Traverse City Winter Comedy festival slated

By Ray Hanania

The star-studded lineup for the Fifth Annual “Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival” — the world’s ONLY festival that has six words in its name will feature big name entertainers and comedians, according to a release put out by filmmaker and activist Michael Moore.

The festival will be held Feb. 13 - 15 at Traverse City in Michigan. Performances will be held at several venues including the State Theater, the Civic Opera House, the Old Town Playhouse, and more.

Entertainers include Bill Maher, Judd Apatow, Sinbad, Doug Benson, Natasha Leggero, Ben Baily, Todd Berry, Kurt Braunohler, Moshe Kasher, Ted Alexandro, Nikki Glaser, Wayne Federman, Geoff Tate, and more.

I wish they had some Arab American comedians, but maybe I’ll go there and do some comedy for their open mike night which is scheduled for Friday and Saturday night at the InsideOut Gallery.

Tickets go on sale online Friday Jan. 23. Click here for info and tickets.

Here’s the release:

For our fifth anniversary, we are throwing you a party the likes of which neither Traverse City nor even Rapid City have ever seen. Appearing at our festival, February 13-15, will be none other than comedy superstars BILL MAHER, JUDD APATOW, and SINBAD! They will all be here, live, performing in a place so far north of God’s Country, even God doesn’t have a GPS good enough to find us.

With a lineup this stellar, plus a hand-selected group of new comedians who will be the comic legends of tomorrow, how can you not be in TC for what is destined to be an unforgettable Valentine’s Day / Presidents’ Day Combo Weekend Celebration?

As you may have heard, BILL MAHER is coming to Traverse City! Each weekend, after doing his “Real Time with Bill Maher” Friday night show on HBO, he travels the country playing huge halls and arenas. But on Valentine’s Day, as a personal favor to me, he’s offering his time, free of charge, to do a rare show in a 600-seat venue, the City Opera House, as a benefit to the ComFest’s Free on Front and the people of northern Michigan. In addition to his stand-up, he also asked that I do something he and I have never done before — comedy, together, Bill & Me, on stage, for an uncensored, no-holds-barred duet of ideas, laughs, and things we hope no one will repeat outside the Opera House! 

JUDD APATOW is the most successful writer-producer-director in American comedy today. He has launched a new Hollywood comedy generation, discovering Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and Melissa McCarthy. He’s brought us blockbuster after blockbuster: “Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Anchorman,” “Bridesmaids,” “Step Brothers,” “Superbad,” and “Heavy Weights.” After quietly making underground appearances recently in New York and Los Angeles, he’s decided to come to Traverse City for one of his first public appearances outside of those two cities. This is going to be a huge event and will be the subject of national media coverage — so get your tickets to see Judd Apatow ASAP.

But wait, there’s more. After selling out last year’s ComFest in record time, the man, the myth, the legendary SINBAD will return to TC for a very special Sunday evening closing night event. Named one of Comedy Central’s top 100 comedians of all time, Sinbad’s larger-than-life persona and genuine good humor have made him one of the most beloved comics ever. You know this Michigan native from film (“Houseguest”) and TV (“The Sinbad Show”), as well as his recent appearance on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Keeping it PG (he hasn’t sworn on stage in over 30 years), Sinbad tells jokes his dad “taught him back in the day.” We love him, and you will, too. Ask anyone who was there last year and they’ll tell you: “DO NOT MISS THIS SIDE-SPLITTING SHOW!!!”

We are also thrilled to reveal our fantastic lineup of new and fresh comedy stars, hand selected by Doug Benson and me, to come to Traverse City. Even if you haven’t heard of some of them already, there is no doubt in my mind that they are already well on their way to becoming household names. Remember, this comedy festival (and our film festival) was where you first met then-unknowns like Lena Dunham, Whitney Cummings, Pete Holmes, Kyle Kinane, Ian Edwards, and Aubrey Plaza.

This year, right here on the stages of Traverse City, you can catch:

*Natasha Leggero (“Chelsea Lately” “Suburgatory,” “Community,” “Neighbors”), pausing work on her upcoming Comedy Central series to bring her saucy “Tubbin’ with Tash” energy to the Great White North.

