Duke Cano had been onstage only twice before he was asked to kill a couple of minutes at Comedy Corner Underground’s free open mic last week. At various moments the auto shop owner and aspiring comic’s fill-in set triggered chuckles, crickets and even a little compassion after a joke belittling the size of his manhood.
After the show the gregarious 47-year-old was glowing and hugging family members who saw him perform for the first time.
“When they came up and told me I was going to be next, my heart was like ‘ba-bump, ba-bump,’ ” he said.
For the past decade the comic-run basement club beneath the Corner Bar in Minneapolis has been a quirky staple in the Twin Cities comedy scene, where everyone from college students to touring comics like former local luminary Cy Amundson logs invaluable stage time. On Friday, the scrappy dungeon of laughs celebrates its 10th anniversary, bringing back comics (some performing their same sets) from its inaugural show.
“For some of us that haven’t written any new material that’ll be no problem whatsoever,” joked founder Marc Dickhut, who’s coming out of a yearlong hiatus for a “re-retirement” set Friday.
Ten years ago Dickhut, who’s no longer heavily involved with the West Bank club, was a stage-hungry comic with limited open-mic options outside of powerhouse Acme Comedy Company and Grumpy’s then- fledgling weekly event. Dickhut convinced pal and Corner Bar owner Bill Murray (nope, not that one) to let him convert the bar’s basement storage space into a small comedy club.
In the early days, the Comedy Corner Underground (CCU) was lucky to draw a handful of comics and 25 audience members. Now, as many as 60 comedians vie for the 20 time slots and the intimate 65-seat room with cracked walls and cramped tables is packed every Friday, according to current manager Bob Edwards, who runs the club with 10 volunteer comics.
“It was by word of mouth,” said fellow organizer Benny Quash. “The crowds slowly got bigger, people kept coming back and that kept the comics coming back.”
By comics, for comics
Local comedians describe CCU as a safe space where (almost) anything goes, largely because of its by-comics-for-comics mantra. Weekly Thursday shows with alternative themes and formats also help foster an outside-the-box mentality.
“At a [traditional] club, you’re trying to do stuff that will impress them so you can get hired a lot of times,” said comic Rana May, who likened CCU to basement punk-rock venues. “That’s still a worry here, but there’s a little bit more of an experimental, try-something-out vibe. Everyone’s open to it and appreciates it here.”
As open mics go, the popular Friday show can be a roller coaster of teary-eyed laughter and awkward silences. During the rapid-fire comic roulette, jokesters with disparate styles and skill levels hit the makeshift stage for three to five minutes, some with notes scribbled on their hands or “cue cards” on their phones when the next joke is forgotten.
While other comics’ prolonged bits on fruit trays and dead relatives bombed, May’s deadpanned tale about “reverse street harassment” garnered some of the biggest laughs of the night.
Clubgoer Ryan Nesvold, of Coon Rapids, thought the comics were hit‑and-miss. “Some of them were equivalent to something I’d see on Netflix or a Comedy Central-type thing,” he said. “But some of them were definitely amateurs.”
While the spirited open-mic night has filled the college bar’s basement every Friday for the past three or four years, the comedians’ clubhouse temporarily went dark in 2009. Unbeknown to organizers, the city of Minneapolis lumped stand-up comedy into the same licensing class as exotic dancing. Although most comics presumably weren’t bottomless while delivering punch lines, city officials shut CCU down after a routine inspection.
But the city was receptive to amending the ordinance. After local comics flooded a public hearing, the humor-hating law was changed to include comedy in the more common Class B license, which covers live music and DJs, and the not-for-profit club reopened after roughly five months.
Since its inception, Comedy Corner Underground has become a destination for both first-timers and full-timers. While it’s a club designed for locals, such national touring comics as Nick Griffin and Zach Sherwin (Feb. 18) have looked to play the tiny club even though they could fill a bigger room, Edwards said.
As the club’s reputation has grown over the past decade, so has the Twin Cities comedy scene. In 2005, Quash says there were only 30 to 40 comedians in town. Edwards keeps a database of local comics that has swelled to about 500 in the past two years, though some were merely testing the waters.
“It’s great that they give people a chance to come and give what they got,” Cano said.
And, hey, we’ll take the free laughs.
Michael Rietmulder, of Minneapolis, writes about nightlife.