Comedy in Minnesota

Hanging with my opening act, Ben San Del.

This site is set-up as much as anything to celebrate doing comedy in the Midwest.  When people ask me my favorite states to do comedy in, I always mention Wisconsin and Michigan, as I love the audiences there.  These states have people who are smart, looking to have a good time, and generally half in the bag when they come to the show. The one state in the Midwest that has different audiences than any other is Minnesota.

I was in Sauk Rapids (St. Cloud area) last night and it was kind of a typical Minnesota comedy audience. Low-energy. Now don’t get me wrong, Minnesota citizens love comedy and support it really well, but they are genetically predisposed not to be boisterous in anyway.  My theory is that the Scandinavian/Lutheran culture is to be reserved, so don’t record your comedy CD in Minnesota.  My great example of this was a show I did in St. Cloud a few years back.  So I’m greeting the people after the show when one audience member comes up to me and says this.

Hey Buddy, pretty good show. Funniest comedy I’ve ever heard. I responded back that how could it be the funniest comedy you’ve ever heard, BUT ONLY BE PRETTY GOOD? COME ON MAN, GIVE ME A LITTLE MORE THAN PRETTY GOOD.  His response was that I had a fair point. Then he walked away because he sensed from my passionate behavior this conversation could have some conflict in it.

If you think I’m creating something without basis, I would like to offer up my expert witness. Ken Arneson is a friend of mine who used to run the Baseball Toaster site that I was part of.  Really, really smart guy.  (2 really’s are off-the-charts smarts on my scale.)  So when Ken initially read this post, he sent this comment to me that I am adding here.  Ken lived in Sweden for a time. Ken writes:

Ha, funny how sticky the old country’s culture can be even generations after the immigrant wave. In Sweden, the cultural ideal is “Lagom” which is word that means roughly “not too much but not too little.”. So “pretty good” is the ultimate compliment, but “outstanding” is an insult, because standing out is not “lagom”. And if you happen to stand out instead of being blandly good, you better be humble, dismissive, and apologetic about it. Unless, of course, you were drunk at the time, in which case your standing out is forgiven. My cousin says, “We Swedes drink just to become how Americans are normally.”

For those of you that know me, I was not humble about it and I rarely drink, so I don’t have that one to fall back on.  Now I should throw-in a little background about myself. I grew up in Iowa, which would never be confused with New Jersey for people constantly speaking their minds and embracing argument.  Even though I am more East Coast in my behavior than Midwest, I don’t like to be around a lot of people like me as it makes me feel uncomfortable. (Yes, I realize I am saying that people like myself annoy the shit out of me.  And yes, I do know that therapy would help me greatly.) The only cousins I have are from Minnesota and I like them a lot.  I mention these things not to rip on Minnesota, only to try to explain how the state is different than others when it comes to comedy audiences.

So as I wrote earlier, last night’s crowd in Sauk Rapids was very low-energy. Most comics take that in mind and just do their show realizing that the volume of laughter will be less. I have some kind of defect that can’t accept this so I go extra-hard in this situation, believing I can inject my energy into them.  I yell, I walk off-stage into the crowd, I ask lots of questions hoping to bring them out of this state, I might even lay down on the stage and discuss the incoming nervous breakdown that they are causing me. At one point last night I sat down at one table and drank some beer right out of couple stunned guys pitcher.  I am aware that by doing this I’m acting like a 5 year-old who constantly is saying Watch Me. What can I say in my defense except that I obviously have major issues which are the reason I am such an attention whore that I have decided to make my living asking people to love me through their laughter.

Now not all Minnesota shows are like this but I feel comfortable saying at least 50% are.  Outside of Wisconsin it is the state I’ve performed the most in so I know the reports I get back from the clubs/one-nighters are really good.  Even though I grew up only 150 miles from its border, I think the good people of Minnesota see me as kind of an alien.  For some an alien that is pretty good, funniest comedy they’ve seen.

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5 thoughts on “Comedy in Minnesota

  1. Ha, funny how sticky the old country’s culture can be even generations after the immigrant wave. In Sweden, the cultural ideal is “Lagom” which is word that means roughly “not too much but not too little.”. So “pretty good” is the ultimate compliment, but “outstanding” is an insult, because standing out is not “lagom”. And if you happen to stand out instead of being blandly good, you better be humble, dismissive, and apologetic about it. Unless, of course, you were drunk at the time, in which case your standing out is forgiven. My cousin says, “We Swedes drink just to become how Americans are normally.”

  2. By the way, the “avoiding conflict” thing is oh, so true, too. I was in Switzerland this summer, and happened to meet an American woman from Minnesota who works as a reorganization consultant: she goes into failing companies and figures out how to restructure it to return it to profitability. She said Minnesota businesses are by far the hardest companies to work with, because nobody will tell you anything for fear of creating conflict. That cultural trait came over from Sweden, too, I suspect.

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