TRAVERSE CITY — If the comedy doesn’t make you crack a smile, racing down Front Street on a zip line, in a rowboat or behind a snowblower will.
That’s the idea behind this year’s beefed-up Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival, Feb. 13-16, which combines free outdoor fun with live comedy and films.
Tickets for the shows go on sale at noon today online and at the State Theatre box office.
Funnyman Fred Willard (”Best in Show,” “Anchorman,” “Wall-E”) and “clean” comedian Sinbad are the latest additions to a comedy lineup that includes Rosie O’Donnell, Michael Ian Black, Tig Notaro, Stephen Lynch, Tim Meadows, Dave Foley, Jeff Garlin, Matt Braunger, Kirk Fox, Dan St. Germain, Sarah Tiana, TJ & Dave, Mike Toomey and Set List.
Willard, whose credits include thousands of TV appearances and four Emmy nominations, will accept the TC Comedy Fest Legends Award during a conversation with festival co-host Michael Moore at 6 p.m. Feb. 14 at the City Opera House.
“He’s a legend,” said Deb Lake, executive director of the Traverse City Film Festival, which puts on the festival in partnership with the National Cherry Festival.
Willard’s 2000 film “Best in Show,” a satire on the world of championship dog breeding and training, will be among a handful screened as part of the festival. Trevor Tkach, executive director of the Cherry Festival, couldn’t help but notice that Willard’s appearance ties in nicely with one of the Winter Comedy Fest’s most popular outdoor events.
“I’m optimistic maybe he’ll see some of the Monster Dog Pull,” said Tkatch, referring to the Feb. 15 event that has dogs of all breeds and sizes pulling a weighted sled for barking rights.
The pull is one of about 20 “Free on Front” events that will take place Feb. 14-16 on two closed blocks of Front Street between Park and Union. Popular events returning from last year include the ice skating rink, sledding hill and the Ferris wheel. But Tkach expects the zip line above the 100 block of the street to be the new favorite.
“Without a doubt, the zip line is going to be the big event. It’s a dual line, so you can race somebody,” he said.
This year’s festival will feature more kids’ and family-friendly events, from a make-and-bake cherry pie workshop and a hot chocolate contest to a kids jokes contest and an interactive show by the arts education group Story Pirates.
“I’ve always wanted my son to be able to see them and now he can,” said Lake, of the New York- and Los Angeles-based troupe that incorporates stories by kids into its shows featuring songs, puppets and comedy sketches.
More ice sculpture also is in the works, including an ice bar, a Fire & Ice display — a bonfire inside an ice sculpture — and interactive sculptures like an Eskimo with a cut-out face that kids can pose behind for pictures.
If the weather keeps up its frigid temperatures, Tkach said visitors can always find relief at one of several warming, activity and party tents.
“I haven’t checked the extended forecast but optimistically I see a perfect weekend,” he said. “If we can’t do the Brain Freeze (ice cream-eating contest) or Spit Pit outdoors, we can move them into one of the tents.”
About 1,000 community volunteers will help put on the festival, which includes a Soup’r Bowl, a soup cook-off, and a Frozen Cherry Brunch with pancakes flipped by Chris Cakes pancake catering, the world-record holder for most pancakes flipped in an hour and the highest pancake tossed.
“The idea and the (Film Festival-Cherry Festival) partnership was just to do something really great for the community,” Tkach said. “I’m sure it’s got some economic impact, in terms of people coming from out of town for this and people doing better business. But we want to show our dedication to the community. We’re definitely doing it for the right reason.
“I think the silver lining is that the money for the shows helps offset the expense of the free events, which is really cool,” Tkach said.
For more information about the festival, visit wintercomedy.org.