5 Twin Cities Comics to Watch in 2024
These next-gen comics are working rural crowds, starting their own standup nights, and absolutely not quitting.
6:32 AM CST on January 17, 2024
The Twin Cities comedy scene has been very, very good, for a very long time. Our fearless prediction for standup in Minnesota for 2024? Still good!
A new generation of up-'n'-coming comics is showing up at clubs, breweries, and dive bars these days, slinging fresh jokes about serious stuff, like discovering your sexuality and grappling with mental health, as well as extremely serious stuff, like realizing you’re the weirdo at the State Fair.
We picked our five favorite LOLZ-worthy comedians to keep an eye on over the next 12 months, so that you can say you saw them when they were performing at the Terminal Bar on a Thursday. (They’ll also probably still perform at the Terminal Bar on a Thursday next year too—there’ll just be twice as many people.)
This year Gabby OK got way more gay. Or, at least, her material did.
“My story arc is like, ‘Remember when you didn’t think you were gay?’ Like all of the signs were there. Everyone kind of knew except for me,” she says, laughing. “Now that I’m talking more about dating and relationships and stuff like that, I’m just realizing my material is a lot more gay now, and I’m planning to explore that more this year.”
Aside from finding herself here at home, Gabby has spent this past year finding her comedy voice on the road—even if those roads haven’t been super flashy.
“My goal this past year was to travel out of state for comedy,” she says. “I didn’t get on any planes, but I made it to places like Appleton, Wisconsin. I did a show in Iowa. Went out to Moorehead. So I still count it.”
As a queer Black woman, the words “comedy” and “small Midwestern towns” might not seem like a natural fit. But Gabby says her experiences performing in these rooms have been eye-opening and helped her stretch herself creatively.
“I was doing a show in Wisconsin and I’m looking around beforehand like, ‘Uh, I know I vote differently than this audience. I don’t know how this is going to go,’" she remembers. "But [fellow comic] Khadijah Cooper told me that those rooms are some of the best places to perform, because they don’t get live comedy that often so they’re there in good faith to have a good time. And she was right. I love those places now, and I’ve learned that even if we don’t have the same lived experience, it can still be relatable. That’s one of the magical and beautiful things about comedy.”
Gabby also says she plans to clean it up a little bit in the new year. But she’s in no rush.
“I’ve been encountering more women in the wild and they’re just like, ‘I’m working on myself,’ and I love that but you can start that [later],” she said during a Don’t Tell Comedy show last month. “Be a good girl tomorrow and bust it wide open today.”
We’re very excited to hear Gabby’s clean version of “bust it wide open” in 2024.
That is the beginning and end of Max Chapman’s list of comedy goals for 2024. And while we respect someone who sets the bar low, Chapman’s potential is much bigger.
Yes, he can be crude (his bout with a condition he’s named “athlete’s dick” is a great example), and self-deprecating (“Oh shit, I’ve become the people you watch [at the fair]”), but he arranges his material so cohesively that his stream-of-consciousness delivery keeps audiences enrapt to hear where he’s going next.
Aside from building his set as an Acme Comedy Co. regular, Chapman has, along with co-producer Lily Meyer, cultivated one of the best showcases in Minneapolis. Monday Night Comedy takes place at Indeed Brewing on the second Monday of each month, and features a rotating cast of local notables (along with the occasional out of town guest). It’s grown so much that they began producing a late-night showcase once a month as well.
“A cool highlight for me this year has been that the Indeed show is getting return regulars,” Chapman says. “They’re there every month, sometimes twice a month. It feels like we’re starting to build a fan base. I’ll have people come up to me and be like, ‘You’re getting so much better than when you first started!,’ which is sort of a slap in the face, but it’s also how it should be.”
Offstage, Chapman and fellow comic James Stanley launched a podcast, This is Something, Man.
“I like gaslighting James,” he jokes. “And I think he likes getting gaslighted by me. Plus I don’t want to post any jokes online anymore, but you have to post something these days so it might as well be me going off about child labor with no context.”
While he's forging ahead as a performer, producer, and podcaster, Chapman admits there’s one area that he needs to get his shit together in the new year.
“I need some fucking merch,” he says. “I watch all these dudes sell T-shirts like a motherfucker, but I don’t have one goddamn joke I want to turn into a shirt. Maybe I’ll just do an OnlyFans. Or maybe a calendar. That would be badass.”
In 2022, Lahiru Samarasinghe was named the first-place loser in Acme Comedy Co.’s annual Funniest Person Contest. The stinging reality of being named runner-up in the most prestigious comedy contest in Minnesota could have driven him to madness, though instead Samarasinghe decided to become maddeningly positive.
“The Acme contest was a confidence boost for me,” he says. “I remember being in college and a friend sent me the link to that contest and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I would never be in a contest. And at Acme? That sounds terrifying.’ So to make it all the way to the end, it was kind of a direct demonstration to me that I was funny enough to do this.”
