Gilda’s LaughFest promises virtual fun in its return

Courtesy+to+Experience+GR

Courtesy to Experience GR

Parker Learman-Blaauw

As COVID-19 continues to cancel plans and keep everyone inside, we could all use a little laugh. Gilda’s Laughfest promises just that. 

Created by Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, the LaughFest began in March 2011 to celebrate “laughter for the health of it.” The festival usually features stand-up comedy and improv, among other events. 

At the heart of Laughfest is the various “health benefits of laughter,” something everyone could use nowadays.

Gilda’s LaughFest is the nation’s first-ever community-wide festival that is dedicated solely to laughter. Bringing an average of 50,000 guests to West Michigan every year, it is known for being one of the nation’s funniest events for both participants and artists. 

The LaughFest brings together an audience of children and adults every March to celebrate laughter as being an important part of emotional health and wellbeing. Purposefully held in the cold, icy month of March, the festival is meant to bring joy as spring is on the horizon. 

Typically this 10-day festival takes place in Grand Rapids and also includes events throughout West Michigan. Last year’s festival was cut short due to the onset of the pandemic. 

This year, however, the 11-year tradition will continue. Gilda’s Club revealed through a press release that they have prepared a shortened, mostly-virtual version of their annual comedy celebration.

The virtual format isn’t ideal but offers new ways for the festival to grow. Now Laughfest is available to people in need of a chuckle all over the world, not just in West Michigan.

Festival Director Joanne Roehm said via the press release that Laughfest is looking forward to “delivering smiles in a new way.” They promise over 30 events and contests, as well as plenty of social media content to make up for what’s being missed in person.

The festival will be held March 11-14, with headlining acts and the full schedule coming later this month. 

The premium sections of Laughfest will still have an admission price, though they promise plenty of free content for families to enjoy virtually including the Family Improv Workshop, Kids Joke Time, Laughter Yoga, and more.

All proceeds from LaughFest benefit the programs offered through Gilda’s Club, a community with education programs, networking, lectures, structured sharing times, workshops, and social activities all designed to support emotional health.

The annual Seriously Funny Adventure Challenge scavenger hunt will also be making its return. The event is socially distanced and spans four days while competing teams find clues in and around downtown Grand Rapids.

“We remain committed to offering something for everyone within the festival, including family-friendly programming and clean comedy,” Roehm said in the memo. 

In addition to the joy offered by LaughFest, Gilda’s Club — which is itself celebrating 20 years in 2021 — wants to use the festival to spread awareness about serious mental health issues. Their organization aims to provide free emotional and mental health services to those they say are on a cancer or grief journey.