LaughFest draws 53K attendees


Courtesy LaughFest

The preliminary numbers from this year’s LaughFest are in — and the third year of the festival drew a combined crowd of 53,566 attendees with proceeds raised for Gilda’s Club reaching $210,000.

Because the festival changes from year to year in terms of venues and performers, it is difficult to directly compare the events, but organizers said that the 2013 festival was on par with previous years with attendance holding above 50,000.

“We are thrilled with the outcomes of LaughFest in year three,” said Leann Arkema, president and CEO of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. “The results indicate the community supports the festival and the important role laughter plays in emotional health. LaughFest provides for a positive impact on our local economy and is raising the visibility of Grand Rapids and West Michigan on a national level as well.”

A total of 33,509 tickets were sold to the various events, which were held in Grand Rapids, Holland and Lowell during the 10-day period of March 7-17. There were 261 events total, with 69 of those being ticketed and 192 of them free admission. Attendances at the free events reached 20,057.

The Signature Event, which serves as the key-headlining performance, also was a huge success this year, with more than 1,500 people, in terms of tables sold, attending.

Visitors came from 538 U.S. ZIP codes, including 33 states and Canada.

The net proceeds of $210,000 includes $74,790 raised specifically for the children’s grief support programs at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids through LaughFest’s “High Five” donation campaign. The $74,790 was matched by the Wege Foundation generating a combined total of nearly $285,000, which will be used to support free emotional health care programs for children and adults living with cancer, grief and loss provided through Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

The comedy festival continues to gain national recognition, putting Grand Rapids on comedians’ radar as a place to perform.

Steve Heisler, a national comedy writer who writes for Variety, GQ and Fast Company, joined LaughFest this year and said of the festival: “They’re poised to become the best comedy festival for fans in the country. They’ve cracked the code: book great comics and get out of their way.”

Organizers said that 160 headliners and artists participated in the ticketed events during LaughFest, and 763 people from 20 states and Canada performed during the free showcases.

In addition to attendance, 306 sponsors and 1,374 volunteers made the event possible and successful.

Businesses also were reporting increased sales thanks to the festival.

“A lot of the businesses downtown are showing a larger impact this year from LaughFest than they were in the past two years,” Cindy Schneider, San Chez Bistro general manager, told the Business Journal recently. “Our sales have increased about 25 percent over last year, which is pretty significant.”

Feedback from The Pyramid Scheme and The B.O.B., both of which hosted multiple events, remained positive, with both venues expecting to participate again next year.

A Grand Valley State University study conducted last year found that LaughFest generated $2 million in economic impact for the area.

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