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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Chris D'elia

Chris D'elia, who performed at the Orpheum Oct. 17, exemplifies the type of renowned comedians increasingly drawn to Madison.

Local comics cultivate a unique brand of edgy comedy for receptive audiences

With YouTube, Yik Yak and Netflix, the art of comedy extends far past performance venues in large cities or rural areas. But center in on Madison, Wisconsin: a small yet progressive city where ambitious amateurs and more renowned comedians can share the same spaces.

Dave Chappelle performed at the Orpheum just last month, and although he represents a particularly high level of stardom for Madison, local comedian Stacey Kulow said she thinks more renowned artists could perform at local establishments more regularly in the future.

Larger venues such as the the Majestic Theatre, the Barrymore Theater and the Orpheum are what attract more distinguished comedians, according to Kulow.

In turn, Madison inhabitants become more aware of the comedy scene, which ultimately promotes smaller venues such as the Comedy Club on State and even local improv troupes.

“Madison is no New York, LA, or Chicago,” Kulow said. “It's still a town for just a few hundred thousand people. So while the size of the city may not support a big, fancy comedy show every night of the week … the comedy scene is still growing.”

Its comedic history may not be as robust as those larger cities, but Kulow said Madison still maintains an easily identifiable culture.

“Madison is unique, because it is a smart, educated, liberal town,” Kulow said. “The people that come to the shows generally get smart, edgier jokes.”

Eve Paras, the general manager at the Comedy Club on State whose self-proclaimed “obsession” with comedy stems from the family business, said just as every city embodies its own comedy culture, every comedian conveys a “hometown style” in their art.

“You can tell where a comedian comes from by their acts sometimes,” Paras said. “There’s a New York comic, there’s a Chicago comic, and there’s definitely a Minneapolis comic.”

Paras’ considerable experience in the industry provides her with an eye for such details in a comedian. She said of Madison comedians: “They’re really creative and they like to bring something new to the audience every time they perform.”

That energy is reciprocal; being a college town creates highly receptive audiences for a wider variety of comedy in Madison, according to Kulow.

“Madison is one of the biggest drinking towns in the country,” Kulow said. “University or not, Wisconsonites like their beer and booze and are ready to have a good time.”

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The same performance venues that host national names also provide forums for less distinguished comics to develop their own voices, while drawing inspiration from others.

Just as with more renowned comedians, amateurs face the challenge of constantly setting themselves apart from the pack, according to Paras. Finding one’s own comedic style is an obstacle all artists face, but audiences can support young comics by acknowledging their inexperience.

“You have to look at an amateur comedian as being the next larger comedian,” Paras said.

Therefore, Eve and her family organize a local comedy competition every year—which Kulow won in 2014—and each year the comics get better and better, she said.

“[Amateur comedians] are the ones who do a lot in determining a city’s comedy culture,” Paras said. “It’s not us, it’s them.”

For example, Kulow and her boyfriend Bryan Morris, Madison’s Funniest Comic in 2012, recently moved to New York to expand their careers but said Madison remains her favorite city in which to perform.

“[The Comedy Club] on State is really the first place I performed standup, and it consistently had the best crowds compared to other places I've been,” she said. “Madison will probably always be the best because it's home, and it's where I started,” Kulow said.

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