East Side bar serves semi-monthly stand-up with basement showcases
Our recent winter comedy guide was, admittedly, pretty heavy on mainstream touring talents making one-night theater stops. However, the omission of the twice-monthly Milwaukee Comedy Showcase—put on in the basement of Karma Bar & Grill (600 E. Ogden Ave.) by Caste of Killers comedy collective—was mainly because it’s such a frequent source of entertainment. On the second and fourth Fridays of each month, the East Side pub’s basement bar becomes the site of a gut-busting showcase of some of the funniest independent comics, from Milwaukee and beyond.
This Friday, six stand-ups will take the stage… er, carpet, as part of the collective’s latest showcase. Prior to the event, we caught up with Ryan Mason, a Riverwest-based comic who’s racking up local accolades, and has opened for noted national comedians such as Joe Mande, Morgan Murphy, Nick Vatterott and Kevin Bozeman. Mason is also performing at Friday’s showcase.
TCD: First off, how would you describe your own humor?
Ryan Mason: I would say that my style is anchored with things from my daily life and the things I find interesting. A lot of times, it might only be something that’s interesting to me, but I still feel like I need to tell people about it. My style is pretty much telling the word what I have inside.
RM: I’ve been doing comedy for three years this February. The group is a little bit older than me. It was started about four years ago by Jason Hillman, Damon Millard and Mario Robinson. Those are the core people who were involved early on. It was basically them taking the initiative, saying “There aren’t enough good places in the city to see good comedy.” That’s why the Karma showcase is so important because, not only is it the best place in town to see comedy on a regular basis, but it also wouldn’t exist without the hard work of COK. Now, it’s both a place where younger comics can come and work out material and a place with consistently great out of town comedians.
TCD: Where are some of the other showcase comedians from?
RM: We get a lot of qualified comedians from Madison. We get a lot of Chicago comics. Chicago is kind of a Mecca of comedy. It’s also kind of a natural pipeline to Karma. Some of us involved with booking make sure we go down and see comedians down there. It’s not just an open call to people. People have to earn their spots in this city the same way they have to earn their spots [in Chicago]. We’ve cultivated something where we know who is going to fit that room. We pick people who are really strong elsewhere, but we want to help them develop a following here.
TCD: What about this week’s lineup? Can you take us through what types of acts we can expect to see Friday?
RM: Mike Wiley is the headliner. He’s a big, bearded weird guy. He has an Anthrax beard. It helps him to create joke that only a person who looks like the guitarist from Anthrax could tell. But he’s very approachable in his comedy. Xavier Lamont is a part of the Chicago scene and he’s somebody impressing down there, and he’s a regular touring comedian. Two guys from out of town will be anchoring the show, but of course, with a Karma show, you’re going to have local talent that are putting in a lot of work, like myself and Greg Bach—who’s helping produce The Goodnight Milwaukee Show.
TCD: For a person who usually only goes to see big name acts in theaters, what’s the incentive for looking into seeing a local show like the Karma showcase? Why is it worth the risk to go out and see names you’ve never heard?
RM: There are two reasons. The first is the cost. I have nothing against people booking shows at Turner Hall. I’ve performed there as well, and you definitely get what you pay for there. It’s just that we’re doing something on a much smaller scale, something more intimate and that helps us to keep it more affordable. Also, these people [at Karma] are going to be some of the people performing in theaters in the near future. I know hipsters will say “I knew them before they were famous,” but it’s still cool to say that from time to time. The Karma showcase offers the chance to see things as they develop.
Caste of Killers Presents: Milwaukee Comedy Showcase takes place in the lower level of Karma Bar & Grill this Friday night at 8:30 p.m., and features stand-up performances from (in order from headliner to opener) Xavier Lamont, Mike Wiley, Ryan Mason, Greg Bach, Josh Ballew and Allison Dunne. Advance tickets can be purchased HERE, or for $5 more at the door Friday night.