Stand-up comedy can’t be taught. However, it’s apparently offered as an extracurricular activity at Cathage. Weeks into her freshman year at the Kenosha college in the fall of 2011, Dana Ehrmann decided to take on an unfamiliar and uncomfortable hobby when she joined a literal “comedy club” that had a showcase every semester of her collegiate career. After she graduated in 2015, the student of stand-up returned to Milwaukee, where she utilized the lessons gained though the unusual stage time she amassed as an undergrad to quickly become an up-and-comer in local comedy.
Before she performs as part of Friday night’s Hellcat Amazons show at Urban Harvest Brewing Company, Ehrmann talks about her strange stand-up origin, the process of restarting in a different city’s comedy scene, her penchant for self-deprecation, and how she hopes to develop her material in the near future.
Milwaukee Record: What was your origin with stand-up?
Dana Ehrmann: My beginning in stand-up was in college. I went to Cathage, and they actually have an extracurricular stand-up comedy club on campus. It was something that I tried right away as a freshman. It was something to be like, “I just started college and I can be somebody new, so I’m going to do stand-up!” So I joined this club.
MR: So it’s like adding another freshman 15. Fifteen minutes.
DE: That’s very kind that you think I had 15 minutes in my freshman year.
MR: Freshman five?
DE: Yeah, freshman tight five minutes of stand-up. So yeah, I joined that and almost quit before we had our first show because that’s me: get out of there before it gets real. But I told enough people that I joined the club to where they held me accountable, so I did the show. It was just in some room in front of all of your friends, so it went well and I was like “Okay, this is something that I do now.” Throughout college, we would perform like once a semester and then I graduated in 2015. I’ve been doing stand-up here in Milwaukee for like two years, I guess.
MR: Okay, so you went to having one show every six months that was curated by this organization to having to make your own way in a new city. Without having the semester deadlines in this organization you were affiliated with, what was the process to begin here? Did you find it hard to start? Did you find you maybe waited to long in retrospect?
DE: I probably did wait longer [than I should have]. The entire summer after I graduated, I was back here and I didn’t do stand-up. But it’s definitely effected my writing. I mean, in college, we were doing shows for the same friends every time. So you actually did want to write new material every time for every show. Now, because you doing shows here and there for different people, I find it very hard to motivate myself to writer when I know I can just do my same standard set instead of writing new material.
The way I got into the scene was entering the Comedy Cafe open mic competition. You see that the opportunity is available and sign up. The way it happened for me was Ryan Holman saw me there and then gave me opportunities elsewhere. That seemed like an easy in for me. When I talk to other comics, I can’t imagine going a bar’s open mic and deciding to get up there. That’s way more brave than I think joining a college club is for a first time with stand-up.
MR: After Ryan put you on a show and you got in front of comics who typically do independent shows, was the process easier or did it sort of expedite things in terms of introductions and show offers?
DE: That’s exactly how it happened. You do one thing, then somebody there sees you and decides they’re going to put you on a showcase and it sort of snowballs from there. I feel like Ryan and Addie Blanchard were the two people at the very beginning who saw me and put me on shows. And that’s really what my path has been because even now, I still haven’t been an open mic-er for a variety of garbage reasons. It really has been being on shows that have brought me the next opportunity.
MR: In a way, I feel that’s better. You’re not the nice person who shows up a lot who gets a bone tossed to them every now and then. I feel like that’s a testament to the material itself. You’re letting that speak louder than your presence or your ability to play the game.
DE: It’s been real confidence-building, and hopefully it shows people here’s what I do on an actual show and in a show setting. That’s exactly what I can bring to your show. You know, I named Ryan and Addie, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of somebody who hasn’t given me an opportunity or at least been really encouraging. I’ve benefited from nearly everyone’s kindness.
MR: What do you view or style to be? Or how would you describe your voice? I’ve noticed you can be very deadpan and self-deprecating in some unique ways.
DE: Yeah, I feel like self-deprecation is number one. There’s that thing people say about pointing out your flaws before other people can, you can take ownership of them. I feel like I take it a step further. Not only am I going to point them out for you, I’m going to make you like me. That’s what you’re going to end up liking the most and what’s going to make you laugh the most.
MR: Over the last two years since you moved back, what are some things you’ve learned? In what ways have you developed in this relatively short time?
DE: Not that I’m anywhere near where I want to be with it, but I feel I have developed more confidence in time. Even though we talk about being deadpan or being dry, I do think that’s still separate from energy and the confidence you bring. Not that I’ve eve had a real bad heckling experience, but even if someone just yelled something out, I’d feel a little more confident having a banter with them or at least just acknowledging or responding to them. I think I’m learning to slow down and be more comfortable in silences. I think I’m learning to turn them a little more in my favor, too. But I think there’s still much more to do in both regards.
MR: Even with the improvement and the growth you’ve had, where are you hoping to bring this?
DE: My immediate goals are to get on par with where most of my peers in the scene have already been, which is actually going to open mics however many times a week, and just to get on a writing schedule. I feel like there’s so much more I can do here by doing open mics. Doing the number of shows I do, I feel I’m improving, but I just want to get on a routine here, become more of a fixture, and get more reps. It’s hard to look beyond that. I love this and it’s what I want to be doing, but I feel like that comes first before I can even say I want to want to work the club scene or something. First thing’s first.