Back in early 2016, we previewed a doubleheader by South Milwaukeean-born comedian Jackie Kashian and Milwaukee stand-up Tom Clark by acknowledging the accomplishments of those two points of local pride, as well as nine other hilarious humorists with Wisconsin roots. Since then, a new crop of comics with local affiliation have made the state proud in the realms of stand-up, sketch, television, film, podcasting, and more. Oh yeah, we also realized we missed a few people.
This week alone, Los Angeles (by way of Wisconsin) comedian Nate Craig will perform a free show at The Underground Collaborative as he prepares to record his new album. Sunday, Madison’s own Nick Hart will chase his recent Conan set with a headlining performance at Lakefront’s “Keg Stand Up” showcase. They’re not alone, though. We’ve rounded up a dozen comic talents with strong Wisconsin ties.
1. Ben Kissel
Anyone who has listened to even a few episodes of Last Podcast On The Left is is likely aware that one of the wildly popular murder/comedy podcast’s host, Ben Kissel, has strong Wisconsin roots. The now-New York-based podcaster, comedian, and political pundit grew up in Stevens Point before winding up at UW-Milwaukee, where he graduated with a degree in political science. Before Last Podcast On The Left sold out Turner Hall last July, Kissel talked to Milwaukee Record about his stand-up start while living here, being tipped in weed by people in Riverwest when he was in college, and why the Midwest might play a pivotal role in the incubation of some serial killers.
2. Charlie Berens
In late 2016, Los Angeles (by way of Elm Grove, Wisconsin) actor, writer, and Emmy-winning host Charlie Berens first made his mark with viral voiceover videos imagining what it’d be like if Titanic‘s Jack Dawson and Bane from Batman hailed from Wisconsin. More recently, Berens rose to regional notoriety as the host of Manitowoc Minute. Through more than 30 episodes and a few on-site extras, the weekly Wisconsin-influenced news segment has garnered millions of views on YouTube and Facebook.
Along the way, Berens’ viral popularity through his northwoods-accented character translated into ticket sales for live shows. Last year, the multi-faceted comic who brought “keep ‘er movin” into wide local circulation toured much of the Midwest, including a pair of sold-out shows at Turner Hall. Berens will return to Milwaukee in November for a stop on his “Oh My Gosh” tour at Pabst Theater. Not bad for a kid from Elm Grove. Hear a long-form interview with Berens about his Wisconsin upbringing and more HERE.
3. Dave Theune
Chances are you’ve seen Dave Theune‘s work and you don’t even realize it. The mustachioed character actor’s distinct look and deadpan delivery have earned the former Milwaukee improvisor loads of work on countless network sitcoms and a few films. Theune’s parts might top out at Stage Manager, Coach, and Someone’s Dad, but he’s constantly working and always funny, no matter how larger or small the role may be.
4. Gareth Reynolds
Though Gareth Reynolds is a writer, actor, improvisor, and regularly touring stand-up comedian, the Brown Deer native is known to listeners throughout the world for his utter lack of historical knowledge. The Los Angeles-based multi-hyphenate is a co-host of The Dollop, a popular American history podcast that’s landed him a book deal and has brought him to perform in Iceland, Australia (four times and counting), and throughout the United States. On top of his budding career as a historical podcast personality and his frequent stand-up performances, Reynolds wrote on the latest season of Arrested Development and has appeared on shows like New Girl, The Goldbergs, and Maron. Though he left Wisconsin, his home state hasn’t left him. He’s a huge Packers fan, so much so that he has the team’s logo tattooed on his bicep. Hear Reynolds talk about his local roots HERE.
5. Ian Roberts
Comedy nerds likely recognize Ian Roberts as one of the founding members of Upright Citizens Brigade. Not-as-informed comedy fans likely still recognize him from his recurring roles on his sketch troupe’s eponymous Comedy Central show, as well as regular parts on Reno 911!, Arrested Development, Key & Peele, and cameos in roughly 500 other TV shows and films (Step Brothers, Anchorman, and Parks & Recreation among them). As respected and recognized as Roberts is, few are aware that one of the first chapters in his long, fruitful comedy story occurred right here in Milwaukee. After graduating from a small Iowa college with a theater degree in the late ’80s, Roberts moved to Milwaukee, where he was involved at the flagship ComedySportz. Following that short-but-memorable stint here, he moved to Chicago to study under Del Close. There, he met his UCB cohorts Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, and Matt Besser. The rest is improv history.
