It might seem that Emily Galati is moving backwards.
Despite performing on TBS’ “Conan” and securing a writing gig on Netflix’s “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj,” the comic decided this past summer to abandon New York and settle in Minneapolis, where she’s been hitting the open-mic scene and working day shifts at a coffee shop.
But any concern that the stand-up has lost a step vanishes the moment she commands the stage.
She’s used her recent appearances to try out material for a new act, premiering next week at Acme Comedy Co. But her work-in-progress jokes, most of which end up with right-to-lifers as the punchline, already have catapulted her to the top of the Twin Cities comedy scene.
“She’s automatically raised the bar for the rest of us,” said longtime friend Mary Mack, one of the few other comics with national exposure who use Minneapolis as a home base. “I feel impulsive compared to Emily. She really thinks before saying something. Not enough people do that. It shows some real wisdom from her end.”
Logic wasn’t the driving force behind Galati’s change of address.
“I’m just not a big city person,” said Galati, who added that the breaking point may have been when she got on the wrong New York subway for the 9,000th time. “Being miserable wasn’t working for me. And it didn’t make me want to go out and do comedy. Personal happiness is worth so much more.”
The comic was nothing but upbeat last month over a burrito lunch, dissecting the pluses and minuses of not operating from the coasts. She admits that it might be harder to network from the middle of the country, but when it comes to developing an act — especially one that deals directly with a third-rail topic like abortion — there’s no place like her new home.
“The crowds at open mics here are way better in Minnesota than in other markets,” said Galati, who has been tight with at least a half-dozen local comics for years. “They’re comedy savvy. They’re willing to let you experiment.”
The Twin Cities area also provides her more stage time. In New York, it would take six weeks to book a gig in front of 150 people. Here, she can do that three times a week.
“If you have an idea here you want to try out, you can find a stage immediately. Eighty percent of the comics in New York can’t do that,” Mack said. “In other cities, people don’t always understand when you’re working something out — and sometimes comics have to be really bad. If you’re not failing at open mics, you’re probably doing something wrong. The club owners and audiences here understand that.”
Galati, who grew up in Phoenix, first got turned on to comedy around the age of 16 during a road trip with her basketball team. Someone pulled out a CD featuring comic Brian Regan. Galati secured a copy and ended up listening to it 40 times.
While attending Arizona State University, she started performing with a Mormon-run improv troupe.
“You couldn’t cuss or make fun of religion,” she said. “Of course, I do all that stuff now.”
She chose Loyola University in Chicago for graduate school, in large part so she could take advantage of the city’s stellar improv scene. But when comedian Sam Norton caught her working out some material at an open mic, he encouraged her to switch her focus to stand-up.
In 2011, she found herself headlining at Acme for the first time. Local comic Bryan Miller, who was also on the bill that weekend, remembers being immediately impressed.
“Emily always has a point of view. Her jokes take a strong stance,” said Miller, who frequently collaborates with Galati and has welcomed her as a regular to his Tuesday revues at Erik the Red. “She doesn’t have a medium take on anything, which I love.”
Galati, who declined to share her age, spent the rest of the decade on the road for more than 40 weeks a year, nibbling at stardom.
Any belief that her 2016 appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show would automatically lead to the big time was vanquished after a conversation with Pete Lee, another comedian who has spent considerable time in Minneapolis.
“Pete and I were performing in Aspen when I told him I got the gig,” she said. “He said, ‘I know you think it’s going to be life-changing. I thought that when I got “Letterman.” But all that happened is Jim Gaffigan stopped me at a club once and said, “Hey, great Letterman.” That’s about all that changes.’”
She no longer believes that living in New York or Los Angeles greatly improves your odds of getting to the top.
“I think ultimately my job is to be funny,” she said. “It’s not my job to get on Comedy Central. That’s somebody else’s job — or maybe I’m not good enough. I’m just resigned to the fact that I can’t control those things. I’ll just do comedy where I’m happy doing comedy.”
Miller doesn’t believe his friend’s stay in the Midwest will last for long.
“I would be surprised if she was here in a few years,” he said. “Someone is going to pay her so much, she’ll have to move somewhere else.”
In the meantime, Galati has a few things yet to learn about being a Minnesotan.
Mack and her husband, fellow comic Tim Harmston, who are sharing their Twin Cities home with Galati, recently tried to convince her to join them on a camping expedition — to no avail. It didn’t help that the trip wouldn’t include running water or a bathroom.
“I was visiting one winter, and Mary asked me if I wanted to go cross-country skiing,” Galati said. “I don’t think the weather fazes her. That’s going to be helpful.”