Whether you’re a hardcore comedy nerd or just bored and cold and need some LOLs in your life, there’s a lot of standup comedy happening around town every night of the week to keep you entertained. But where and who should you see first?
It’s a tough call, but we’ve picked out the five local comics we think you need to watch in 2023.
Pearl Rose is Mad as Hell
Pearl Rose is pissed off. And with good reason. A rant:
“The pandemic has helped me get more in touch with my anger and inner Dark Phoenix,” she says. “I’m mad that student debt cancellation is frozen. I’m mad that the rail strike workers can’t get fucking seven days of sick leave, which is insane. I’m mad that minimum wage is not at a sufficient rate. I was hoping that after everything we would grow more empathetic and patient with one another as a society and, in some ways, I think we’re more batty now than ever.”
If there is one bright spot to come from Rose’s anger, it’s that embracing her frustrations has connected her with an audience that is just as fed up as she is. In 2022, she became a regular opener at Laugh Camp Comedy Club in St. Paul, and she performed at the 10,000 Laughs and Limestone Comedy Festivals this past fall.
I’m finding that when I lean into the things that upset me, it connects me with the audience and it resonates more with people,” she explains. “I feel like I can be more myself. It’s tough, and I’m still working on it, but I’m trying.”
Aside from being booked for more gigs, Rose has also started producing her own show at Disco Death Records alongside Joey Hamburger, and hopes to do more producing in the New Year.
“I did a show in D.C. that was called Group Talk that was an interactive half group therapy, half late-night talk show thing,” she says. “I’m thinking of starting that up again. I just want to be doing shows more in line with things that excite me, even if it’s not a format I see being done right now.”
Cal Murata Tries for a Clean but Mean Set
Cal Murata may not have set out to be a “clean comedian” in 2022, but sometimes you have to take the opportunities as they come.
When a comedy club specializing in clean comedy opened up in Southdale Center last year, Murata saw it as a challenge to push himself and get more stage time.
“How can I write clean but still like myself as a comedian?” he recalls thinking. “I don’t want to get up there and be corny. So how can I be clean but still be sort of mean or dark at the same time?”
Murata rose to the mean, dark occasion. While that clean comedy club didn’t make it through 2022, getting regular stage time there was a big jumping off point for Murata.
“That was the first place I got regular, paid stage time at,” he says of the erstwhile Gutty’s. “And now the first club to hire me is closed so that’s probably not a great sign. For all the people shitting on clean comedy, I guess maybe they were right.”
Whether he’s swearing or not, Murata weaves together material that’s both topical and personal, with a delivery that makes him a solid fit for anything from bar shows to corporate gigs.
“There is one thing I want everyone to agree on,” he joked at a recent gig. “If you’re going to fly a confederate flag on the back of your car, you probably shouldn’t be driving a Lincoln. Like did you miss every single day of fourth grade history?”
This past June, Murata won the House of Comedy’s Funniest Person with a Day Job contest, putting himself on the map as more than just a funny new(ish) face. But the win didn’t go to his head.
“I don’t think I was even happy about it,” he laughs. “I was happy for like, five minutes, but the next night I was right back at the Crane working on new stuff. I was sort of like, ‘OK, good for you. You did good with jokes that you know work.’”
Murata was able to test himself in front of more diverse audiences last year, like ones in Thief River Falls, Eden Prairie, and at Detroit’s Motor City Comedy Festival.
“When you do comedy in the bigger cities too much, you get to a point where you can only perform for those audiences,” he says. “I want to work the road more this year, because I want to be sure I can make people laugh everywhere. And the more personal I get, the happier I’ll be with my material.”
Bianca Dennie Circumvents the Bullshit of Bad Crowds
For a lot of standup comics, performing for rough crowds in shitty rooms is a rite of passage. Bianca Dennie isn’t interested in any of that.
“I don’t need to be in every room,” she says. “There are rooms that feel very good to me, and I’ve been in rooms that don’t feel so good. For me, I just want to make sure I’m performing in places where I’m invited and respected.”
Despite only performing comedy since 2019, Dennie has built a reputation as one of the most magnetic personalities in the Twin Cities comedy scene. From the House of Comedy to Pourhouse, she’s found plenty of stages that are the right fit for her this past year. However, she’s quick to admit that she started to fall into a comedy rut.
“I have my favorite crowd; it’s my comfort zone,” she explains. “And that is people my age and couples. I can really work with that crowd… but that means people kind of start to know what to expect from me. I don’t want that. If I’m going to be telling jokes about being old but feeling young, or being biracial, then it’s time for me to take it to an unexpected place.”
Dennie experienced two specific instances this past year that helped her to change her outlook.
“I got invited to do an LGBT show that included comedians and drag performers,” she remembers. “It was the best crowd I’ve ever had. The support was unreal, and I really want to do more in the LGBT community this year.”
The other instance also involved overcoming her fears of performing for new audiences.
“Adrian Washington called me out for his birthday show in St. Cloud,” she recalls. “It was an all-white crowd, and in the past when I’ve been called to perform for an all-white crowd I’ve declined because I’m like, what am I going to talk to them about? I’m from the North Side. I’m from the hood. My life has been traumatic.”
