The Twin Cities is well known as a hotbed for comedy. With so many comedy clubs, one-nighters, brewery shows, open mics, alt-comedy spots and theaters, it’s no mystery that many working comedians call Minnesota home. Nationally, the Twin Cities is recognized as a great source of talent.
But the Twin Cities is not the only place for comedy in Minnesota. In fact, there are small but vibrant comedy scenes at many spots outside the metro, including Duluth and Rochester. Two other communities, Mankato and St. Cloud, have experienced significant growth in recent years.
St. Cloud soars
In St. Cloud, comedian Jonah Maddox – through his organization Combat’s Creations — runs Silly Beaver Comedy at Beaver Island Brewing.
Silly Beaver has achieved tremendous success in a short period, having opened in the summer of 2022 and featuring top regional and local comedians on Saturday nights. Maddox, working at home during COVID-19 lockdowns, was frustrated with the limited comedy opportunities in Central Minnesota and the amount of travel required for him to get stage time.
So, despite some significant family and health struggles that made the launch anything but easy, Silly Beaver Comedy was born in April of 2022 and produced its first show at Beaver Island Brewing Co., on Saturday, June 4, 2022.
Maddox leveraged his event planning experience and marketing education to execute his plan to gain exposure and give audiences a satisfying experience. Silly Beaver relies heavily on social media to get the word out, with a mix of radio, posters and word-of-mouth to help drive traffic. The club has become increasingly popular, leading Maddox to now offer two shows on Saturday nights.
Comedy isn’t new to St. Cloud. Prior to Silly Beaver’s success, nationally touring comedian Adrian Washington’s 1Mic Entertainment had been booking successful one-off comedy events at many St. Cloud venues for several years, including big shows at the Red Carpet Event Center.
In addition, the Keller Open Mic has become a local favorite for veteran and rookie comics working out new jokes or stepping on stage for the first time. But Silly Beaver Comedy is the most recent successful attempt at regular weekend comedy shows and is the primary catalyst for the current comedy growth in the St. Cloud area. Maddox and his organization, Combat’s Creations, plan on opening another room in Central Minnesota soon.
Greater in Mankato
In Mankato, Dan Bacula runs the Greater Mankato Comedy Coalition, as well as an open mic and monthly showcase at the Circle Inn Bar. Now, as comedy is becoming even more popular, he is teaming up with local media company Triple Falls, to produce a regular live comedy showcase which is also recorded on video.
Bacula, a transplant from the Madison, Wisconsin, area, moved to Mankato in 2021. Like Maddox, Bacula started producing comedy shows in part because of limited comedy opportunities in the immediate area. The owner of the Circle Inn encouraged him to hold his open mic in the back room at the bar, and although Dan was initially reluctant because he was an employee there, he eventually took her up on the offer and is glad he did. The first open mic was held in November of 2021, and the first showcase was May of 2022.
According to Bacula, “I’ve been very fortunate that the early attendees of the open mic were arts-minded adults … and had a wealth of significant life experiences. I owe a lot to the people who attended the open mics those first few months, as audience and as performers.”
Bacula thinks Mankato is big enough for even more comedy than is currently being provided.
“Other venues have had well-attended ‘comedy nights’ and that’s great,” Bacula says. “I am conscientiously producing shows with comics who value articulating themselves and their perspectives, as opposed to fitting themselves to a crowd’s expectation of what comedy is and what a comic should be. I guess when I started running the open mic I had it in my head to eventually produce shows, too. The back room at the Circle Inn tops out at 50 people, so that was a bit of a concern initially but I was wrong — it’s a perfect room and size for the shows.”
Although a newer resident, Bacula has acquired a fair bit of knowledge about the history of comedy in Mankato.
“I guess in the ’80s, ’90s – or I could have the timing very wrong — there was a long-standing comedy show every Sunday at a place called TJ Finnigans,” he says. “And when that closed there were a few different venues that took up the mantle of weekly or monthly comedy shows.”
Regarding the future, Bacula is optimistic.
“I’ve since partnered with Triple Falls — a local live event and digital content production company — to produce bigger shows that they also film for posting online,” he says. “We did one in an 80-person room, which sold out and we had to turn people away. Our next joint venture is April 7 at the Morson-Ario-Strand VFW, which seats over 120 people. We’re still trying to figure out the best structure for these shows. I only wanted to do shows outside of the Circle Inn if Triple Falls was willing to co-produce them and film them, because I know audiences appreciate Triple Falls’ high live event standards and there’s a demand amongst comics for high quality videos.”
The good news for comedians both inside and outside the metro area: as stand-up comedy expands its footprint in outstate Minnesota, there will be more opportunities for stage time, which is an absolute requirement for anybody trying to improve as a performer.
Upcoming comedy events in the Southwest Metro
Friday, April 7
Mystic Lake Casino, Prior Lake
Comedian Tim Dillon
Friday, April 21
Fat Pants Brewing, Eden Prairie
Headlining Comedian TBA
Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment of a monthly comedy-focused column, Little Joke on the Prairie, by Eden Prairie resident Pat LaVone. He is a writer, speaker, stand-up comic and storyteller. During the original comedy boom, Pat began performing stand-up and sketch comedy in the mid-1980s. After a brief 30-year hiatus, he returned to the stage to perform stand-up and storytelling shows as well as humorous keynote presentations. He currently produces shows for YellowBrick Comedy and performs at various theaters and clubs around Minnesota.
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