For the past year, a Bloomington comedy club has given comics a new place to joke and audiences a new place to laugh.
Local comedian Wayne Burfeind was dressed in a bright orange hooded sweatshirt and orange sneakers when he arrived for his performance last Friday night at the Joke Joint in Bloomington. He was wearing pants, too, but they were a lot less memorable.
Burfeind might have looked like an overgrown pumpkin, but he became suddenly serious when I asked him about the importance of the Joke Joint, an emerging comedy club that is giving stage time to a community of comics who have few places to perform.
Twenty minutes later he was back to buffoonery, opening his set with a joke about how the iPod is the vagina of digital electronics: "If you have one, every guy in the room kinda wants to see it. Maybe act like he knows how to work it."
One year after the Joke Joint opened in the old Thunderbird Motel (it's now a Ramada Hotel) on the Interstate 494 strip, business is finally on the upswing, with a full house last Friday.
The place is the brainchild of Ken Reed, a part-time comic who, as he says, "was cursed with a good day job." An airport planning consultant, he opened the club with his wife, Becky, after moving here from Florida last year. They pride themselves on having a club that's open to local comedians.
Reed admits that when he saw the Ramada's space, it wasn't what he had in mind for his first comedy club -- some of the Thunderbird's peculiar and maybe un-PC American Indian artifacts remain. Two totem poles flank the Joke Joint's stage.
While they struggled through their first year -- Reed said they didn't make any money until December -- seats are filling faster now.
The club brings in acts from the national stand-up circuit three to four days a week. While a casual fan might recognize a name like Bruce Baum, many of the comedians are probably better known by stand-up connoisseurs. Nonetheless, these are some funny shows. Reed likes to joke about the club's underdog status.
"Robin Williams isn't doing our stage this weekend," he said, referring to Mrs. Doubtfire's surprise three-day stint at Acme Comedy Co. earlier this week.
"But maybe we should get on that," his wife added.
During the comedy boom of the late '80s there were about a half-dozen stand-up clubs in the Twin Cities. Today, Acme is the only stand-alone club, with a few hotel clubs like the Joke Joint bringing up the rear. Acme's owner, Louis Lee, said he likes the quality of acts at the Joke Joint and hopes more clubs like it succeed.
"The more the better," Lee said. "Overall, the more stage time for local artists, the better off the whole comedy scene is."
The Joke Joint is doing its part, even providing a weekly comedy workshop before its Sunday open mike, where local comedians can get together to work on material. Sometimes the touring headliners stay through the weekend to participate.
Last week's headliner was John Knight, a 20-year veteran of the stand-up circuit. While he never made it big, he still has a lot of juice left.
"I went to a nude beach once," he said during his hilarious routine. "Got kicked out after 10 minutes ... something about the way I was applying my sunscreen."
The crowd roared, their tables filled with beer buckets and pizzas from the hotel's kitchen. Barb Foline, of Bloomington, said she's been to the Joke Joint more than a dozen times. For this outing she brought the whole family -- her husband, their 17-year-old son, her brother and his girlfriend. Like true Minnesotans, the crew thought the $12 tickets couldn't be beat.
"Mystic Lake wants $69 for Larry the Cable Guy," Foline said, referring to the blue-collar comedian's tour later this summer.
Her brother Tom chimed in:
"But you couldn't have laughed harder than we did tonight."
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