We’re just days into another Milwaukee summer and life is good. Between now and the end of September, the city will be alive with festivals, block parties, weekly music series, and conditions conducive to patio lounging. Though it’s tough to find much to complain about at this point in the year, the bursting bouquet of outdoor events doesn’t exactly bode well for comedy. Figuring most Milwaukeeans are more prone to laughter indoors when the weather necessitates cheering up, the comedy calendar usually dries up come summertime. The city’s largest venues ease off booking stand-up acts and some comedy clubs close altogether. Still, it’s not like Milwaukee is devoid of comedy shows altogether. In fact, the next 90 days feature some promising, intriguing, and downright wonderful humorists performing in town. Of those, here are 12 standout summer comedy shows.
Friday, June 24
Pete Davidson at Turner Hall
At just 22 years of age, comedian Pete Davidson is funny beyond his years. Despite holding the distinction of being Saturday Night Live‘s youngest cast member, the wunderkind has quickly established himself on the show with scene-stealing performances and sidesplitting characters. While millions see him excel in the realm of sketch most weekends each year, Davidson can hold his own as a stand-up comedian as well. Some may recall his verbal undressing of Justin Bieber on the most recent Comedy Central Roast.
Sunday, June 26
Kathy Griffin at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater
For a self-proclaimed D-list celebrity, Kathy Griffin has amassed quite the career. Between 2009 and 2013, the actress and comedian released an astounding 12 specials, most of which were “live” (“with enough delay to work in the steady wave of bleeps”) telecasts on the Bravo network. In 2011, Griffin decked out Riverside Theater’s stage for the filming of 50 And Not Pregnant, the acerbic comedian’s 13th special. Though this appearance is unlikely to yield another special, the Milwaukee regular’s pair of Sunday night shows in more intimate confines should bring their fair share of laughs.
Wednesday, June 29
“Weird Al” Yankovic at Uline Warehouse (Summerfest)
With a shelf cluttered with Grammys, an extensive acting reel, and one hell of a live show, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s inclusion on a list of comedy shows would be questionable if not for the inarguable fact that the world’s most renowned song parodist is incredibly funny. Since Summerfest doesn’t seem concerned with booking national comedy acts anymore (and maybe with good reason), Yankovic’s Big Gig return is the most (intentionally) funny thing you’ll witness at the Henry Maier Festival Grounds this year, as well as one of the best comedy events taking place in the city this summer.
Sunday, July 24
David Liebe Hart at Riverwest Public House
A year removed from last summer’s weird-as-fuck performance alongside Crappy Dracula 2, Soup Moat, and Iron Pizza at Borg Ward, “comedian” and resident of Tim & Eric‘s absurd universe of characters David Liebe Hart will move the show to Riverwest Public House this time around. Expect puppets and heaps upon heaps of subversive anti-comedy. Iron Pizza is back on the bill, with Scrimshaw and Father Freedom providing musical accompaniment.
Sunday, July 31
Hari Kondabolu at Turner Hall
While Hari Kondabolu isn’t exactly a household name to anyone who isn’t an avid @midnight viewer, the Brooklyn-based comedian is well on his way. The fearless funnyman, who The New York Times called “one of the most exciting political comics in stand-up today,” will make his Turner Hall debut after releasing his second comedy album, Mainstream American Comic, on Kill Rock Stars just days earlier.
Monday, August 1
Louis C.K. at BMO Harris Bradley Center
You probably know Louis C.K. You probably love Louis C.K. If you have the means, you should probably see Louis C.K.
Tuesday, August 2
Milwaukee Record presents The Roast Of Milwaukee at Club Garibaldi
Last year, we decided to informally help kick off the Milwaukee Comedy Festival by asking eight comedians to gently (or, in some cases, straight-up viciously) rib the city they love. Following the wonderful response to those verbal swings in the direction of Milwaukee, we decided to do it again. This time around, the comedian-heavy lineup will also include a few local movers and shakers from other mediums. Oh yeah, and a band will play before an after the Roast. We’re still putting together the full lineup, but trust us, you won’t want to miss this unconventional night of city-centered laughs.
Wednesday, August 3 through Sunday, August 7
Milwaukee Comedy Festival (various venues)
Milwaukee Comedy Festival turned 10 last summer. Originating long before the city had anything even resembling a sustainable comedy community, the Matt Kemple-curated undertaking has grown and evolved in kind with Milwaukee’s humor scene. The days-long blend of stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy returns bigger, better, and with a more renowned headliner than ever in its 11th year. The festivities kick off with a Wednesday night showcase at Lakefront Brewery before moving the Next Act Theatre for three days and, finally, culminating with a Turner Hall show headlined by the hilarious and New York Times best-selling likes of Jen Kirkman on August 7.
Tuesday, August 16 and Wednesday, August 17
Don Rickles at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater
On May 8, Don Rickles turned 90. Of those 90 years, the legendary comedian has spent close to 70 of them on stage doling out some of the harshest and most hilarious jokes ever written. The influential funnyman was eons ahead of his time, but still remains as relevant as ever today. Even in an increasingly-sensitive art form, the man ironically called “Mr. Warmth” has license to say whatever prickly punchline he wants because, simply, everyone is fair game. See him this summer or potentially regret missing what, unfortunately, could be one the last opportunities to see Rickles perform in Milwaukee.
Thursday, August 25
Cameron Esposito at Turner Hall
While she was born, raised, and got her stand-up start in Chicago, Cameron Esposito has only recently earned notoriety in alt-comedy circles while living in Los Angeles by way of her 2014 album, Same Sex Symbol. Fresh off the release of her latest special, Marriage Material, in March, Esposito returns to the Midwest to make her Turner Hall debut. Catch her now, because Pabst Theater or possibly even Riverside seem like more likely destinations the next time the up-and-coming comic swings through town.
Friday, September 9
Trevor Noah at Riverside Theater
Love him or hate him, Trevor Noah is here to stay. Though Noah got off to a shaky start as host of The Daily Show, and he could never possibly fill the shoes of Jon Stewart, the South African-born comedian is funny as hell. See Noah showcase the unique style, sharp wit, and delightfully deadpan material that earned him the highly-sought-after spot behind the desk when he comes to Riverside Theater.
Friday, September 16
Whose Line Is It Anyway? at Pabst Theater
Whose Line Is It Anyway? regulars and improv juggernauts Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood have an incredibly unique relationship with Milwaukee. The dynamic duo—who can be counted upon for at least one Milwaukee performance every year—performed their 20th show in the city, one of which was chronicled in a televised special. This time around, a quartet of different performers will come to town to “yes, and…” under the Whose Line umbrella. Author/comic Greg Proops and The Drew Carey Show co-star Ryan Stiles head a gut-busting foursome of improvisers, which also includes Jeff Davis and respected actor/Bill Murray sibling Joel Murray.