"I've been in it since the very first one," Sapp said of his part in the annual 10-day festival sponsored by Gilda's Club of Grand Rapids.
But in the 2016 version the married father of two is actually headlining a show – scheduled for March 19 at Living Word Christian Center.
"They came to me and said, 'You've always brought (other comedians) in, why don't you headline this year?'" said Sapp, 45. "And I said...that would be sweet."
In past years Sapp has appeared on the LaughFest bill in a host/emcee role while also unreeling some of his homespun comedic slants. He has featured his comedy "friends" as special guests.
"My goal really has been to expose Grand Rapids to different types of comedians I've met in my years of doing comedy," he said.
In the past Sapp has been on LaughFest programs with talents such as Andrea Woodfolk, Chinnitta Morris and Rod Allison. Crystal P – on the program this year – is back at the festival for the second time. He has worked with all of them previously in appearances around the country.
One hundred percent of the proceeds from LaughFest's schedule of more than 200 shows benefit the free cancer, grief and emotional health support programs offered through Gilda's Club, named after comedian Gilda Radner who died of ovarian cancer in 1989.
ALONG THE COMEDIC ROAD
Henry Sapp (he's the younger brother of Grand Rapids pastor/gospel music artist Marvin Sapp) was spurred to shape his comedy after he was a surprise hit at a 2004 wedding reception. In the years since, he has produced three live comedy DVDs and performed across the country while still maintaining his day job back home.
He does more than a dozen dates per year on the "Laugh-alujah: Good for the Soul Comedy Tour" with comics such as Crystal P. He had shows in Memphis, Tenn. and Jackson, Miss. scheduled the weekend before his Grand Rapids concert.
Sapp says he's been busy writing new material over the past several years, which he always runs by his two adult daughters for their reaction. "They're my best sounding board," he said.
He refers to himself as an "edgy Christian comedian," pleased that his material can work well in a church or in a comedy club. "I'm gonna be kind of a giant story-teller this year, with some things I might not normally talk about but addressing them in a clean way that everyone will enjoy and won't be offensive," he observed referring to the show's title "Keeping It Clean."
Sapp's show is this year's lone LaughFest comedy presentation to be offered in an evangelical church facility.
GUESTS AND DIVERSITY
Crystal P, from the Detroit area, has appeared on popular TV shows such as "Def Comedy Jam" and "Last Comic Standing" and has opened for Steve Harvey. Laughin' Lenny has also appeared on Def Jam and has opened shows for gospel music artists such as Yolanda Adams and Fred Hammond.
Gilda's Club president Wendy Wiggers notes LaughFest's track record of bringing in faith-based comedians as part of its humorous mix. "LaughFest was designed to have something for everyone," she said.
"From the beginning we did find that the West Michigan community has responded very well to performances like Chonda Pierce in our first year, Michael Jr. (a G.R. native) in 2012, and Henry Sapp each year."
There are other clean comedy and family-oriented events at LaughFest – such as the River City Improv shows and Kids Joke Times as well as a People and Pets event on March 13 (see schedule at www.laughfestgr.org).
Looking over his audiences Sapp is reminded that humor – like music – is something that can bring people together. "When I first started doing shows here – even with LaughFest – I started off with maybe 3 percent white," he said of the racial mix at his concerts. "Then it went up and the last show I did it was about 50-50. I told people, take a look around.....cuz this is what it's gonna look like in heaven."
Note: LaughFest, March 10-20, 2016 benefiting Gilda's Club, an organization supporting individuals and families in the midst of cancer or grief.
Among the Programs:
"Keeping It Clean" – Comedy Night featuring Henry Sapp & Friends, including Crystal P. and Laughin' Lenny, 8 p.m. Sat. March 19 at Living Word Christian Center Church, 1534 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, Admission: $10; tickets available via Ticketmaster outlets, 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com, or LaughFest Central at the G.R. Art Museum, 101 Monroe Center, 616-735-HAHA, www.laughfestgr.org
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