Pete Lee has always been a pretty positive guy, and his comedy has reflected his sunny disposition.
The Wisconsin native got his start on the same stage as many other comedians in the Minneapolis comedy scene: Acme Comedy Company. Lee has always stood out for his light-hearted approach to comedy (even when he talks about telling girls that they look fat when they cry, he does it in a way that makes you want to give him a hug and hook him up with your daughter/sister/mom), and has talked in the past about how he doesn’t feel that you need to be a tortured person to be a good comedian.
That attitude is likely the reason that Lee has been a favorite in comedy clubs and college campuses for many years. During that time, he’s also dipped his toes into the television world through various projects, most notably as part of the now-defunct “Best Week Ever” on VH1.
Over the last year, however, in the wake of some major shakeups in his personal life, including the end of a long-term relationship, Lee has been noticeably absent from the road. “I went through the worst pain of my life,” Lee says. “But that’s our job as comedians. We take a sad song and sing it in a happy way.”
For Lee, that song meant talking about his personal experiences in such a way that audiences could connect with them, even if he wasn’t quite ready to face the pain himself.
“I like taking real experiences and making comedy out of them,” he says. “But honestly, I think I was talking about my situation onstage before I was really ready to address it with myself. It’s great though, because I talk about what I was feeling during my act, and I see people in the audience nudge each other because they’ve been there and they can relate.”
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As a testament to his strength as a person as well as a performer, Lee also used his emotional crossroads as motivation to become a better comedian and actor.
“I figured, if I was going to go through all of this that I should go after my dreams equally as hard,” he says. “I had done some acting, but to be honest I was sort of half-assing it. So I stayed home from touring and started auditioning like crazy. I’ve been doing like eight per week between commercials and TV shows.”
And, like a much funnier version of “The Gift,” what he has put into the universe has paid off in spades. Lee recently landed a new show on TruTV called “Best Ever,” an expanded take on his “Best Week Ever” days. He can also be seen regularly on Nickelodeon sharing kid-friendly sports highlights, and is currently developing a show for Comedy Central.
Though he hasn’t performed in Minnesota since last fall, Lee has also significantly stepped up his standup career by staying in New York and working on refining his voice.
“I’ve been doing four or five shows a night sometimes,” he says. The hard work paid off: Lee got “passed” at the Comedy Cellar, earning regular time on the renown comedy stage and praise from high places. “Robert De Niro was there one night and called me over to his table to tell me I had a great set. Louis CK was there one night and was like, ‘You’re wonderful. How do I not know you?’ and I told him that I’ve been hidden away out on the road.”
Armed with a new arsenal of jokes and a new perspective on life, Lee has been hitting the road once again, touring colleges and clubs throughout the country, including a week-long stint this week at Acme. He’ll also be appearing on Conan in the near future, serving as somewhat of a “coming out” party for his public return to the stage. Needless to say, Lee’s schedule is anything but open these days.
“I’ll get to this point where I feel like I have nothing going on, and get a total sense of panic in brain,” he says. “Then I’ll do a bunch of stuff and think I have way too much going on. That’s kind of how I’ve always been though.”
As his career is booming, Lee shares that his personal life is also looking pretty great.
“I started dating another actress and comedian, and we actually do standup together sometimes,” he beams. “We wrote a sitcom together that we’re shopping around, and it’s been going really, really great.”
With that, Lee sounds like the same friendly, cheerful comedian whom audiences have come to know and love, but with a more insightful outlook on life.
“Everything is amazing, and I think that’s because I knew I really wanted to be happy to work for that,” he says. “But you’ve got to go toward happiness. If you go toward it, you’ll find it.”
Pete Lee is performing at Acme Comedy Company April 12-16. Click here for tickets and details.