Having just celebrated her one-year anniversary doing comedy, Allison Dunne has accomplished quite a lot in a short time. With her ability to fearlessly tackle heavy topics in a lighthearted way, she’s quickly become a regular in Milwaukee comedy showcases (most recently, a headlining slot at The Ragtime Variety Hour), has taken stages in Chicago and Los Angeles, and co-hosts Levity Radio on Riverwest Radio every Tuesday. However, the best moment of her young comedy career to this point will occur Wednesday, as Dunne will open for noted national talent Nick Thune at The Underground Collaborative.
Before her biggest show to date, Dunne told Milwaukee Record about how the opportunity came about, the importance of working in other cities, the growth of the local scene, and whether she’s nervous for Wednesday’s gig.
Milwaukee Record: Let’s start with Wednesday’s show. You’re opening for Nick Thune, which is a pretty big opportunity. How did that happen?
Allison Dunne: Well, Steve Breese and Matt Kemple kind of worked together to get Nick Thune here. He’s doing a Midwest tour and he had a date available. He has four shows in Chicago following the Milwaukee show. They made him a couple of offers and eventually got him. I imagine it’s going to be entirely different than his other shows because it won’t be at a traditional comedy club. It’s very, very intimate. I don’t know how many people can fit in there, and it’s kind of a unique opportunity—not only for the people attending, but for Nick Thune himself. That will be cool for him to get to know Milwaukee in that way, and I’m sure there’s going to be some commentary on the space itself. You can say that you saw a national headliner in the basement of Grand Avenue Mall! It’s like seeing a band you really like when they do a pop-up show. It’s an awesome opportunity for me.
MR: What does it mean to have the opportunity to pad your résumé and to get the experience performing in front of—even if it’s still just 80 to 100 people—comedy fans who aren’t usually turning out for a Karma showcase?
AD: I think the people who know about the Milwaukee comedy scene right now, they’re great, and they come out to a lot of things. You see a lot of the same faces. But when Kyle Kinane came to Shank Hall, or any other touring comic comes to town and uses a local opener, I think it gives people a taste of what they can see right out their front door. They can fork out $80 and see whomever, but they don’t have to. They can spend $5 to see comedy at Landmark Lanes or Karma, and maybe they get a taste of it and get more into comedy. When I started a year ago, I didn’t know anything about the local scene, but I went to a show and caught the bug. It just took that one time.
It means a lot that I was asked to do it, and have been given the opportunity to promote myself. There’s no expectation that Nick Thune is going to say, “Hey, great job!” but just to say you were on a show with someone of that caliber, I think you can learn a lot. I’m really excited about it. I think it’s going to be great.
MR: Are you nervous at all?
AD: I guess I’m anxious, but I get like that before every show. I think the one’s a little different, too, because I don’t know how I was selected, but I think the styles match up well. Nick does some storytelling and a lot of one-liners, which is a little different, but the playfulness of it is the same. I do a lot of playful stuff where a dance around sensitive topics, which I think will fit in very well with people who are already fans of Nick Thune. I’m less nervous knowing I fit well than, say, if I was opening for someone whose audience I don’t think I would relate to well.
MR: I notice that you’ve also been working outside of Milwaukee lately. You’ve been doing some stuff in Chicago, and weren’t you in Los Angeles recently?
AD: Yeah, I’m trying to do more things in Chicago. A lot of people have these ideas of moving to L.A. or New York, and I love that. I think that’s where you have to be, but I had never been to California and I’ve certainly never done comedy in New York, and I haven’t done that much in Chicago. To uproot my life and move somewhere, I don’t want to go in blind. So I went to L.A. for five days and I just hit up as many open mics as possible to gauge where I was compared to the other people around. Also, it’s so inspiring to go to The Comedy Store and The Improv and you see these great acts and you say, “I want to get there.” It gives you something visual, other than on TV, podcast, or Netflix. It gives you something more tangible to work toward.
MR: Exactly. That’s the end game, but with all due respect to what you’ve done in a year, there are a lot of rungs on the ladder between where you are and where you want to go.
AD: Right. And there’s no set way to get there. Yeah, you put the work in, but everyone has a different path. I guess I’m just exploring that and seeing where I want to be. The interesting thing about L.A. is there’s the same ratio [as in Milwaukee] of good to bad. There was just more of it. It takes a lot more dedication because if you want to get to that one open mic, you have to wait one or two hours. Around here, it’s first come first serve, and you always get on. It was fascinating. It was really encouraging. Just to get your name out there in any way possible helps.
MR: I want to get into the expansion here, though. It seems like even over the course of the year that you’ve been doing stand-up, comedy has been spreading everywhere. There are also a lot of new formats and themes, too, as well as the merger of national and local talent. Is there any more room for the scene to grow?
AD: I think there absolutely is. There’s still a giant portion of Milwaukee who has no idea what local comedy is all about. As far as the growth, people know Jokerz, people know Comedy Café and ComedySportz, and people are getting to know Karma. But there are still shows that have two or three people showing up. All of us are happy to do those shows, but I think there’s still a lot to learn in terms of marketing ourselves, both individually and as a group. But if you look at where it came from, the growth is incredible.
Allison Dunne opens for Nick Thune and Doogie Horner at The Underground Collaborative (in the basement of The Grand Avenue Mall) Wednesday, October 1. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and costs $14 in advance and $17 at the door.