After spending nearly three years as a performer on the local Twin Cities standup comedy scene, Sam Harriman came to the realization that making a living doing comedy wasn’t going to be easy, and decided to pursue a different passion: brewing.
That led to the birth of Sisyphus Brewing, which has become a popular brewery in Minneapolis’ increasingly crowded craft beer and taproom scene. While Sisyphus has continued to enjoy growth and success for the past couple of years, Harriman has never lost sight of his comedy roots. Right from the get-go, the taproom began hosting weekly comedy shows, giving people more reason to come through the doors, and giving comedians a new venue to gain stage time.
Despite the fact that these early shows were comprised of a makeshift stage, awkward seating arrangement, and not what anyone would consider a “traditional” comedy room look or feel, those they were often times packed to capacity, creating the unmistakable energy of a real comedy venue instead of a converted performance space. Local standouts like Chris Knutson, who held an album release party for his debut comedy album at the brewery, immediately gravitated to Sisyphus thanks to its “smart” comedy crowds, and understanding of how comedy should be presented.
“I knew that I didn’t want us to be a brewery that just happened to do comedy on the side. If we were going to do it, we were going to do it right,” Harriman says. “I know that craft beer is cool now, but who knows if that’ll be true in five years. I wanted comedy to be a focus of our space as opposed to a sideshow, as a way to continue bringing in new people.”
This past summer, Sisyphus took the next step in fusing the brewery with comedy when they opened an 88-person comedy room, which resembles a trimmed-down version of any of the big clubs in town. The stage is elevated and well-lit, the layout of the chairs and tables focuses the audience’s attention squarely on the performer, and the spacing allows for people to come and go as needed, without disrupting the entire show happening in front of them. These may all seem like no-brainers, but go check out a show at Acme and then visit a bar that hosts a “comedy night” and you’ll quickly see how the devil is in the details.
Because of the comedy-friendly layout, more and more fans began packing the space as the allure of a brewery where you can do more than just drink became instantly appealing. Similarly, comedians began to spread the word about the newest club in the comedy-rich Twin Cities, giving Harriman some much-deserved street credit amongst his former peers.
One of those peers was Cy Amundson, who has grown from local comedy favorite to big time national headliner. Amundson popped into the brewery looking to book a single show. Once he saw the space, however, he decided he wanted to assist in building the club.
“Cy has been a huge help,” Harriman says. “He wanted to do a one-night show and loved it. Then he started reaching out to some of the headliners across the country who he knows and getting them in. They’ve all said they loved the room and really appreciate that it’s set up for comedy.”
Some of those acts have included national headliners like Dave Waite, Aparna Nancherla, and Greg Warren, in addition to local standouts like Mike Brody, Corey Adam, and Maggie Faris.
Harriman says that the turnout for the shows has matched the quality of the performers, with shows regularly selling out.
“The turnouts have been great and the crowds have been phenomenal,” he says. “We do an open mic Thursday nights that has really been growing, and I’m excited that we’re finding a real comedy audience.”
— Sisyphus Brewing (@SisyphusBrewing) December 30, 2016
While his business continues to thrive and the Sisyphus name has become more well-known with casual beer drinkers, Harriman says that the performing bug hasn’t left his system just yet.
“I have ambitions of doing it again,” he laughs. “I like still having a connection to that world, but I do miss actually getting on stage.”
Whether he’s genuine in his dreams of staging a comeback or merely waxing nostalgic from behind the curtain, the reality is that Harriman has already established Sisyphus as one of the very top venues for live comedy in Minneapolis, as well as arguably the very best entertainment-related brewery in town. As for his plans and aspirations for the space, Harriman has his sights set on growing the comedy space both in terms of talent and reputation.
“I mean, this is never going to be Acme, but if this place could bring in the kind of performers and crowds then maybe we can be like a mini-Acme.”
Based on the consistency of the crowds, the quality of the performers, and the early success Harriman has experienced over these past several months, this is a very realistic goal, and one that can hopefully allow him to merge his two dream jobs into one hilarious, beer-soaked comedy haven.
Check Sisyphus’ Facebook page for upcoming stand-up performances and open mic nights.