5 Minnesota Comics to Watch in 2019

From top left clockwise, Costner, Bayer, Baka, Henderson, and Nickel // Photos courtesy the comics

From top left clockwise, Amanda Costner, Bayer, Baka, Henderson, and Nickel // Photos courtesy the comics 

Between the internet, Netflix, and HILARIOUS co-workers, it can often feel like comedy is all around. Which is literally the case in the Twin Cities. Each year, the comedy scene here continues to expand with more stages, bigger crowds, and new, talented performers. While there are comedy shows and comics for pretty much any taste, we’ve compiled our picks for the five who are primed to make 2019 their breakout year.

Amanda Costner

Amanda Costner // Photo courtesy Amanda Costner

A former college athlete, Costner’s entry into the world of performing was not exactly traditional.

“In 2007 I gave a speech at the banquet of the Women’s Golf Big 12 Championship that was funny and well received,” she recalls. “People told me I should do stand-up after the speech and that got the seed planted. My first time doing comedy music was about six years ago in Chicago. I’d done a few comedic songs on guitar for a sketch show and they were a hit with the audience. Shortly after that I added jokes and other stuff to my act and it became what it is today.”

Costner has been tirelessly creating new content since then, both on stage as well as via video sketches and songs. (Check out her YouTube channel to see her latest and greatest.)

In 2017, Costner released her first album, “LGBT Redneck,” and is preparing to release a new special this spring, “Lesbian Jesus,” which was filmed at Sisyphus Brewing in Minneapolis.

“The Sisyphus Brewing comedy room is on fire right now,” she says when asked about some of her favorite spots in town. “I’m totally in love with that space and so thankful I got to film my special there.”

Costner can also be seen regularly at LUSH’s “Big Fat Comedy Hour” on the third Sunday of each month (one of the best-kept secrets in Twin Cities comedy). “It’s where I feel most at home,” she says.

As for her 2019 goals, Costner hopes to continue releasing new sketches, and has a goal of releasing a sketch video every day of the year. She also hopes to release a produced version of the title song for her special and to continue to perform live throughout town.

Where can you see her next?
Saturday, January 19, 7pm: “Comedy at the Crane” at the Underground Music Café, 408 3rd Ave. N., Minneapolis

Follow Amanda on Twitter

Nate Nickel

Nate Nickel // Photo courtesy Nate Nickel

Nate Nickel won the prestigious title of Acme Comedy Company’s Funniest Person in 2017 thanks to his dark sense of humor and biting one-liners. However, winning the contest isn’t always a sure thing when it comes to comedy stardom. Plenty of winners have grabbed their $1,000 check and disappeared from the scene entirely. Therefore, it was a huge sense of accomplishment this past year when Nickel was officially hired as an emcee at Acme.

Nickel got his start in comedy back in 2015 and is one of the busiest artists on this list. In addition to his new-found role as an Acme emcee, which entails opening for headliners like Sean Patton and Derek Hughes, he can be found performing all over town including at Red Sea restaurant, Flat Earth Brewing, and every Sunday at the Finnish Bistro in St. Paul for open mic night.

While 2018 saw him begin to get traction locally, Nickel isn’t letting himself think too big just yet.

“Goals distract me,” he says flatly when asked about his plans for 2019. “I just try to be the best comedian I can be. It’s a system, not a goal.”

Where can you see him next?
Sundays at 7pm at Finnish Bistro, 2264 Como Ave., St. Paul

Follow Nate on Facebook

Tommy Bayer

Tommy Bayer // Photo courtesy Tommy Bayer

If you haven’t seen Tommy Bayer do comedy, you clearly don’t go see comedy in Minneapolis.

Bayer took 2018 by storm, performing regularly at Comedy Corner Underground, Sisyphus Brewing, and was a part of this year’s 10,000 Laughs Festival. But that’s not to say he has always been a comedy wunderkind.

“The first open mic I signed up for was when I was a senior in high school which was in the spring of 2015,” he recalls. “I signed up at the Comedy Corner Underground and like most first-timers I had no idea what I was doing, but it went okay I guess. I went a couple more times and bombed pretty hard, I believe, my third time. That kind of shook me up, so when I left Minneapolis for college I didn’t really do another mic for about a year, but became obsessed with stand-up that year in my dorm.”

Bayer returned to Minneapolis in the summer of 2016, where he began regularly attending open mic nights and getting serious about his comedy aspirations. His efforts paid off, as this past year Bayer was named Sisyphus Brewing’s 2018 Funniest Person in Minneapolis.

“There were just so many funny people in that contest, and Corey Adam does an amazing job running that room so it really was an honor to perform there alongside of so many other funny comics,” he says of his victory. “It also gave me a sliver of validation to the family and friends who don’t really understand what stand-up is or why I am doing it, which is nice.”

