Last year, we shared our picks for five Minnesota comedians on the cusp of doing big things both locally and nationally. Not to give ourselves too much credit, but we sort of nailed it.
From Chloe Radcliffe being selected to perform at Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco “Comics to Watch” showcase during the New York Comedy Festival, to Ali Sultan making his Comedy Central debut on Kevin Hart’s “Hart of the City,” and Turner Barrowman making the leap to the bigtime as one of the “New Faces” at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal, our homegrown comic talent continued to do Minnesota proud in 2017.
Now, looking ahead in 2018, there is a whole new group of killer up-and-comers ready to take the torch and become the “next big thing” in Twin Cities comedy. Here are four of our favorites to keep an eye on this year.
Bruce Leroy Williams
It feels weird to say that Williams is “up-and-coming,” seeing as how he had a massive 2017.
One-third of the original Baddies Comedy Co. crew, alongside Brandon Jay Riddley and Pierre Douglas, Williams opened the first black comedy club in Minnesota, scored a spot (alongside Ali Sultan, Greg Coleman, and Earl Elliot, all past Growler “Comedians to Watch”) performing for comedy mega-star Kevin Hart on “Hart of the City,” and was responsible for opening new avenues for comedy that didn’t previously exist.
But to say his success came easily would be overwhelmingly false.
“I tried Acme open mic about six years ago,” Williams recalls of his first entry into comedy. “I didn’t even know I was doing it—someone else signed me up. I went up, they laughed, and I figured maybe I could do this.”
While he would pop up at open mic nights and small showcases sporadically, Williams says it took him roughly three years to really get serious about making his name in comedy.
“That’s when I started going to open mics regularly, and working on material,” he explains. “Before that, I’d just get up and talk shit.”
While his motivation and work ethic were both there, Williams says that the opportunities to hone his craft weren’t as readily available as he would have liked. With that in mind, last February, Williams, Douglas, and Riddley opened Baddies Comedy Co. in St. Paul.
“That’s my proudest moment in comedy so far,” he says. “To take an idea, go through with it, and then have it recognized on a national scale was really big. Plus, it gave us and others like us the chance to get up and practice and make ourselves better.”
Williams went from stage-hopping at various clubs and bars, to being on stage at Baddies multiple nights each week, as a host and a headliner. The physical Baddies location recently closed and the group is in discussions with the building owner to make modifications so they can apply for a theater license, but the trio has continued to build their comedy brand by promoting shows at venues all over town. Recently they opened a new venue in downtown Minneapolis called Comedy Upstairs, located above the adult nightclub, PYRMD. The first show at Comedy Upstairs is slated for February 8.
As for his goals for 2018, Williams is unique in that he wants to combine his passion for comedy with his other passions for life, to create something entirely new and different.
“I teach yoga, I do photography, I’ve worked in occupational safety, and I think I can incorporate comedy into all of those things and make it a part of my everyday life,” he says confidently. “In comedy, you need to create a lane of your own and make some shit no one has ever seen before.”
Where can you see him next?
Comedy Upstairs on February 8. Full details can be found on BaddiesComedy.com.
Ever since Abby Marose was 14-years-old, she knew she wanted to be a comedian.
“I was obsessed over stand-up specials and podcasts,” she recalls.
She finally got her first taste of the stage at 18, during a variety open mic night in the piano lounge of her college.
“The show was attended by three people. I brought two of them. Every show I’ve done since then has gone about the same—I crushed!” she jokes. “It’s been an on/off, love/hate relationship with comedy ever since then.”
This past year Marose and last year’s comedian to watch Radcliffe, began a comedy storytelling show called REAL SHIT at the Comedy Corner Underground.
The idea is freshly funny and super unique, which is tough in such a comedy-dense town. It’s a storytelling show where each month a different group of local comedians tell true stories about moments when shit hit the fan in their respective lives. Heartbreaks, broken condoms, lost jobs, and lost dignity all come pouring out on stage, to the horror and delight of the packed house each month.
The show will be celebrating its one year anniversary at CCU on January 25, and Marose plans to continue growing and hosting the show every fourth Thursday at what she considers her home club.
“The DIY vibe is comfortable to me. I feel most at home when the surroundings are falling apart at least a little more than I am. The mic is awesome, and I’m really proud of how CCU supports lesser-known, alt, and local comics.”
