Milwaukee’s lighter side
Milwaukee has always been the butt of jokes, notably on television shows like The Simpsons (gaffing at our weight, an easy target) and The Daily Show (they sent Joe Biden to…Milwaukee har-har). But the joke is on them because it turns out Brew City is a sleeper in the country’s comedy scene.
Case in point: The Milwaukee Comedy Festival. The city’s largest gathering of comics has been cracking jokes for five years, helping to grow widespread awareness for homegrown humorists.
The improv, stand-up, and overall comedy scene in Milwaukee is comprised of ComedySportz, an improv house; The Comedy Café, a stand-up join; Jokerz Comedy Club, the self-proclaimed (and ironic?) “upscale comedy club” and a host of smaller venues that let comedians perform.
It takes a village to start a comedy festival, and this event is no different. Filled with local supporters (88Nine RadioMilwaukee, Next Act Theatre, The Alchemist Theatre), schedulers, coordinators and loyal volunteers, the festival has grown into a character all its own.
The instigator and main financial contributor of the festival is Matt Kemple, an Ohio native who moved to Milwaukee “by accident” six years ago.
Kemple works as the Next Act’s marketing and public relations manager full-time, but has an extensive history in the entertainment industry as an actor, director, coordinator, and set decorator.
Performing comedy in the city, Kemple noticed “a lot of fantastic funny stuff happening in and around the Milwaukee area,” and in 2006 agreed to organize a yearly comedy festival that showcased the city’s talent in one undiluted week. Kemple and the gang also launched the Milwaukee Comedy Festival website to provide definitive information about the city’s comedy scene in one place.
When asked about the costs associated with all this, Kemple commented that most expenditures “come from space rental and advertising. We have
been lucky to break even or make a little every year. All that money goes into the bank for next year’s fest.”
Kemple works for free organizing the event, but confesses “with technology where it is, I can do everything with my laptop on my couch at 3 a.m. in my underwear, and the Comedy Festival appears to be run by dozens of professionals. After five years, no one has figured out I have no idea what I am doing!”
He’s right. The festival appears to rival that of larger areas. Bigger cities could offer more exposed or famous comics, but that doesn’t always mean you’re getting quality.
At the Milwaukee Comedy Festival, all comics perform for free (rewarded with food and beer, no less—what true Milwaukeeans spend their money on anyway, point Simpsons), and there is a strict “no egos” allowed policy.
Kemple also notes that, “many will drive the hour and a half South to Chicagoland for their comedy fix, when most times the scene here is of the same quality or better. In fact, Milwaukee has one of the highest concentrations of ongoing comedy events for a city its size—that’s something to get excited about.”
A joke at Milwaukee’s expense? Only if you’re willing to laugh with the rest of us.
The laughs officially begin 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 29 at The Broadway Theatre, 342 N. Water St. and runs through August 1. Tickets cost $15. A full schedule is available at the Milwaukee Comedy Festival’s website. Leave a comment on this story and you’ll be entered to win a pair of tickets to the festival!