Not one to rest on the success of his contest victory, Bayer, alongside fellow comics Helena Balcziak and Zach Kagan, started a monthly comedy showcase called “Beach Party,” which takes place at Mead Hall Games & Comics in Minneapolis. The show combines stand-up with live sketches, and is the best (and weirdest) variety show in town, filling the void left by the departing Boy Kisses crew last year.

“The show is set in a storage room of a comic book store that sort of looks like every scene from the movie ‘Saw,’ but I swear the show is a blast and nothing but a silly-goose time,” Bayer explains. “The show consists of about five comics, who range from local comics to nationally touring headliners, and then a couple silly sketches that my producers and I write definitely not an hour before the show. In all honesty, ‘Beach Party’ is a show I’m proud to produce and I guarantee anyone who attends will have a blast.”

In addition to the monthly showcase, Bayer can be seen regularly at Sisyphus, Comedy Corner Underground, and various other shows in town. He says he looks to grow his comedy base even bigger this year. “Comedy is so unpredictable, so I just want to continue to write jokes, get funnier, continue to book gigs, and hope that good things happen.”

Where can you see him next?
Sunday, January 27 at 8pm: “Beach Party” at Mead Hall Games & Comics, 1425 LaSalle Ave., Minneapolis

Follow Tommy on Twitter.

Ashli Henderson

Ashley Hendersen // Photo courtesy Ashley Hendersen

Ashley Henderson // Photo courtesy Ashley Henderson

Some comedians grind away and wait for opportunity to come knocking. Others, like Ashli Henderson, create their own opportunities.

After starting her comedy career in February 2016 at Acme Comedy Company’s open mic night, Henderson began producing her own shows and has since sought out ways to get on stage in any way possible. The historic Mounds Theater, the Nickel Joint in St. Paul, the recently closed Prime 6 steakhouse, Sisyphus, LUSH: pretty much anywhere with a crowd and a mic.

But when it comes to declaring a “home club,” Henderson doesn’t hesitate to call one out: “Any Baddies Comedy Club stage. That’s home. Baddies will always be home,” she says.

Baddies Comedy, which was started by comedians Pierre Douglas, Brandon Riddley, and Bruce Leroy Williams, has been producing shows for the past couple of years across town, cementing themselves as leaders in black and urban comedy.

While hearing a crowd explode with laughter is a rush for any comic, Henderson points out that her proudest moment was performing for one person in particular. “My proudest moment is performing in front of my kid and watching her laugh at my jokes,” she says.

As for 2019, Henderson is looking to continue to be the Iron Woman of Twin Cities comedy, with a goal of 200 shows by the end of the year. However, she is also taking time to appreciate the success she’s already had. “My greatest accomplishment was enjoying my dream.”

Where can you see her next?
Sunday, January 20 at 8pm: Nickel Joint, 501 Blair Ave., St. Paul

Follow Ashli on Instagram.

Courtney Baka

Courtney Baka // Photo courtesy Courtney Baka

Courtney Baka // Photo by  Donna Labere

A lot of people have fantasized about being on stage. Whether as a comedian, musician, actor, or any other type of performance, it’s exciting to think about being in front of a crowd, entertaining people the way you’ve been entertained by countless others. Very few people, however, get to realize those moments; even fewer have the self-awareness to recognize them when they happen. Courtney Baka is one of those select few.

Last year, Baka opened for comedian Rhea Butcher at the Parkway Theater as part of the 10,000 Laughs Festival. “I used to go watch movies [at the Parkway Theater] back when the idea of even trying stand-up was like a far-away dream to me,” she says. “While I was on stage, I pictured the girl I was back then seeing the girl I am now and it was kind of overwhelming.”

Before she was opening for some of comedy’s biggest names, Baka was a nervous newbie trying to find a way to get her start.

“I toyed with the idea of doing comedy on and off throughout most of my 20s, but it took me a long time to finally work up the courage,” she explains. “In early 2015, right before my 28th birthday, I decided either I was going to do it now or it wasn’t going to happen. I signed up for my first improv class at Huge Theater, then in September of that year I did my first open mic. After, I started I knew I wasn’t going to stop.”

Since then, Baka has been a regular at clubs all over town, especially Comedy Corner Underground where she currently hosts the monthly showcase “Beauty Pageant,” and Fair State Brewing’s “Stand-up Sunday” the first Sunday of every month.

In addition to creating her own local opportunities, this past year Baka hit the road for the comedy festival circuit, appearing at Limestone in Indiana, 208 Comedy Fest in Idaho, Rogue Island in Rhode Island, and the Burning Bridges comedy festival in Pennsylvania. She hopes to continue growing her list of exotic comedy locations in 2019, while staying true to her Minnesota home base.

“My goal for 2019 is to simply keep that going,” she says. “I want to keep seeing new places, meeting hilarious new people, and growing as a comedian.”

Where can you see her next?
Sunday, February 3 at 8 pm; Fair State Brewing, 2506 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis

Follow Courtney on Twitter.