Watching Twin Cities comedian Wild Bill Bauer at work was like taking a class from a great professor, said Jeff Cesario.
Bauer, who died in his sleep on Wednesday night at age 62, is credited along with Louie Anderson and Scott Hansen with helping establish the Twin Cities as a major comedy market.
He earned his nickname in the late 1970s at a tiny northeast Minneapolis bar called Mickey Finn's, considered the birthplace of the Twin Cities' stand-up scene. Cesario remembered a routine in which Bauer recounted how he flew in from Las Vegas in a pet crate and had to howl for water for an hour.
"I couldn't believe someone could have a mind like that," said Cesario, who went on to write for "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Dennis Miller Live." "I learned from him that comedy is infinite, that there's no end to what you can do. To this day, when Louie [Anderson] and I get together, we always say that Bill was the funniest person to ever come out of the Twin Cities. No doubt."
Bauer didn't get the national recognition accorded some of his peers, but his willingness to take chances on stage and support his fellow comics off stage made him a beloved figure on the scene.
"Bill was avant garde. He was the guy who turned your head and made you think, 'This guy is out there,'" Anderson said on Thursday, choking back tears. "One time I was emceeing a show and I got mad at him for going long. I said, 'Bill, you were supposed to do 20 minutes and you did 40. He said, 'Hey, I ate it for 20 minutes, so I wanted them to eat it for 20 minutes.'"
In a 2004 interview, Bauer recalled those days at Mickey Finn's. "It doesn't seem very ground-breaking 25 years later, but then nobody else was doing it. Every night was an adventure."
Hansen said it was a time when newcomers could take chances, but no one more than Bauer. "Every week we would challenge ourselves to see how bizarre we could get and Bill would always win," said Hansen, who would go on to be a comedy-club owner. "He would say things that would offend and he'd say things that were hilarious. Sometimes it was hard to tell which was which."
Bauer never became a national name, but Anderson said he was content to ride his bicycle near his Inver Grove Heights home and continue doing his act without making compromises. "If you want success and fame, you've got to do certain things," Anderson said. "I don't think he would have put up with that."
Bauer is survived by his wife, Cheryl, and his son, Patrick. Services are pending.
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See a video clip of Wild Bill Bauer performing at www.startribune.com/a1685.