Though the Milwaukee and its abundance of stage time and stand-up showcases is never hurting for quality performers, the allure and opportunities of more comically-equipped locales like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago frequently pulls aspiring young comics away from Milwaukee once they’re ready to take the next step. Last year was something of a crescendo of comic departures, with a batch of promising stand-ups departing around the same time.
Just as Sammy Arechar, Liz Ziner, Allison Dunne, Josh Ballew, the newly David Letterman-approved Johnny Beehner, and others were leaving, David Louis was just starting out in Milwaukee’s comedy scene. Though new to the city, he was no stranger to the stage, with three years logged in Denver and upstate New York. In under two years, he’s quickly established himself here, and he’s poised for even bigger things. Before tonight’s Gentle Giants Tour: Election Night Comedy show at Up & Under Pub, Milwaukee Record asked Louis what brought him to town, how his new city has impacted his material, and how far he hopes to take things.
Milwaukee Record: You’re originally from New York, right? What part of New York did you come from and when did you move here?
David Louis: I’m from Albany, New York. That’s where I was born, but I actually left there for some time. I lived in Colorado for five or six years, then I had to go back there after I tore up my knee, and that actually how I got into my job, kind of because of that accident. I moved here about a year and a half ago to work in medical sales. Walker’s Point reminds a lot of growing up in Albany because it’s got its cool little shops and microbreweries and shops, but also a lot of abandoned buildings.
MR: But you say you’ve lived here about a year and a half. Did you get involved in stand-up right away? Were you doing it before you got to Milwaukee?
DL: I was doing it in Colorado in this place called The Corkscrew, but I was barely in that scene. I was only going up a couple of times a month. I didn’t really take it seriously until I moved back to New York. That’s kind of when I went all in. I’ve been doing it for probably three years, probably a little bit longer.
MR: Even though you weren’t very active when you were out west, are there any differences you noticed in Milwaukee’s [comedy] scene and Denver’s or Albany’s?
DL: Denver was really cool because there were guys in Grawlix who would just hang around mics. They would just hang out in the scene. That’s kind of tough here because once people have done it for four or five years, they eventually leave. You’re constantly having to refill this depletion of talent. In Denver, those people stayed to build that scene.
MR: Yeah, it seems like Milwaukee was losing some of those comics people grew to know and love—people who were exposing Milwaukee its local comedy scene—right around the time you moved here.
DL: I literally came in right during the exodus. I was like “Hey, what’s up?” and they were like “Hey, we’re all leaving!” and I was like “Fuck!”
MR: But that also gives you more opportunities because there are a lot of vacancies left by the people who were getting on every show suddenly not being here. How did you get involved here early on?
DL: Well, I think my real introduction was as a kid watching, like, Premium Blend. That’s what I would do Friday nights because that’s what I liked to do and I’m a loser, whatever. I liked watching stand-up, then I was out in Colorado and I knew it was something I wanted to do. You make a list of goals and at some point you either have to stop talking about it and do it or just give up on that dream. You gotta pick one or the other.
MR: I mean, after you moved here, did you find Milwaukee to be a welcoming scene? Did you have a hard time breaking in?
DL: Albany and Milwaukee are very similar. You see the same 30 comics X number of times a week. You run into the same people. Within the first month, I knew almost everyone’s name, which is good and bad. You constantly have to write new material. It was a super welcoming scene. There was no pushback. I was a little nervous at first, but everybody was really nice. It’s been good. It’s a good place to develop and write a lot of material.
MR: And with a new location comes new perspective and the challenge of writing material that plays regionally. Not everything that works in New York or Denver works here, and vice versa. So you get more tools in your chest.
DL: Oh yeah. New York was different than it is here, and it’s different than it was in the mountains. I think it’s good to move around and get different perspectives. I think it helps when you’re starting. I write all the time. I got out to all the [open] mics, and I try to go outside the city. I kind of see it as a job.
MR: You see it as a job, but you also have a job related to the medical field. Are you able to inject humor into what you do?
DL: I spend time in operating rooms and watch surgeries. There’s a lot of down time and the most concerned person in the room is the patient. Everyone else just sees it as another day on the job. I joke around a lot, which sounds fucked up. I have jokes, but I know about the products I’m selling. It’s a weird juxtaposition, honestly, to be in a serious job like that, then stand on stage and be like, “You know what’s weird? Netflix.” It’s strange and eventually one will have to be picked over the other. I’ve managed it pretty well. I work from 5:30 [a.m.] until whenever, then go out and do comedy until midnight or one and do it all over again. Eventually I’ll have to break one way or the other.
MR: Which way do you see it breaking?
DL: Probably comedy. I can’t see myself going through this entire life and not actually committing 100 percent and trying as hard as I possibly can to make it a career. If I never do that, it would be my biggest regret. If I never put out an album or toured in a serious way, even if it was nothing but bars and some clubs, it would be a disappointment.
David Louis performs at tonight’s Gentle Giants Tour: Election Night Comedy show at Up & Under Pub. The show costs $2 (includes a free shot with your “I Voted” sticker). Jamie Carbone, Tommy Morgan Jr., Carter Deems, Ton Johnson, Mike Berg, and Addie Blanchard will also perform.