The connection between stand-up comedy and alcohol is undeniable. Though the former doesn’t necessarily require the latter, “two-drink minimum” is a term firmly implanted in the vocabulary of anybody who’s ever been to a comedy club. Comics of all levels receive drink tickets as compensation for their on-stage entertainment, and material centered on drunken behavior isn’t exactly a rarity in the art form. Now, Caste Of Killers Comedy Collective’s monthly Brew Ha Ha! comedy showcase is bringing laughter and lager even closer together.
“I think that drinking and comedy have always gone hand in hand,” Milwaukee comic, Caste Of Killers member, and Brew Ha Ha! founder/host Eric Thorson says.
In January, Thorson—who lives in Milwaukee’s Washington Heights neighborhood—stopped by Big Head Brewing Company, a microbrewery that opened in nearby Wauwatosa last summer, only to find it was closed early on a Thursday evening. On his next attempt, Thorson said Big Head owner Andrew Dillard told him that was typically a slow night at the young brewery. Meanwhile, Tosa was utterly lacking stand-up comedy representation. With hopes of addressing both problems, Brew Ha Ha! was born.
“They were all for it,” Thorson says. “If you have a mic, a stand, and an audience, we’ll put a show there. That’s what Caste Of Killers is all about. We forgo the clubs to do our own thing and make it happen.”
The unorthodox—and FREE!—showcase series, which has taken place at Big Head Brewing the first Thursday of every month since February, finds five or six comics each performing 10- to 15-minute sets (and Thorson hosting) for approximately an hour and a half of craft brewery comedy. While Brew Ha Ha! has already brought performers from Madison and Chicago to the taproom, the majority of acts booked are Milwaukee-based.
One such Milwaukee comedian is Greg Bach, who will make his Big Head debut Thursday.
“I think it’s great to have these [type of] shows popping up. You get in different locations,” Bach says. “Call it alt-comedy, underground, whatever you want to call it. I think it does nothing but expand the scene.”
Thorson says turnout has been encouraging so far, topping out around 60 people in attendance in Big Head’s spacious rear room. Of course, there’s plenty of the microbrewery’s diabetic-friendly beer (Thorson recommends the IPA) that’s brewed just feet from the makeshift performance area available. Adam Loeding, who is also performing in the May installment, thinks the brewery element is a welcome addition to the showcase.
“They’re a marriage made in heaven,” Loeding says. “Watching comedy and going out drinking are the same in that they’re both about having a good time for the sake of having a good time. [Alcohol] can be your friend. It can get people laughing or it can get people heckling. It forces comedians to be funny.”
Thorson says the crowds have been “responsive,” and he expects the response to only get better this summer, when foot traffic increases and Big Head opens its massive garage doors to unveil the unsung brewery and, hopefully, the laughter within to passersby. Though still in its infancy and with room to grow, Brew Ha Ha!’s unique blend of stand-up and small batch craft beer is already a success with its ability to bring local comedy and a new brewery to the attention of a Milwaukee suburb that was lacking both amenities this time last year.
“Milwaukee has a great scene of comedians, and it’s great to spread them to the most people possible,” Loeding says. “Wauwatosa and the west side of Milwaukee kind of [lose out on] shows. I think it’s good that we’re expanding.”
May’s installment of Brew Ha Ha! features Ryan Lowe, Greg Bach, Ryan Holman, Adam Loeding, and Matt Werner with host Eric Thorson. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and is free.