But fellow comedian Washington kept pushing her, which she says is something she needed.
“So I did it, and the crowd was probably 95 percent white and the feedback was amazing,” she says, describing the experience as an epiphany. “The laughter was no different than an urban crowd. It was a wake up call for me that Black, white, Hispanic—whatever the crowd—our cultures might be different but we can all relate to each other in so many ways.”
While Dennie has plenty of solid folks around her to help guide her comedy career, she says that the best advice she’s received this year has come from her two children.
“They tell me to trust the process, have fun, and let everything else fall in place,” she says. “I’m like, ‘That is some good advice! Why didn’t I think of that?’”
Cianna Violet’s Career Advice: Don’t Be an Asshole
It’s kind of nuts to think that Cianna Violet has only been performing for about two years. Whether she’s hosting her own shows, featuring on the road for big-name headliners, or producing unique showcases around town, Violet is equal parts funny, sweet, and enterprising, making her one of the fastest-rising comics on the scene.
“If you put in the work and put yourself out there… I mean, there are always going to be letdowns,” she says. “But things build and there are always next steps as long as you aren’t an asshole.”
Last year alone, Violet has performed in clubs and theaters in Ohio, Georgia, Nebraska, Colorado, Tennessee, and Kentucky, all while producing her own concept shows locally, including the Wheel of Misfortune, where comics spin to decide their topic for the evening, and CraneX, which is like an insane version of TED Talks at the historic Crane Building.
A lot of her road work has been opening for Tommy Ryman. One of Minnesota’s favorite comics, Ryman has endeared himself to fans thanks to his clean(ish) and quirky style.
“[Tommy and I] met at the Acme open mic,” she says. “I think we just recognized the similarities in each other’s styles, and we just had a lot in common.”
This year, Violet wants to continue to develop into a solid feature act, and, hopefully, build her material to a point where she could record an album. She also plans to keep producing her own shows, but says that 2023 is more about the material itself.
“I really want to put more into developing my own act and just like, solidifying my voice,” she says. “Really getting my writing tuned in.”
She would also really like people to stop mispronouncing her name.
“I didn’t realize how unusual my name is,” she laughs. “Then I started getting intros in other places and just like, had to start expecting to be called Sierra. [For the record, it’s pronounced the same way as actress Sienna Miller, as opposed to pop star Ciara.] Or people just panic and call me Violet, like they forgot the other half.”
Grant Winkels Cures Burnout by Getting Sketchy
Grant Winkels’s most important goal this past year is probably the toughest one a comedian could set: slow down.
“After the pandemic and the fire at CCU, it just felt like everything was falling through my fingers, so I was saying yes to everything,” he says. “I worked the road so much that I burnt myself out and honestly got pretty depressed. Going into this year I wanted to work in Minneapolis a lot and travel selectively, but preserve some of my mental wellbeing, too.”
While he may have stayed closer to home, Winkels definitely didn’t let himself slip when it came to performing or promoting comedy. In addition to running the open mics at Sisyphus and Fair State, Winkels was one of the organizers for last year’s 10,000 Laughs Festival, giving him valuable experience in dealing with the business side of comedy–even if it wasn’t always fun.
“I would have people getting really upset with me because they weren’t getting stage time and blamed me,” he admits. “And, honestly, maybe they were right? Maybe I shouldn’t have been doing so much.”
As a performer, Winkels has grown remarkably this past year. His material can be dark and absurd at times, whether he’s talking about taking his racist cousin Darryl to a Mexican restaurant in a 2023 version of Fear Factor or recounting the time his dad called Uber corporate for a ride. But what makes him stand out is that he’s so freaking likable onstage. Once again, that’s a skill that came with experience.
“[This past year] I shifted my approach to being radically accepting of whatever a heckler might say. Instead of trying to own them, I try killing them with kindness,” he says. “Like, if you smile and accept what they’re saying, you buy yourself a ton of good grace to fuck with them. But you need to establish that you’re in control, you’re not mad, and you’re going to be funny about this. It has made me more present and happy onstage.”
His new approach to dealing with chatty crowds proved successful earlier this summer when dealing with a couple on a first date who were talking during his set at Sisyphus.
“This couple was talking really fucking loud during my set,” he remembers. “Before, I would have gone after them guns blazing for being loud. But instead I went into talking with them. Just asking what they were talking about because they seemed so happy. The guy yelled out something so stupid and I got to roast him for that, but it wasn’t like some take down of this couple.”
If it sounds like Winkels is maturing as a comic, have no fear: He still has his podcast, We Cool?, with fellow comics Tommy Bayer and Ryan Kahl, where they demand apologies for ways they’ve been wronged. He’s also still producing videos online, like a recent Thanksgiving sketch that heavily implied Winkels had put his penis in cranberry sauce. So yeah, he’s not growing up too much.
“This year I really just want to focus on my material and building my social media,” he says. “Please, for the love of god, anyone reading this should go follow my Instagram or whatever.”