Funny Places

Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis
Brave New Workshop in downtown Minneapolis is one of the first improv companies in the country

By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Nick Swardson's My North

Nick Swardson has been gracing LA with his patented brand of fart jokes for nearly 20 years, making a home for himself on the stages of legendary comedy clubs like the Laugh Factory and Comedy Store, and appearing on the silver screen in everything from Adam Sandler movies to Reno 911. But the St. Paul-born comic hasn’t forgotten his Minnesota comedy roots. In fact, Swardson not only credits Twin Cities clubs for being where he got his start, but says they’re among the best in the world. In honor of that distinction, here are five of the most hilarious haunts in town.

Acme Comedy Company

The Minneapolis club where Swardson got his start is one of the top 10 pure comedy venues in the entire country. Louis Lee’s modest North Loop digs, replete with its own attached restaurant (Sticks), are a must-stop for big name comics—with everyone from Hannibal Buress to Maria Bamford to Mike Birbiglia having played its stage. One of the reasons Acme endears itself to so many comics?  Louis Lee is loyal to young, struggling comics, who pay it forward once their careers hit. Most nights feature two shows, early and late, but the real power move at Acme is to attend the weekly Monday night open mic. Who knows? You might just catch the next Nick Swardson, or even Swardson himself, who’s known to drop in for an unannounced set on occasion.

Brave New Workshop

Dudley Riggs was traveling the world as an acrobat in the circus when he first came through the Twin Cities, rather fancied it, and decided to stick around for a bit. He’d been developing a new sort of comedy he called “instant theater” (an early form of improv) with a group from New York City, and in 1958 he came to Minneapolis to establish the Brave New Workshop, which more or less created the idea of an improv comedy and satire venue. Today, the BNW sits smack-dab in the heart of downtown Minneapolis’s Hennepin Theater District, and has produced hundreds of world-class improv and sketch comedy shows to date. Yes and?

Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy

Rick Bronson's House of Comedy at Mall of America
Rick Bronson's House of Comedy / Mall of America

It turns out that when you put your comedy club within a mile of a major international airport—and in the middle of the biggest indoor mall in the country, the Mall of America—you draw some opportunistic comedy heavy-hitters swinging by between coasts. The stable who’ve played Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy includes Finesse Mitchell, Jon Lovitz, Orny Adams, and Kevin Nealon. What’s more, RBHC also has a full restaurant with solid cocktails and esteemable eats.

Joke Joint Comedy Club

Housed in a former burlesque theater just outside of downtown St. Paul, the weekly secret sauce at Joke Joint is their open mic on Wednesdays, but they also book a solid array of both local and national talent. Some winter 2017-2018 shows of note are Kevin “Chris Farley’s brother” Farley, Brendan Eyre and Billy D. Washington. They’re also the home to the finals of the annual Minnesota’s Funniest Person competition.

HUGE Improv Theater

One of the more unique comedy venues in town, HUGE is rooted in long-form, show-based improv. Founded in 2005 by improvisers Mike Fotis, Jill Bernard, Butch Roy, Nels Lennes and Joe Bozic, HUGE produces a variety of semi-permanent shows with a loosely-plotted theme and story, improvising the meat of the show for each performance. Every night features multiple shows in succession, each with their own sub-$10 price point, which audiences can attend in one-off fashion or back-to-back. Current shows include Family Dinner, The Mess and Show X.

My North is a weekly video series created in partnership with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Explore Minnesota. If you missed Nick Swardson's story, view it here.

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