As for her other goals in 2018, Marose is looking inwardly to help make the comedy scene something she wants to see herself.
“It can be difficult to navigate spaces that are dominated by one certain point of view over and over again. Especially one that, at best, I don’t relate to, and at worst is hostile and harmful towards me and people I care about,” she says. “Comedy can be so narcissistic, callous, and shallow. Comedians themselves doubly so. But it can also be beautiful, dynamic, and paradigm-shifting. It’s really tempting to take the baby with the bath water and chuck them all out together, quitting comedy because it’s not the way that I would ideally like it to be. Instead I want to come together with others to build our own bathtub, and fill it up with all sorts of new types of babies who are way funnier, anyways. That, plus get laid more.”
Where can you see her next?
REAL SHIT comedy storytelling at Comedy Corner Underground every fourth Thursday of the month.
Ryan Kahl is seemingly everywhere in local comedy these days. Both metaphorically and geographically.
Living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Kahl began doing stand-up right after graduating high school. But with no comedy clubs nearby, he’s drive two hours to Goonie’s Comedy Club in Rochester.
“I did that every Thursday for about two years,” he recalls.
Finally, Kahl helped start a room in Eau Claire with Clear Water Comedy, which has exploded into a haven for major names in the Midwest and beyond. In 2014, Kahl moved to Minneapolis full time, and his stand-up career really began to take off.
These days, you can find him performing in various clubs all over town, including Joke Joint and Comedy Corner Underground, while also making the trek back to EC to perform at The Plus, the room he helped create.
On January 23, Kahl got the chance to perform with one of his comedy heroes at The Plus: Rory Scovel. “I’ve been really fortunate that I’m able to work with some people that I have a lot of respect for in comedy,” Kahl says.
This past fall, Kahl was also a producer of the annual 10,000 Laughs Comedy Festival, and helps run a stand-up showcase at Fair State Brewing Cooperative on the first Sunday of each month. As if he isn’t busy enough, Kahl is also part of the sketch comedy group Lipstick Mustache, alongside comedians Dena Denny and Matthew Ayers. The group puts out online sketches on a bi-weekly basis, drawing comparisons to the Boy Kisses comedy gang that recently made a mass exodus for the West Coast.
With his boyish good looks and likeable demeanor, Kahl is likely poised to be a major player in the Twin Cities (and Eau Claire) comedy scene in 2018. But to hear him say it, his comedy goals are much more humble.
“For 2018, my main goal is to work even harder at comedy. I just want to keep getting better. That’s my only real goal.”
Where can you see him next?
Fair State Brewing Cooperative, first Sunday of each month.
“Being the funniest person at work doesn’t translate to being a good comedian,” says James Wells.
Wells won the House of Comedy’s “Funniest Person with a Day Job” contest this past year, so he is the expert. He was also a finalist in the comedy contests at Sisyphus and Joke Joint, so clearly his comedy has translated beyond workplace-levels of fame.
“I realized that there was too much talent in the Twin Cities not to take it [his comedy career] seriously,” he says of his growth as a comic. “You get serious or you get left behind.”
After starting his comedy career on a dark Monday for sports fans (“It was the Monday after the Vikings lost to the Saints in the playoffs back in 2009,” he recalls) at Acme’s open mic night, Wells says his interest in comedy came from needing a creative outlet.
“I needed something to do, honestly,” he says. “I was that guy who thought ‘Oh, it’s not that tough.’ I learned real quick that it is that tough.”
After moving out to Arizona for a stretch to work, dabble in comedy, and basically run away from Minnesota, Wells came back and started doing as much comedy as he could locally, before finally getting his big win at House of Comedy in June.
Since then, Wells has been a proverbial iron man of comedy, performing on any stage he can find time, from Running Aces in Columbus, to OMNI Brewing in Maple Grove, and outside the state in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Chicago.
“I just want to stay booked as often as possible,” he says of his 2018 goals. “I feel like I’ve made the jump from being the best player on JV to the worst player on varsity. I need the reps. I used to be out there stretching and milking to have 30 minutes of material. Now I’ve got a solid 30 and I want to expand it to 45 minutes. It’s about constantly improving.”
Where can you see him next?
Basically every open mic in the Twin Cities. Mondays at Acme Comedy Company, Tuesdays at House of Comedy, Wednesdays at Joke Joint and Thursdays at Sisyphus Brewing.