It's not easy, comic Lauren Anderson says -- and that's part of the reason she loves doing sketch comedy here.
They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. But in sketch comedy, Minnesota is the bellwether for success, at least according to Lauren Anderson , one of Brave New Workshop’s most prolific comics in the theater’s 54 years.
Now in her 27th sketch show with BNW, the writer and performer has found one of her biggest challenges to be making Minnesotans laugh out loud, especially at the company’s particular brand of hot-button, politically charged satire.
“An audience in Minnesota will stay politely quiet, then they’ll get nervous for you, or if they feel like it’s too mean, they won’t laugh,” said Anderson. “They’ll be like, 'Oh goodness, oh gosh, that is too much.’”
When they do make noise, Anderson takes great pride in her accomplishment. “I think most performers should try performing in Minnesota,” she said, “because to elicit laughter from a Minnesota audience, loud, guffaw laughter, is an achievement unique unto itself.”
For the past decade, Anderson has been on a perpetual quest to do just that. The St. Louis Park native began her comedy career taking improv classes at BNW in 2001. By 2004, she was on stage, and hasn’t come down since. Even when she sat out the company’s last show, “Occupy Arden Hills; or, Brother Can You Spare a Dome?” the full-time comedian was performing around town with her improv team, Five Man Job ; teaching at BNW’s school, and co-producing the Twin Cities Improv Festival and the weekly Improv-A-Go-Go showcase.
Now, Anderson is back in the spotlight in BNW’s latest political throwdown, “The Rainbow Election: Mommies and Mormons and Gays, Oh My!”
Like Anderson’s very first show with the company, “Electile Dysfunction,” which made fun of the Bush-Kerry election, “Rainbow Election” tackles the presidential ballot. This time, the focus is also on the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
Jenni Lilledahl , BNW’s co-owner , said the more divisive the issue, the more necessary it is for the troupe to skewer it.
“People are uncomfortable talking about hard things. They don’t have a way to get it out of their body,” said Lilledahl. “So they come here and feel this sense of relief, like, 'Someone said it for me.’”
BNW productions generally consist of a loose plot held together by topical sketches and songs written by the performers, plus a nightly news segment akin to Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live.” As the election looms, the news segment and some sketches may be tweaked according to real-world developments. (“Rainbow Election” runs through Nov. 3.)
As the company’s resident pop-culture consumer, Anderson sees pretty much every movie and prepares book reports on the latest hot novels, then finds a way to spin them into ripped-from-the-headlines satire.
A tweet from President Obama becomes a sketch about the White House hiring a mouthy 13-year-old girl to handle its social-networking initiative. A statistic about low voter turnout becomes a scene in which Anderson, as Lady Liberty, begs Americans to go to the polls.
“The last election there was so much going on that it was like, 'I have to vote,’” said Anderson. “I think the stakes are higher this year, but it seems like they’re lower.”
In sketch form, the messages are biting, but never invective. “My particular brand of comedy is not mean-spirited at all,” Anderson said. “I tend not to make fun of me or anybody on stage, but I skew silly, I skew whimsical and I skew kind of weird.” Because of that, Anderson finds audiences are drawn to her no matter what side of the aisle her comedy falls, even if they aren’t guffawing loudly.
After every show, as she stands with the rest of the cast in the lobby to greet the audience, people invariably come up and give her hugs.
“I think I remind people of their favorite aunt,” she said. “I’m like a comedy blankie.”
Sharyn Jackson • 612-673-4260