets underway at 2 pm on Saturday at GT Pie on Front and Park, right by the sledding hill.

Trevor Tkach, executive director of the National Cherry Festival, said, “We’re also excited about bringing back WOW!Fest’s most popular events: the Soup’r’Bowl, the Bed Race, and Ice Sculptures up and down Front Street. We like bringing good things to the community during February, National Cherry Month, and with the power of the Cherry Festival, we’ll be sure there’s snow on Front Street, no matter what the weather.”

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 early ticket purchase, but most importantly, they make a really good thing happen for the community. We are loving working with the Cherry Festival and are most excited about Free on Front. It’s a lot like the Open Space gift we are able to give to the community during the Film Festival, and we hope this festival will create a similar special magic downtown in winter.”

Volunteers, sponsors, and comedy lovers can find more information at


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