Funny Thing about Minnesota...
The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Twin Cities Comedy Scene
An insiders’ look at the land of ten thousand laughs—how Minneapolis became a hot spot for comedy. A lively look back at the wild eighties scene and the creative legacy it wrought.
Before the Twin Cities established themselves as a hotbed for stand-up comedy, producing some of the biggest names in comedy history, the local scene consisted of five guys in a basement bar doing their best to make people laugh.
The birth of Minnesota stand-up traces back to the 1970s and five people who paved the way: Scott Hansen, Louie Anderson, “Wild Bill” Bauer, Alex Cole, and Jeff Gerbino. The “original five” got their start performing in a Minneapolis dive bar called Mickey Finn’s, and together they led the charge in establishing one of the most vital and vibrant comedy scenes in the country. They opened clubs and comedy stages across the Cities, brought the nation’s top stand-up acts to town, and inspired future generations of ground-breaking comedians—from Lizz Winstead and Joel Hodgson to Mitch Hedberg, Fancy Ray McCloney, and Maria Bamford. But like any artistic passion that rises quickly to become a mainstream phenomenon, the comedy scene eventually was fractured by bloated egos and an influx of money and drugs—until a second wave, led by the nationally renowned Acme Comedy Club, helped bring comedy back to the forefront in Minnesota.
Decades later, the impact of these early comedy pioneers lives on through television, movies, clubs, and countless stand-up acts who followed their path. The way they carved that path—well, it’s actually a pretty funny story.
“Looking back on these early days of stand-up is very emotional for me. I always tell comics to enjoy the journey, because once that journey is over and you get to where you think you need to be, it’ll never be the same. Being a part of this book has been a chance for me to celebrate and revel in those moments of where we came from and how we got here. I was twenty-five years old when I started, and being onstage made me feel so alive. There was nothing better than killing a crowd on a Saturday night in that little fifty-seat room at Mickey Finn’s, and then going outside to try and start my car in fifty-below weather.”
Louie Anderson, comedian, writer, and actor (Baskets, Life with Louie)
“Stand-up comedy back in those days was a bunch of people trying to figure it out. Not just the comics, but the audiences too. People could tell jokes and listen to jokes, and nobody really knew where it was going to go or what it was going to become. We were all just kind of enjoying the moment. To me, even as just an audience member, that was the purest part. This book reminds me of a time when the comedians were having fun, the audiences were having fun, and there was no pressure or expectations.”
Louis Lee, owner, Acme Comedy Company
“I literally grew up in the Twin Cities comedy scene in the eighties. Patrick Strait does a great job of capturing this special era when comics and audiences were discovering the art of live stand-up together.”
J. Elvis Weinstein, comedian, writer, and producer (Mystery Science Theater 3000, Freaks and Geeks)
Author: Patrick Strait moved to Minneapolis in 2007, and a year later he began writing for City Pages, where he was (at that time) the only writer regularly covering local comedy, including profiles about up-and-coming comedians, unique events, major club shows, and start-up open-mic nights. He has served as the regular comedy-beat reporter for City Pages, The Growler, and Thrillist, writing more than fifty stories a year about all aspects of stand-up comedy in the Twin Cities. Beyond the major clubs (Acme, House of Comedy, Joke Joint), he covers trends such as the growth of and breakthrough of Black and other comedians of color, an increased focus on diversity, and the cooperative nature of the local comedy scene that has helped it to continue to grow and thrive. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.