Despite a blossoming local comedy scene taking root in every corner of the city and venues bringing massive mainstream comics to town on a regular basis, Milwaukee is missing something when it comes to stand-up. Correction: it was missing something. With dedicated comedy clubs only occasionally backing into high quality bookings amid middling road dogs slinging dated material for bachelorette parties, and large scale venues unable to take risks on shows that don’t ensure a worthwhile reward over slam-dunk events, a certain caliber of comic was bypassing town altogether.
However, in collaboration with Milwaukee Comedy, local comedian Steve Breese has recently taken on the tall task of bringing lesser-known and up-and-coming comedians Milwaukee’s way and—sweeter yet—is pairing these touring talents with local openers. The first such show brought Johnny Pemberton and Josh Fadem to The Underground Collaborative in June. Just days ago, Nick Thune was confirmed to perform there in October. Wednesday, Breese’s booking will extend beyond the Grand Avenue mall basement, as Godfrey will appear as part of a special Milwaukee Comedy event at Comedy Cafe. Before Breese takes the stage to host his latest event, he told us the importance of these types of shows, and why he’s made it his mission to try to fill this hole in Milwaukee’s comedy scene.
Milwaukee Record: How did you get the Godfrey show?
Steve Breese: I just started cold emailing managers of comedians I liked and Godfrey was one of the first I emailed. His management got back to me really fast. I got blocked by a few agents. [laughs]. I reached out to people I had some interest in, and people I just thought would be fun to have in Milwaukee. I specifically look for people who don’t come to Milwaukee, because I don’t want any overlapping with any of the other venues in town. That’s very important to me because I wanted to bring somebody that wasn’t already coming.
MR: What’s behind your affinity for booking these shows? It doesn’t really seem like a lot of other people are cold emailing these people and leaving themselves open for the rejection. Why are you taking it upon yourself to do so?
SB: Why not? Nobody else is doing it and it’s something that can be done. I just did it. And I’ve been rejected by people most of my life. I’m used to it, so it’s not going to hurt my feelings. People aren’t doing it, so why not try it?
MR: In terms of the names that you’re booking, I feel like you’re bringing performers that might not be open to doing a weekend-long stint at a dedicated comedy club, but a comic who might pose a little bit of a risk for one night in a venue the size of Turner Hall or something. I feel like you’re bridging that gap that’s not being addressed often enough in town. Plus, by using local openers, you’re giving Milwaukee comics a chance to build their credits, which can help them get shows elsewhere.
SB: That’s really important to me because Milwaukee doesn’t really offer the opportunity for comedians to work with national acts on a regular basis. So if Milwaukee Comedy can create something like that, that’s really a benefit to comedians here. It gives them an opportunity to work with people in the business, and ask them questions that might help them grow as comedian.
MR: It also gives area comics a chance to performer in front of local people who came to see the headliner they know and who might not realize there’s this quickly developing and rapidly improving local scene here that they should notice.
SB: It’s definitely exposing [Milwaukee comedians] to a new audience because people who come out to see a national act don’t typically go to local shows. Now they have a chance to say, ‘Oh, there are local comedians and they’re good.’ Hopefully, that will trickle down into other local shows too. That’s kind of the hope. I really think this is an all-encapsulating way to really improve our scene.
MR: Yeah, it really is. The same people I see in basements and bars will be opening for Godfrey and Nick Thune—who’s wildly popular in the comedy world right now. I feel like that’s something that doesn’t happen often enough.
SB: Yeah, but I don’t think that’s the other venues’ fault or promoters’ fault. A lot of people still don’t know that there’s comedy happening in Milwaukee. I feel like the local scene is still small enough that promoters might not know they can just go down to an open mic and scout, so they’re depending on performers to bring a feature act with them.
MR: The first show of this ilk that I really took note of was the Johnny Pemberton and Josh Fadem show. How do you think that went, and do you feel the comics were happy with the experience they had?
SB: Yeah, I feel like a lot of people were excited with that type of show coming through. It was the first production we did where somebody mildly famous that comedians really appreciated came through. Getting to see them live in a venue that [local comics] frequent was a very exciting thing to experience. As far as the show goes, I feel it went well. I wish it would’ve gone a little bit better, but we had half a house—between 30 and 40 people. Both Johnny and Josh mentioned they had a great time and they appreciated coming to Milwaukee and working with us.
MR: What did it feel like when you learned you got the Nick Thune show?
SB: When I got the email, I ran around with my arms up with a smile on my face—which is a very rare thing for me. I was ecstatic. I was by myself, so I just ran in circles for at least 10 minutes.
MR: What are your hopes going forward, now that you’ve sort of distilled the formula and have already learned a lot. What’s next?
SB: Just consistency…that more comedians will be interested in performing in Milwaukee, and making sure comedians who are performing here are having a good time so word will get back to their agents that their next tour should be routed through Milwaukee again. I just hope that it can keep snowballing.
Godfrey will perform at Comedy Cafe Wednesday, August 20 with openers Greg Bach, Erik Koconis, Ryan Lowe and host Steve Breese. The show begins at 8 p.m. and costs $15 in advance ($20 at the door). Save $5 on online orders by using the promo code “jimbo” at checkout.