His positive attitude carries onstage as well, as Samarasinghe finds the most adorable ways to look at life—even when it is absolutely not being adorbs back.
“I cut this dude off in traffic and he pulled around and gave me the finger, but he had to take his mitten off to do it,” he said during a recent set. “It doesn’t matter how tough you are; you gotta keep the fingies warm.”
That cheery disposition helped him land regular emcee and feature spots at Laugh Camp Comedy Club, Comedy Corner Underground, and House of Comedy. It has also helped him attract national attention online.
“I started posting my clips and reels online, and I was really nervous to do it,” he recalls. “But I got to open for Michael Rowland and Jake Nordwind at the Parkway because they found my videos and personally chose me to host for them.”
Samarasinghe helps book shows at Comedy Corner Underground, where he has made it his mission to create opportunities for new comics.
“I feel that the way this scene is going to grow is if more people feel confident producing more shows,” he says. “That’s why I try to give people opportunities to perform on shows that aren’t just open mics.”
Samarasinghe is also more than happy to give advice when asked.
“I felt very alone when I started doing comedy, and if I have the ability to change that in a positive direction, I will,” he says. “Asking someone for advice can be scary, and I think people should be rewarded for being willing to take that chance.”
Remember how we said that Lahiru came in second in the 2022 Acme contest? Well Andy Duong won the whole thing, despite having only been performing comedy for less than a year.
So what did Duong do once he claimed the top prize? He left town.
“I wasn’t on any shows or anything like that before the contest,” he says. “So after I won, I went to Seattle for like a month for a long vacation. One of the comics from Acme messaged me and was like, ‘Where are you at? You know you get time at Acme if you win the contest.’ I didn’t know that was part of it, so when I came back the next week I went to Acme and they started giving me five-minute sets, which I totally didn’t expect.”
This past year, Duong has made the most of his stage time at Acme, dedicating himself to writing a new five minutes of material nearly every week. The hard work paid off, as he was just recently hired as an emcee at Acme, with his first official emcee week coming up January 24-27.
“I had it as a goal to maybe get hired at Acme someday, but I figured that would still be a long way off,” he admits. “There were so many people when I started out who worked at Acme that were just so funny, and I wasn’t sure I could ever be on that level.”
In order to reach that level himself, Duong knew he had to venture outside of his comfort zone of Minneapolis, and into the “A child’s life starts at conception!” billboarded dirt roads of rural America.
“I went out to Nebraska and Wisconsin, and I realized that some of the stuff I was doing at Acme doesn’t translate to the rural crowds,” he says. “I learned that I need to be able to cater to a certain audience. And if I’m working with a certain kind of headliner, I need to have material that works for them and sets them up to have a good show. Now that I’ve been writing so much, I have a lot more to choose from.”
Whether he’s flipping played-out, self-deprecating Asian stereotype jokes on their heads, offering up commentary about the state of the world, or just letting people know that he is a good sex-guy, Duong isn’t afraid to take big chances onstage.
“I’m still trying to find what my favorite stuff is to write about, but I’m a lot looser onstage than I used to be,” he says. “I think before I was scared to ride some lines and edges, but I’ve become less afraid to bomb.”
Compared to where he was just over a year ago when he cashed that giant check from Acme, Duong says he’s managed to surprise himself.
“I had no clue I’d be here when I won the contest,” he says earnestly. “[At first] I didn’t really have anyone to show me the way, but the Minneapolis scene has been very kind to me.”
Lucy Zarns exudes theater-kid energy. That’s not surprising, since she was a theater kid.
“I wasn’t a particularly good singer, or dancer, or actor, but I was good at making people laugh and pay attention to me,” Zarns explains. “I always liked being a goof.”
Now two years into her standup career, Zarns has goofed her way to being one of the funniest and most endearing comics on the scene.
“I feel like I’m playing a version of myself onstage,” she says. “All performance is playing a character in some sense, because it’s how you want to represent yourself. So I go up and try to play the role of ‘Lucy’ in the most authentic way that I can.”
That authenticity means embracing her unapologetic nostalgia for nerdiness—she does bits about American Girl dolls and Stuart Little—while also toeing her way into stuff like body-image issues and gender inequality. Case in point? This Instagram post that went viral last summer.
“It wasn’t like a goal of mine that I put effort into, but I had a video on Instagram that got a million views,” she says. “It sounds silly to make that a milestone, but it was. I was glad it was a joke that I was proud of and felt very much like it represented my comedy.”
This year, Zarns wants to continue writing and building more time toward a feature set, while also exploring more serious parts of herself.
“My persona is very upbeat, happy-go-lucky onstage and in real life,” she says. “But I’m bipolar. I deal with mental illness. My dream would be to blend the upbeat stuff about my dog and my husband with stuff that could be considered darker in a way that’s authentic to me, because honestly I don’t feel dark about those things. I guess I want to explore how to bring that theater kid energy to more serious subjects.”
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