On February 13-16, the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival kicks off to help residents shake off the winter blues. As a preview, The Ticker talked to some of this year's headliners about their work – and their upcoming visits to Traverse City.
Actor and comedian Fred Willard is best known for his improvisational comedy in films like This is Spinal Tap, Best In Show and Waiting for Guffman. Willard will appear on stage at the City Opera House in conversation with Michael Moore on February 14.
The Ticker: Many attendees at the comedy festival this year will be fans of your work, particularly your films with Christopher Guest. Do you have any plans to work with Christopher again soon?
Fred Willard: I've heard a rumor that he might be planning to do something. Usually how it happens is the phone will ring out of the blue, it'll be Chris and he'll say, “Fred, I've got this movie...” And I'll say, “That's good news for me, Chris!” That group of people is always fun to work with.
The Ticker: Have you been to the northern Michigan area before, or will this be your first time?
Fred Willard: I covered a festival in Houghton Lake for the Travel Channel a few years ago. I've never seen so much my snow in life. I also got to meet Ernest Borgnine while I was there – we had dinner together. I love the cold weather and snow, so I'm looking forward to it. I was amazed to see all the events you have planned at the festival.
The Ticker: One of those events is a Monster Dog Pull. Any chance you might be talked into judging that?
Fred Willard: (laughs) I'd love to judge the competition! That sounds fun. Sign me up.
Tig Notaro became a stand-up phenomenon in 2012 when she performed a legendary improvised set at Largo in Los Angeles on the heels of being diagnosed with cancer. When Louis CK posted the show on his website, it sold 100,000 copies in six weeks. Notaro, now cancer-free, will perform February 14 and 15 in Traverse City.
The Ticker: How has life changed for you professionally in the year-and-a-half since the Largo show and Louis CK's support of it and you?
Tig Notaro: It's definitely changed things. I think it got my name out there to a wider audience. It's not overwhelming – it didn't launch me into the “most famous person alive” category – but it's changed things in a very nice way I did not expect.
The Ticker: With the cancer in remission, is that something you still talk about in your sets? Or are you ready to move on and be identified with something else now?
Tig Notaro: I pretty much have a whole new hour of material now. I touch on the cancer briefly – if something strikes me as funny, I'm going to say it. But it's mostly new material. The show is very improvisational; it's true stories and ridiculous silly takes on ideas. I like to leave my shows feeling like I was hosting a big party.
The Ticker: Do you enjoy the festival experience over the one-off shows on the road?
Tig Notaro: With something like this, it's nice to be able to take some time off and see the other performers. I know Jeff (Garlin) and a lot of the other comedians that will be there. I've never met Michael (Moore), but I'm a fan of his. And I've never met Rosie (O'Donnell), but I'm hoping to see her show while I'm there. It should be fun.
Michael Ian Black
Michael Ian Black pops up all over the TV dial: hosting Trust Me, I'm a Game Show Host on TBS, conducting wacky experiments on National Geographic's Duck Quacks Don't Echo, and poking fun at pop culture phenomenons in reruns of VH1's I Love the... series. Black will perform two stand-up sets at the City Opera House on February 15.
The Ticker: Last year, comedian Neal Brennan was here and tweeted about performing in Traverse City. You tweeted back: “Is that a real place?” When did you learn Traverse City is in fact real, and what convinced you to come perform here?
Michael Ian Black: I just got an email asking if I wanted to go! And I said yes, because I'm always tempted to go to new places. Even if I'm not convinced they're real. But I have since learned Traverse City is lovely and charming – even in the dead of winter, apparently.
The Ticker: The city is also famous for its cherries, if you're into that kind of thing.
Michael Ian Black: I love cherries! That might actually be my favorite fruit. But they're out of season right now, right?
The Ticker: Right. But we've got dried cherries, cherry juice, preserved cherry products...
Michael Ian Black: Well, now listen: I don't want any of that other cherry bull****. You can print that. I want fresh, in-season cherries. See what you can do.
The Ticker: Will do. Switching gears: For any TC folks who might not be familiar with your stand-up, how would you describe your show?
Michael Ian Black: Oh, I don't know. (pauses) I'm like a...less funny Jim Gaffigan. Yeah. That works.
Not many comedians can say they've been nominated for a Tony – but then, not many comedians have the musical talent of Stephen Lynch. The humorous singer-songwriter, who appeared in the lead role in The Wedding Singer on Broadway and has released three studio albums and three live albums, will bring his popular concert show to Traverse City February 14 and 15.
The Ticker: You and (wife) Erin recently moved to Kalamazoo from New York City. Why did you decide to come back to Michigan?
Stephen Lynch: We'd been gone long enough. We both grew up in Michigan and spent a lot of time in Kalamazoo (ed note: Lynch is a Western Michigan University graduate). When it was time to leave the hustle and bustle of the city, this was the obvious place for us.
The Ticker: Being a Michigander, were you familiar with Traverse City and/or the festival when you received the invite to perform this year?
Stephen Lynch: Yeah. You know, it would've been nice to get a call to go to, like, the Honolulu Festival right now(laughs). No, but it's beautiful up there. I'll be doing – well, it's not just stand-up comedy and it's not just music; it's a mix. I've got some musicians who will come with me. We'll hit the stage for a couple hours and have fun. It'll be a good time.
The Ticker: There will be an outdoor bar at the comedy festival this year. There's also a microbrew festival here a week earlier. Do you have a go-to favorite Michigan beer?
Stephen Lynch: (deadpan) Wait, people in Michigan like beer? Let's see. We just got an Alamo Drafthouse here in Kalamazoo, which is amazing. I always love it when (Bell's) Oberon comes out, too. When you can buy Oberon – that's when you know it's safe to go outside again.
For tickets, scheduling and other details for the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival, click here.