Milwaukee’s comedy scene is currently in a great place. Even more impressive than the volume and caliber of stand-up in the city is the fact the comedy community has managed to thrive in spite of not having a dedicated comedy club in town. However, that will change as soon as January, when a new bar and comedy venue opens in the heart of Walker’s Point.
The Laughing Tap will open at 706B S. 5th St. in the former Brenner Brewing Company site, which was most recently Sprecher Brewery’s taproom until it closed last month. The new bar and comedy venue is owned and operated by Matt Kemple of Milwaukee Comedy. Kemple, who co-founded and co-produces the Milwaukee Comedy Festival, is a veteran comedy booker. He also owns and operates The Underground Collaborative, a 110-capcity multi-purpose performance space in the basement of The Shops Of Grand Avenue.
In addition to his Underground Collaborative shows, Kemple and his Milwaukee Comedy cohorts (comedians and producers Kaitlin McCarthy and Greg Bach) also host shows at a wide variety of other locations in the city and its surrounding suburbs, including recurring events at Lakefront Brewery, Pabst Milwaukee Brewery & Taproom, Var Gallery & Studios, Dandy Midventurous Modern, and Great Lakes Distillery.
Kemple says his goal is for The Laughing Tap to be “Milwaukee’s home for comedy” and to fill the comedy club void in Milwaukee. The decision to open a dedicated comedy venue was a response to the growing demand from local audiences. This year, Milwaukee Comedy went from producing an average of six live shows each month to approximately 10 to 12 live comedy shows every month (with as many as 14 some months).
“Just based on our market share alone, we’re in a place where we’re looking to increase the number of shows we’re doing even more,” Kemple says. “Our main presentation of comedy has been in multiple venues all over the city, and for us to continue to be sustainable, it didn’t make sense to continue adding on additional venues. For us, the natural idea seemed to be to open a more central location.”
In early 2020, The Laughing Tap will open its first of two phases. The first phase will feature a barside performance space in the front of the property, which will be able to comfortably seat 100 customers (or about 50 with tables). There will be 24 draft lines, with a focus on Wisconsin-made craft beer and spirits from local distilleries. The space will play host to weekly and monthly showcases, open mics, and one-off performances from regional and national headliners.
Some of the notable comedians Kemple and company have booked at The UC or other sites include Nick Thune, Andy Kindler, Beth Stelling, Todd Barry, Hari Kondabolu, Matt Braunger, Godfrey, Joe Mande, Emily Heller, Johnny Pemberton, Josh Fadem, and Neil Hamburger. Kemple will continue to own and operate The Underground Collaborative as a space for private rentals, theatrical productions, and other (predominately) non-comic events.
Through Milwaukee Comedy will continue to produce a number of events at different sites throughout the city and in the suburbs, The Laughing Tap will be the home for new showcases and the go-to location for performances they produce with national headliners. This brings us to the so-called “Phase 2″—eventually opening a second stage in the property with a capacity of 200 or more. There’s also the opportunity to add balcony seating, bringing capacity closer to 300.
“Our aim is to be one of the top comedy clubs in the country,” Kemple says. “We’re looking to take the idea of what we’ve already created and really try to grow that and foster the comedy community that continues to be sustainable.”
Stay tuned for more details on The Laughing Tap, its opening date, and a look inside as January 2020 approaches. Until then, get excited. Milwaukee is getting a comedy club!