Great American Comedy Festival - David Koechner

After a two-year Covid hiatus, the curtains go up for the 13th Great American Comedy Festival this Thursday through Saturday (June 16th-18th) at the Johnny Carson Theatre in Norfolk.

All theatre shows are at 7 p.m. There is also a 10:30 p.m. Adults Only Late Night Show at The Stables, 1909 Vicki Lane, in Norfolk. The Great American Comedy Festival has been presented by Nucor Steel Nebraska, Nucor Cold Finish Nebraska, Nucor Detailing Center, and Vulcraft Nebraska for several years.

Over the years, the festival has also been supported by the Johnny Carson Foundation and dozens of local businesses. “Without our sponsors, a festival would not be possible,” said Lisa Wattier, executive director.

The festival kicks off Thursday with the always-popular family Comedy Magic Show featuring world-class magicians. Matt Marcy, Alexander Boyce and Andrew Goldenhersh will thrill the audience with magic that’s projected on screens on each side of the stage. The screens allow the audience to get up close and personal with all their magic, including their sleight-of-hand tricks.

The fun continues Friday at 7 p.m. with the Comedy Showcase featuring headliner David Koechner, best known for his roles as Todd Packer on “The Office” and Champ Kind from “Anchorman” and “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” Stand-up comedians Cat Alvarado, Sophie Buddle, Chris Lewis, and Glen Tickle will also perform at the Comedy Showcase.

The Friday Late Night Show at 10:30 at The Stables will feature several stand-up comedians scheduled to appear on the Johnny Carson Theatre stage during the festival.

The Smothers Brothers of the #1 rated “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in the 1960s will headline the Saturday Festival Gala. They will be joined on the stage by four other stand-up comedians: Emmy Blotnick, Eric Owusu, Taylor Williamson, and Adam Yenser.

Billed as “An Evening with The Smothers Brothers,” the Smothers’ appearance will include an evening of memories and laughter with classic “Comedy Hour” clips and an interactive audience Q and A. 

The Smothers Brothers will be presented with the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend Award at the conclusion of the Saturday Gala. The award honors the legacy of Norfolk’s favorite son, Johnny Carson, who hosted NBC’S “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” from 1962-1992.

They join Dick Cavett, Bill Dana, Ed Asner, Cloris Leachman, Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, Stephen Wright, David Steinberg, Kevin Pollack, Fred Willard, Robert Klein, Rich Little, and Paul Reiser as recipients of the prestigious Johnny Carson Comedy Legend Award.

Host for the Friday Comedy Showcase and Saturday Festival Gala is Nebraska native Pat Janssen, who has a long history in the entertainment industry. He has appeared in several commercials and TV shows and on an album cover and music video for the Grammy-nominated indie band, Glass Animals. 

He was named New England’s Best Bar Comic by Jack Daniels.

The inaugural Great American Comedy Festival was in 2008 following the discontinuation of Norfolk’s annual fall festival, LaVitsef, in 2006. The idea for a comedy festival to honor Johnny Carson started with an editorial in the Norfolk Daily News written by editor Kent Warneke. The reaction to the editorial was so positive that an exploratory committee was formed, and curtains went up for the first festival in June of 2008. Warneke, often called the Father of the Great American Comedy Festival, served as the festival’s chairman for its first seven years and on its board for the first 10 years. 

The festival corporation is governed by a Board of Directors and Planning Committee. They also plan the annual festival. This year’s Board officers include Austen Hagood, president; Chase Pflueger, vice president; Stephanie Brogan, secretary, and Anne Pruss, treasurer. Lisa Wattier is executive director for the 2022 Great American Comedy Festival.

Other Board members are Lonn Atwood, Denice Hansen, Vickie Hrbanek, Traci Jeffrey, Eric McKay, Jim McKenzie, and Susan Staub. Planning committee members include Chuck Frohberg, Janelle Gerharter, Jean Hopkins, Pat Janssen, Judy Kollmar, Ruthie Kollmar, Timothy Miller, Rachel Reiser, Tyler Throener, Samantha Wolfe, and Mason Zimmerer.

The Great American Comedy Festival is also made possible with the support of the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. For tickets and information, visit