Woody Allen is widely credited with saying “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” That figure seems a bit arbitrary, but it’s impossible to underscore the significance that simply being active and present has on a performer’s career. The years of work, perseverance amid on-stage adversity, and thousands upon thousands of miles logged between road gigs undoubtedly had a hand in Tuesday’s Shank Hall headliner Kyle Kinane coming to town on the cusp of mainstream notoriety. (He’s already firmly entrenched as a favorite among comedy fans).
Similarly, Milwaukee comic Jake Kornely exhibits his fair share of motivation and—in the most literal sense—presence. Less than three years removed from his first open mic, Kornely scored the lucrative role of opener for the highly anticipated Kinane show because, well, he asked.
“If you want to do something, ask,” Kornely says. “The worst thing that’s going to happen is hearing no. If the answer is no, I’m not any worse off.”
Shortly after Shank Hall announced the show, Kornely emailed Shank to inquire about the status of an opener. Within days, he’d been offered the biggest gig of his young comedy career.
“It’s kind of scary that I’m opening for someone I admire a lot, but I feel really confident that I got the [opening] position because I had enough sense to ask,” Kornely says.
However, the opportunity came from much more than an unsolicited piece of Internet correspondence. Kornely currently hosts an open mic at Bremén Café every Monday, as well as a monthly showcase at Landmark Lanes. Additionally, he co-hosts “The Goodnight Milwaukee Show”—a live and localized take on the late night talk show format—with fellow Milwaukee funnyman Tyler Menz. Though these events help provide new sites for local comics to hone their craft, Kornely’s decision to amplify his production came with a very specific reason.
“It was basically just to get more stage time for myself. I felt like I wasn’t getting asked to do enough sets. At the time, I didn’t feel like there were enough places to do it,” he says. “I’m guaranteed to get myself some time, and I can help get other people more time. But I mostly did it for myself, so I could get better. The only way you can get better is doing it a lot.”
The exponential increase in workload over the last year has done wonders for the stage presence of the comic who had battled stage fright in his early stand-up attempts. While he admits the larger venue than he’s accustomed is a “big weight on his shoulders,” he feels he’s prepared.
“I’m such a big fan and this is such a great opportunity for me. I want to do good, and not go on and bomb for five minutes before Kyle Kinane has to go on,” Kornely says. “I feel confident and—and this may sound cheesy—I’ve think as I’ve grown as a comic, I’ve also grown as a person.”
That growth is showcased with identifiable material that chronicles the comic’s life in Riverwest, stories of past misadventures in courting, and a layer of self-deprecation. For the upcoming Shank show, he intends it to be business as usual, and will test out some new material at Circle-A Café Friday night.
“I have some jokes that I know work, and right now I’m just trying to put stuff together so it doesn’t sound like a bunch of random jokes,” Kornely says. “I want to sound relatable, and like I’m talking to the audience rather than ‘Here’s a joke. Here’s a joke.’”
Regardless of the reception, Kornely feels any opportunity to meld local and national comedy is a positive for Milwaukee’s comedy scene as a whole.
“Even if a small percentage of that audience has the initiative to search out comedy in Milwaukee, it will grow from there,” Kornely says. “People are only going to get better with more opportunity. They’re going to get more stage time, and they’re going to find out what really works and what really doesn’t work on stage.”
While Kornely is trying to treat opening for Kyle Kinane as “just another show” (and his cluster of May shows after this gig seem to validate his unwillingness to stew in the feat for long), he seems aware that for a few minutes before the guest of honor Tuesday night, he’s an ambassador of sorts for the Milwaukee comedy scene.
“If one person gets exposure, the whole scene gets exposure,” Kornely says.
That sounds like a tall task for one comic operating with a limited window, but remember, he asked for it.