Comedy vs. “The Man”: How a Minnesotan comedy club fought City Hall and won

Comedy Corner Underground

Photo courtesy of Comedy Corner Underground’s Facebook

On any given evening, it’s easy to find amazing comedy in bars, restaurants, and taprooms all over Minneapolis. Whether it’s the Monday Night Comedy Show at Spring Street Tavern, open mic night at Campus Pizza on Wednesdays, or the recently launched Comedy Night at Sisyphus Brewing, the wealth of options for live comedy is one of the reasons the Twin Cities comedy scene is regarded as one of the best in the country. But none of these events would be possible if it wasn’t for the Comedy Corner Underground.

Located in the basement of The Corner Bar over on the West Bank, Comedy Corner Underground is the only club in town that is run by comics, for comics, and has been one of the most respected comedy venues in Minneapolis for nearly ten years. With a capacity of less than 70 people, the dingy little room (their words, not ours) has an extremely loyal audience and is filled to capacity every night of the week. But according to Bob Edwards, the manager of CCU, that wasn’t always the case.

“When I first started running the club back in 2008, we only did open mic nights and we’d have maybe 10 or 15 people a night,” he recalls. “Slowly but surely we started building a following, since we were the only club that did a free Friday open mic event.”

While the club began to gain momentum, they were almost forced to shut down operations permanently in spring 2009, when a city inspector chose to enforce a long-forgotten rule about standup comedy venues.

“Basically the law stated that standup comedy was in the same class as live theater or stripping,” Edwards says. “That means that any venue promoting standup comedy had to carry a Class A license, which is incredibly expensive and typically reserved for larger venues in town that host large-scale theater productions. We had a Class B license, which covers things like live music or DJs.”

While authorities agreed that the rule was painfully outdated, the club was forced to close that April. After a few months of research, Edwards and a crew of local comedians appeared at City Hall in front of the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee.

“They initially had us scheduled to go first, but they changed the agenda around to have us go last,” Edwards says. “They knew we had a bunch of comedians who were going to speak, and I think they were actually kind of excited to see what we were going to say.”

The hearing turned out to be probably the most entertaining evening in the history of Minneapolis city government, and in the end the Council unanimously decided to rewrite the law to allow venues that held Class B, C and D licenses to host live comedy. That August, the club reopened its doors, while also igniting a massive spike in new comedy nights at bars and venues all over town.

“I heard that Sisyphus had a great comedy night the other week; Galactic Pizza in Uptown has a really good open mic night; Pourhouse, Grumpy’s, Spring Street Tavern; there are so many good places for comedy in Minneapolis that wouldn’t have been able to offer standup before the law was changed,” Edwards says.

As for CCU, the club continues to thrive with more unique shows and opportunities for comedians to perfect their craft.

“I’m proud that we were able to help give comics more opportunities,” Edwards says. “I think that we have a lot funnier people in town because of it.”

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