Milwaukee’s stand-up comedy scene experiencing a state of transition. This summer alone has seen four of the city’s best and most active comedic performers leave Milwaukee to see how their material fares in the more comedy conducive confines of Chicago. A few other respected regulars moved to L.A. and Washington D.C., respectively, which essentially left a batch of new performers to help fill the sizable gaps in a community that was stronger than it had ever been just months ago.
Though we’re in the midst of an exodus, one strong comic with Milwaukee roots recently returned to town. Following a brief tenure working in upstate New York and a severe downtick in his comedic progress, Nate Seek left his career, returned home, and wasted no time getting back on stage. Before Friday night’s Cactus Club Comedy & Music Show performance, Milwaukee Record asked Seek about his time out of state, what brought him back to town, and how much Milwaukee comedy has changed during his year away.
Milwaukee Record: I’d only seen you once before you left, but you were a name that was always referenced by people when you were gone. What was the local stand-up scene like here when you were getting started? It seemed like things were kind of unproven and you were part of kickstarting it.
Nate Seek: When I first started, I was at UWM, and I always wanted to do comedy. I was looking for places that had [open] mics, but there was no network setup, so I’m looking at [web]pages that were three years old that hadn’t been updated and going and basically hoping there were still mics going. The first mic I did was Comedy Cafe. I called, got signed up, brought like 15 friends, didn’t bomb, and I met Jason Hillman that night. He told me about Art Bar. I went there the next week, where I met more comics and learned about more mics. Then I got on shows. It just kind of all came into line right away.
It was so small, so if you’re going to mics and shows, you’re going to meet everyone in the scene. If you’re not an asshole or if you like comedy and pay attention to people, it’s pretty easy to be remembered as more of household name for a small scene. It was small and it was underdeveloped when I started doing it, a lot of younger faces were coming in.
MR: So you got your start here and hung out for a four years before going to New York. What ultimately prompted the idea to move there?
NS: I didn’t want to move there. I got moved there for my job. I had a degree and a lot of student loan debt, and Miller was one of the only companies that called me back.
MR: But if you have to move and you’re also wanting to advance as a comic, New York seems like a good place to be sent.
NS: Yeah, if they sent me to the city. I got a call and it was the head of the department that was hiring me for sales. She was like, “Nate, we want to offer you the job. How does New York sound?” I said, “New York City, oh my god, that’s awesome. That’s exactly where I want to go.” And she’s like, “Even better! Upstate New York in Albany, the capital.” I accepted it and looked into it and thought “This isn’t that bad. It’s only about two and half hours from the city, so once I get out there I can take the trains there and back.” So I drove myself out there and packed my life into my car and spent most of my first five months getting really into my job. I got into a routine and kind of just stepped away from stand-up.
I went to a few open mics and met a few comics. The people were nice, but I felt so frustrated with my comedy before I event left. I like my appearance on stage because I don’t talk how I look. I look so wholesome, like the mayor’s kid, but when I go on stage, I’ll do coke jokes and cunnilingus jokes.
MR: In your limited experience with comedy in upstate New York, what were the differences between comedy here and there?
NS: A completely different world. The people that were there were strong and they had some good local shows, but they only had a couple real mics a week. For me, that’s tough to sharpen material and get put on shows. I kind of just gave up on it, knowing I would get back to it. It was cool, because guys like Nick DiPaolo and Robert Kelly would come up to Albany because they live in White Plains anyway, so they’d drive up to Albany and do a casino show in Buffalo the next day.
MR: What brought you back here and what lead to you getting back into the swing of things with stand-up?
NS: It’s easy to get back into it here because I can call on people who are doing really well here now. I left my job out in New York because I wasn’t personally happy with my job. Coming back, [comedy] was the first thing I did. Chris Schmidt was awesome and Matt Kemple gave me a 15-minute spot at The Brass Tap, and it just felt so natural and so good.
MR: Coming back after a year, it must have been night and day. You leave and local comedy is in one state, now you come back and there’s a lot more happening in terms of the volume of shows, and people you used to watch have improved. What’s it like here now compared to before you moved?
NS: The caliber of comedy has gotten better. I noticed that coming back in and going to mics right away, the kids are good. I’ve seen a lot of strong people come out of nowhere. These people all came in and just fit into the scene. You lose four [comedians] and you gain 15, and I think that’s because the scene has evolved and the shows have been run better. It’s still so small, though.
Nate Seek will perform as part of the Cactus Club Comedy & Music Show on Friday, September 18. Ryan Mason, Alex Black, Ton Johnson, Gary Zajackowski, Jordan Pauley, and Ryan Holman will also perform, as will musical guest Stereo Frontier. The show beings at 10 p.m. and costs $7.