Coach Cal to host a positively hilarious night at Rupp Arena

Sinbad, top left, Bill Engvall, top right, Henry Cho, bottom left, and John Calipari
Sinbad, top left, Bill Engvall, top right, Henry Cho, bottom left, and John Calipari

There have been plenty of sounds that have filled Rupp Arena over the years. But Thursday night, Rupp will be filled with the sounds of laughter as Comedy Mania makes its debut.

The benefit will feature popular comedians Bill Engvall, Sinbad, Henry Cho and several other entertainers co-hosted by University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari and iconic former pro wrestler "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase.

Calipari and his foundation, The Calipari Foundation, collaborated with the Global Sports Aid Network, which helps provide clean water to underserved families in 22 countries worldwide, and Samaritan's Feet, which helps provide new shoes to children in need in both the U.S. and abroad, to put on the comedy concert.

The headliners are very different, but they both have track records of keeping crowds laughing through long careers in comedy.

Bill Engvall is best known as part of the wildly successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour and for his signature bit "Here's Your Sign." The husband and father of two touches on topics in his own life that a lot of his fans can relate to for close to 30 years, which he thinks has always been part of his appeal.

"When they come see my shows, you're not going to see a stand-up comedy show. It's like we're sitting around the living room and I'm the funny guy doing the talking," he says.

Engvall says that while the audience at Comedy Mania 2014 will hear some new material he's ironing out for a future televised comedy special, he won't leave the stage without doing a version of his most well-known joke.

"That's what brought them to the party, and I can't not do it now," he says.

The other headlining comedian has a name that is familiar to almost any fan of stand-up comedy. Sinbad's comedic stylings not only made him a huge draw when he was on stage, it helped the comedian break into acting in the late 1980s on shows like A Different World and in the 1990s with his own self-titled series and various big-screen film projects. He stepped away from acting for much of the 2000s but continued to keep his schedule full with stand-up comedy gigs. His 2010 "comeback" Comedy Central stand-up special was called Where U Been?, and the title definitely had a purpose.

"A lot of people just haven't seen me on TV," Sinbad says. "Where U Been? Was like a play on words. I'm asking people, 'where you been?'"

Right now, Sinbad is a man with two performing passions. On Where U Been? he delivered laughs and melodies, playing music live on stage. While he won't be doing any music at Comedy Mania, he definitely plans to deliver comedy that's clean, edgy and a bit spontaneous.

"Sometimes, I don't know where I'm going to start," he says. "It's like when I walk on stage, there it goes. It's like Miles Davis said, 'if you knew what it was, you wouldn't come see it.' I guess for me, I don't know any other way."

In addition to Engvall and Sinbad, Comedy Mania will feature veteran stand-up comedian Henry Cho. Cho initially got crowds curious and laughing as a Korean-American with a Southern accent, having grown up in Knoxville. With a résumé filled with an array of late-night talk show and TV appearances, Cho has managed to use his life experience to turn it into clean and winning material.

In an email interview, Cho wrote that's at least one thing he and his fellow performers at this benefit event have in common.

"We're all clean comedians and have been in this business for 28-35 years," Cho wrote. "It's a very diverse show, which is what the folks at Comedy Mania wanted."

Event organizer Matthew Dunaway of Global Sports Aid says, "We try to do things that are racially diverse. There's a lot of negativity out there. Our theory is if we can get people together for a common purpose, that's a proactive way to get people to work together."

Other performers on the Comedy Mania bill include stand-up comic Mark Christopher Lawrence, notable bluegrass act Dailey & Vincent, Christian soul artist Patrick Dopson and illusionist Curt Anderson, who has plans to escape a straightjacket while being dangled from the rafters of Rupp Arena.

Dunaway says Comedy Mania is an event that should have something to entertain every age group, and he hopes it is the first of many similar events in the future.

He says, "We just want to help families, and we needed a way to generate support and bring awareness to what we do."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader