Taking comic notes at the State Fair

  • Article by: Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 25, 2012 - 5:27 PM
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Matt Fugate

Photo: James Lileks, Star Tribune

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As the expression goes, the State Fair is funny, but it's not ha-ha funny. It's a slow-rolling show of communal absurdities, a place where you're sliding down an enormous ramp on burlap sacks one minute, then encountering 200 people standing in the street eating corn.

Can one glean a stand-up routine from this place?

Let's ask one! Matt Fugate, a comic who's done venues grand and intimate, and can be heard on SiriusXM's comedy channel. He was walking around with his wife and kids, kicking out the occasional tweet:

"DNR Bird Show Guy interrupted by WCCO copter. Keeps looking up like he's trying to work out how to scold it."

So: How's the day going so far? Looking at this with ironic professional detachment or genuine pleasure?

"It's about 85 percent sincerity." Except for the moments when you've just seen enough moist, squealing newborns.

"We did the Miracle Birth Center, so I've seen piglets. No. 13 had just popped out, so Mom was probably done. We didn't stick around for the placenta. She had 14 booths at her diner, and 13 were taken up. We'll do the barns on the way out, but I don't know we'll do a lot of touching." Very Minnesotan.

If you had to develop a routine about the fair, are there limits to how far you'd go? Comics can be cruel. It seems wrong to be cruel about the fair.

"The main challenge with writing a joke about the fair is that it's all so easy -- it's all so wonderfully ridiculous already, and it's so sincere. The only thing I've noticed is that everyone's decided they need a hiking stick. Not the yardstick -- I'm talking about hiking sticks you'd use to go up the Black Hills. I don't mean to be disparaging, but they don't look to be the people who'd normally be hiking the Boundary Waters."

What's quintessentially Minnesotan about it? "It's what the slogan says -- the Great Minnesota Get-Together. It's the fact that we're all here, and I don't think I've ever seen a fight. At the intersections the groups of people -- a caravan of wheelchairs can merge with four thuggish hick dudes, and no one even thinks about it."

Exactly. You don't see Ratso-Rizzo types bangin' on the hood of a propane-powered train. I'm walkin' here!

"Right! And there are Ratso Rizzo guys here. They're just not being Ratso."

It's been nine years since his previous fair, so he's a good barometer of how it's different. "Year to year it changes at a geological pace -- so it's fun to come after nine years and see what's different, what's fresh -- that's new, but here I am again passing the sign that says 'Brat Mit Kraut.'"

So will they let nine years pass again? His last tweet of the fair: "Told my tired, cranky, slightly nauseated family that regret is an important stage of #mnstatefair. It's a sign you did it right."

Comics can be wise, too.

JAMES LILEKS

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