Internationally recognized comedians soak in comedy history in Carson's hometown
NORFOLK, Neb. -- Northeast Nebraskans were entertained over the course of three nights by 13 different national comedians at the Great American Comedy Festival, but it wasn't just the audience who was taking in the sights and sounds during the weekend.
Internationally recognized performers from Los Angeles, New Jersey, Canada and various other locales across the globe converged in Norfolk to honor the memory of former late-night television star Johnny Carson. As part of the weekend's festivities, each performer toured Carson's boyhood home and various exhibits remembering Carson and The Tonight Show at the Elkhorn Valley Museum.
"It's so awesome to see where The Tonight Show, not began because there was a host before Johnny, but he was the one who made it what it is," comedian Adam Yenser said. "I remember growing up as a little kid, some of my earliest memories are watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. My mom will always tell the story how when I was a little kid, I would beg to stay up and watch Johnny's monologue. I could say the word 'monologue' before I could pronounce a lot of words that were much shorter."
Yenser previously worked on The Tonight Show when it was hosted by Conan O'Brien. Yenser also won an Emmy award on Saturday night after his performance, claiming an award for his writing work on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
"Johnny Carson is a huge part of comedy history," Los Angeles-based comedian Eric Owusu said. Owusu, a Maryland native, has written for the Disney Channel and performed nationally.
"He's a huge part of the reason why I do it," Owusu said. "He opened the doors for a lot of comics. We just watched Eddie Murphy's first appearance on the show. Murph is huge for me."
Among the festival's headliners were fellow television royalty, the Smothers Brothers, who made several appearances on Carson's The Tonight Show. Like Friday night headliner David Koechner, who starred in The Office and Anchorman, the Smothers Brothers shared time and conversation with the feature acts after the shows.
"You can't overstate the impact that they had on comedy on television, but also comedy as a whole," 39-year-old New Jersey-based comedian Glen Tickle said of the Smothers Brothers.
Tickle recently released a Dry Bar special titled The Favorite.
"I obviously didn't grow up with them because of how time works, but I eventually got into it almost academically," Tickle said.
The festival started Thursday, with a comedy and magic show featuring Andrew Goldenhersh, Alexander Boyce and Matt Marcy at the Johnny Carson Theatre. The Friday night comedy showcase was headlined by Koechner and featured Tickle, Sophie Buddle, Chris Lewis and Cat Alvarado. The Saturday Gala was headlined by the Smothers Brothers and featured Owusu, Yenser, Tickle and Taylor Williamson. Koechner also hosted a night of The Office-themed trivia at the District Event Center.
"It was great to be back after two years, and we are continually blown away by the support that Norfolk gives us to put on this show," said Austen Hagood, who serves as board president for the festival. "It was a weekend of laughter, and we can't wait to start planning next year's festival."