*Moshe Kasher (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The League”), acting every inch of the Variety Magazine’s “Ten Comics to Watch,” LA Times’ “Faces to Watch,” and iTunes’ “Comic of the Year” that he is.

*Ben Bailey (“Cash Cab”) driving his acclaimed, affable, and Emmy-winning self right on in to TC.

*Nikki Glaser (“Nikki & Sara LIVE,” “Inside Amy Schumer”), sharing the quick-witted and sassy stand-up that has made her a veritable comedic prodigy.

*Kurt Braunohler (“Bob’s Burgers,” “New Girl”) goofing around and charming audiences the way only a Variety, Timeout NY & LA, Comedy Central, and the NY Comedy Festival “Comic to Watch” can.

*Todd Barry (“Louie,” “The Wrestler”) has been on all the big shows and has won all the awards; he’s done movies and radio and TV. He’s bored with all of that, so he’s bringing his wry observations back to Michigan.

*Ted Alexandro (“Inside Amy Schumer,” “Louie”) returning to TC by popular demand after touring with Louis CK, and appearing on David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Kimmel.

And don’t forget the wise, warm, and wonderful DOUG BENSON, who helped us put all of this together. Traverse City’s beloved adopted son (“Super High Me,” “Friends,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Best Week Ever”) returns to host this year’s ComFest, and he’ll be doing his blunt stand-up, his famous Benson Movie Interruption, and the always animated taping of the Doug Loves Movies podcast. Thanks, Doug!

Finally, I will perform a new version of my one-man show, kicking off the fest at 7 pm on opening night at the Old Town Playhouse. It will be funny. It will be political. And I will help birth a live cow right on stage with the help of the cast of “Chicago Fire” and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. You don’t want to miss this.

All of this PLUS we’ve got FREE ON FRONT fun again this year! It’s open to everyone and it’s free, Friday-Sunday, featuring 18 holes of frozen mini golf, an ice skating rink, sledding, and a Ferris wheel. And we’ve got our World Famous Kids Joke contest and “Frozen Sing-Along” events with goodie bags. We’ve even got local open mic and improv at InsideOut Gallery.

How can you not be in Traverse City for Presidents’ Day Weekend? What are you going to be doing instead? Getting snubbed by the Academy? Not vaccinating your kids? Scouting North of The Wall? Doing shots of Ice Hole? Writing “50 Shades of Eggshell White?” Warming up the Snow Trac? Swiping right on Tinder? Finally finishing that leftover Go-Gurt?

No way! You’re going to be up here with me and Judd Apatow and Bill Maher and Sinbad, freezing and laughing your butts off.

Click here to see the schedule! Or get a hard copy of the complete guide in this Friday’s Record-Eagle. Tickets go on sale online only on Friday, January 23 at 12 noon. Walk-up sales begin Saturday, January 24 at 12 noon in the lobby of the State Theatre.

Sending you valentines in advance from all 44 Presidents,

Michael Moore

P.S. The festival needs sponsors, just like the film festival does. And the only way to guarantee tickets to all the great shows you want to see is to become a sponsor. Sponsors receive early ticketing access today and tomorrow before they go on sale to the general public on Friday. Sponsorships start as low as $500. Contact [email protected] for more info.

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Blogger, Columnist at Illinois News Network Online
Ray Hanania is senior blogger for the Illinois News Network news site. He is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist who covered the beat from 1976 through 1992 (From Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley). And, Hanania is a stubborn and loud critic of the biased mainstream American news media.

Hanania Chicago political beats and Chicago City Hall at the Daily Southtown Newspapers (1976-1985) and the Chicago Sun-Times (1985-1992). He published the The Villager Community Newspapers covering 12 Southwest suburban regions (1993-1997). Hanania also hosted live political news radio talkshows on WLS AM (1980 - 1991), and also on WBBM FM, WLUP FM, WSBC AM in Chicago, and WNZK AM in Detroit.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. He currently is syndicated through Creators Syndicate. He has written for the Jerusalem Post,, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star of Lebanon, the News of the World in London, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, The Saudi Gazette, the Arab News in Jeddah, and Aramco Magazine.

Hanania's Chicagoland columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald, the Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News and the Palos Reporter newspapers.

He is President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

His personal website is Email him at: [email protected]
Ray Hanania