Organizers of the inaugural Minneapolis Comedy Festival, which wrapped up Sunday, have plenty to crow about thanks to a star-studded lineup that took full advantage of downtown’s numerous theaters.
But there’s room for improvement.
Promoters have promised to return next summer, which is good news. It would be even better if they consider the following suggestions:
Sample the local fare. The show that came the closest to tipping its hat to Minnesota was Saturday’s “Armchair Expert Live in the Midwest” at the Orpheum Theatre, and not just because host Dax Shepard wore overalls. Keyboardist Bob Mervak opened with snippets of Minnesota anthems — Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” Prince’s “Purple Rain,” Semisonic’s “Closing Time” — before surprise guest Andrew Zimmern sprung onto the stage. The “Bizarre Foods” host and longtime Twin Cities resident isn’t technically a comedian, although it was hilarious watching Shepard try to get a word in edgewise.
I get that national headliners sell tickets, but it would be a nice gesture if local comics were guaranteed opening slots. A chance to be on the bill with red-hot Christian comic John Crist last Tuesday would have done wonders for a promising Twin Cities talent like Robert Baril, whose only slightly sinful material on religion would have killed.
The Twin Cities’ more intimate clubs could also play a bigger role, hosting late-night sessions featuring those currently working the local circuit or hometown favorites like Chad Daniels and Cy Amundson. That may already be in the works for 2020. Acme owner Louis Lee was spotted having dinner Tuesday with promoters at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Take more chances. Well-known names have their place, but festivals should always be on a mission to introduce new talent.
Watching Bob Newhart shuffle onto the Orpheum stage Friday was a thrill and hearing him perform his classic “Bus Driver Training” routine would have given me goose bumps — if I had been able to catch exactly what he was saying. The sound system wasn’t a good match for his low-key delivery, which meant much of the audience was constantly asking their seatmates to repeat the punchlines.
The 89-year-old legend also stopped cold a couple times, struggling to remember his own material. But the jokes held up — or at least that’s what people with better hearing tell me.
Seth Meyers had a few stumbles of his own during the second of his two shows at the Pantages on Friday, forcing him to start over at few times for the cameras on hand to record an upcoming Netflix special. Despite the hiccups, the evening managed to show off the late-night host’s more personal side. But the performances were more or less a rerun of the act he offered at a Twin Cities show two years ago.
I didn’t catch Jeremy Piven’s act Sunday, but I assume most ticket buyers were more interested in getting dissed by the dude from “Entourage” than witnessing the Next Big Thing in Stand-Up.
Crist proved to a crowd of several thousand at Target Center that Christian comedy isn’t an oxymoron, successfully selling himself as the snickering teen in the last pew. But I was equally impressed with the quick wit of his opening acts, Dustin Nickerson and Aaron Weber. Both will be touring with their more famous friend for the rest of the year, but I’m eager to see them both when they return for the Twin Cities for their own headlining gigs.
Party like it’s 1999. Lonely Island, featuring Andy Samberg, surprised fans during its Saturday concert at the Armory, with cameos from Meyers and former All-Star Jose Canseco. But the sold-out gig wasn’t part of the Comedy Festival.
Meyers did bring a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member as an opening act, but I doubt any attendees rushed home bragging they just saw Brooks Wheelan.
When the fest returns next year, organizers need to push for more once-in-a-lifetime experiences that make audiences feel as though they’re part of something special.
A free screening of “The Naked Gun” hosted by co-screenwriter Pat Proft kicked off the proceedings, but the idea was hatched late, minimizing the size of the crowd. Otherwise, there were no opportunities for fans with various tastes to mingle, unless you count exchanging pleasantries while waiting for the lights to change on Hennepin Avenue as they headed for their respective shows.
Open the door wider. Comics of color were represented at the festival, thanks to a spot for black freestylers 85 South and a triple bill featuring George Lopez, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer.
Then there was the Midwest premiere Thursday of the Tony-winning play “Latin History for Morons” with star and creator John Leguizamo providing a clever tutorial on how his ancestors from the Inca and Aztec empires were wiped out by the Europeans.
While the one-man show lacked intimacy in the 2,200-seat State Theatre, Leguizamo did his best to play to the balcony, offering up broad dance moves and even broader impersonations of everyone from PBS painter Bob Ross to Pitbull.
But when it came to properly representing both genders, organizers get a failing grade. Of the 20 headliners, only three were women, and two of them were booked at the festival’s smallest venue, the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis.
Heather Land, who is relatively new to the stand-up circuit, offered an impressive set there Sunday for a largely female audience that howled at her stories about dating after divorce and the discomfort of getting a mammogram, with a nurse wrestling with her body as if it were a can of pickles.
Let’s see Leguizamo try to pull off that bit.