6. Jeff Cesario
As one reader reminded us after we posted the first round of notable Wisconsin comedians, we totally missed Jeff Cesario. Our bad! Turns out the Kenosha-born comedian we snubbed produced shows with Garry Shandling, Jerry Seinfeld, Hannibal Buress, Russell Brand, and Dennis Miller. Moreover, he appeared as himself on The Larry Sanders Show, voiced “Marv Albert’s Head” on Futurama, and wrote the screenplay for…uh, Jack Frost. Okay, forget Jack Frost. Cesario has made a steady living as a comedian, writer, and producer since the ’80s. Plus, how many people on this list can say they performed just a few feet from Johnny Carson?
7. Joel Hodgson
Outside of Chris Farley, there are few (if any) sources of Wisconsin comedy pride that loom larger than Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s no secret the seminal series’ creator Joel Hodgson has strong roots in Wisconsin. The Stevens Point native made sure to parse numerous references to his home state in the series. Though he’s no longer in front of the camera in the show’s recent Netflix reboot, Hodgson is still thoroughly involved, so who knows how many Menards and Packers references await?
8. Nate Craig
Nate Craig has come quite a way since leaving the Badger State. Since moving to L.A., the Wisconsin-born comedian has become one of Bill Burr’s go-to openers, he’s amassed a wealth of TV credits on Comedy Central’s Roast Battle and Tosh.O, he’s written for Ridiculousness and A Prairie Home Companion, and will be a recurring character opposite Emma Stone and Jonah Hill on an upcoming Netflix series called Maniac. Though his acting and writing résumés have grown a great deal through the years, Craig is still a stand-up comedian first and foremost. The comic will return to his native state for a free September 6 show at Underground Collaborative, where he’ll perfect new material that he plans to record on his new album.
9. Nick Hart
Though he originally hails from South Carolina, Nick Hart is now considered among the funniest folks in his new home of Madison. The 2017 Madison’s Funniest Comic winner has opened for the likes of Dave Attell, Marc Maron, Bobcat Goldthwait, Kyle Kinane, and countless others on stages throughout the country. Last month, Hart made both Madison and Wisconsin proud when he performed on Conan. Sunday night, he’ll headline Milwaukee Comedy’s “Keg Stand Up” showcase at Lakefront Brewery.
10. Sammy Arechar
Perhaps this one’s more speculative than some of the others on this list, but it’s only a matter of time before Milwaukeeans are going to proudly proclaim “he’s from here” in reference to Sammy Arechar. The locally-born comedian (and guest at two different ill-fated Milwaukee Record Taco Bell-related journeys) quickly worked his way up the Milwaukee comedy ranks before moving to Chicago in 2015 at the age of 23. Now just 26, Arechar has appeared alongside Lizzo on MTV, DJed a Zucchini Festival, and opened for an impressive cast of known comic commodities that includes Garfunkel And Oates, Moshe Kasher, Matt Braunger, Hampton Yount, Josh Fadem, Ari Shaffir, and many more. If you didn’t know him when he lived in Milwaukee, learn the name now because he’s bound for bigger things.
11. Todd Holoubek
Who doesn’t know and love The State? From 1993 to 1995, the 10-member troupe brought sketch comedy to exciting, new, and all-around absurd territory. The influential MTV show helped inspire an entire generation of aspiring comedians, while also launching the careers of The State’s cast members. While most in the group still act, direct, write, perform stand-up, and podcast regularly, Todd Holoubek (from Ixonia, Wisconsin) stepped out of the spotlight following the seminal sketch show’s premature cancellation.
Following The State‘s end, Holoubek turned his focus to academics—occasionally resurfacing to be part of the Reno 911! movie, The Ten (directed by his The State co-star David Wain), and the troupe’s 2009 reunion shows. Last we heard, Holoubek was teaching in South Korea. Who told us that? It was Todd’s brother, Brian, a Milwaukee artist who owns Heavy Rotation, runs the Urban Garage Sale, and built a Thump A Trump game.
12. Trixie Mattel
Milwaukee-born drag queen Trixie Mattel first came to national consciousness by finishing sixth on season seven of RuPaul‘s Drag Race. Since the reality show put her on the map in 2015, she’s kept busy performing throughout the world, acting (including a cameo on FX’s American Horror Story), releasing a country album, and co-hosting The Trixie & Katya Show on the Viceland network.
Despite her packed schedule, she opted to return to the show that helped launch her career by competing in season three of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, which pitted the local legend against nine other past participants. Once the dust (and glitter) settled, Trixie Mattel was victorious. Shortly after claiming the title, the reality show star, actor, musicians, drag queen, and comedian delighted Turner Hall with an uproariously funny hometown stop on “Now With Moving Parts” tour.