Milwaukee comedian Tyler Menz isn’t the type of performer who’s comfortable standing still. Sure, he’s prone to dust off his now-classic “Muffins Milwaukee” joke from time to time, but the busy local comic revels chances to make people laugh in a variety of ways, in a multitude of different places, and as part of numerous formats. Beyond traveling around the state (and to Chicago) to treat audiences to well-crafted bits delivered in his trademark atonal shout in traditional stand-up form, Menz is also a founding member of the Goodnight Milwaukee Show (a live variety late night show), added some hosting hilarity to Milwaukee Record‘s inaugural Local Coverage benefit, and has recently delved into the strange and mysterious world of improv.
With an newfound affinity for improvisational comedy, Menz and Milwaukee improv pro Tim Higgins will berth Voyager—a unique showcase where comics perform stand-up, which then inspires improv sets—at ComedySportz tomorrow. Next week, Menz will hit the road (literally, as Menz will drive) for a short run of Midwestern shows with comedy legend Todd Barry, which culminates with a show at Turner Hall on Friday, July 24. Before Voyager’s launch and he gasses up to drive a 30-year-comedy veteran to Iowa City and back, Milwaukee Record talked to Menz about his new show and how it feels to know he’ll soon be sharing the stage with Todd Barry.
Milwaukee Record: So Voyager is a new showcase you’re doing. How did that come about? You’re involved in a million others things between Goodnight Milwaukee Show and the various other shows you do every month in Milwaukee and other places. So why Voyager and why now?
Tyler Menz: Essentially, what happened was, I did improv with Lee Rowley And Friends. Afterwards, I was hanging with all the improvisers and I really got the feeling that it was too bad the stand-up and improvising scenes are kind of separate. There’s not a whole lot of intermingling. There are a couple people that do both, but they still feel very separate to me. I love my stand-up friends, but when I get to hang out with improvisers, they bring a whole new energy to everything.
I got to talking with Tim Higgins, and he felt the same way. He wishes there was more intermingling, so we thought it would be a good idea to have both—both things happening and that way the scenes hopefully converge, hopefully. A comic will go and just do straight stand-up, then improvers will piggyback off of what the stand-up talks about in their set. Then the other stand-ups will come up to do material the improvers will use that and hopefully tie it all together into one cohesive ball of comedy. It’s really important to be to give people who don’t normally work together that opportunity.
MR: As a stand-up, are you also interested in exploring the world of improv more?
TM: A little bit. I’ll be performing improv in Voyager, plus hosting the thing. It’s something I’ve slowly started to dip into. I’ve the Tall Boys workshop and they worked together with Goodnight Milwaukee. I’ve improvised with Lee Rowley And Friends, so it’s something I’m slowly tiptoeing into. It’s just fun to do something that you wouldn’t normally do.
MR: In terms of audience, it’s also a new means of exposure to something they might not seek out otherwise. For me, I wouldn’t organically seek out an improv show, but for shows like Dynamo Kickstand or that Goodnight Milwaukee and Tall Boys hybrid show, I get to watch imrov in an unconventional package that I would not have sought out otherwise.
TM: Totally. Likewise, there are people who would go to ComedySportz all the time, but never come out to see a stand-up show, so that will give them exposure to the stand-up scene and that we’re not all scary people who will yell at you from the stage. People can be kind of intimidated by the stand-up scene.
MR: After Voyager, you get to do a run of shows with a comedy legend of sorts with 30 years in the business, Todd Barry. How did that opportunity come about? Did you reach out to him personally? Did he seek you out?
TM: I reached out to Turner Hall and they said they’d keep me in mind for future gigs. I think Turner Hall does a really good job of pairing people together that would complement each other. Todd Barry is kind of dry and quiet and very witty. And I’m a loud asshole with a very boisterous personality on stage. [Turner] sent my stuff to Todd Barry and he said if I could drive him to three dates and do them with him, he’d take care of gas.
MR: I don’t want to be making assumptions, but from what I now of your comedy, this is easily the biggest credit you’ll have to this point. Are you nervous or are you just enjoying the opportunity?
TM: As far as the shows, I think I’m okay to go. I think what I’m most nervous about is having to drive Todd Barry places and having that downtime on the road to talk because he’s a big name.
MR: He’s a comic’s comic. He might not be a household name, but if you’re into stand-up, you know him and you probably love him.
TM: I’m really excited. I think I have my material ready to go.
MR: Just to warn you, on shows two and three of this run, he’s probably going to rip on you on stage a ton. When I saw him at Turner a few years ago, like 10 minutes of his set was making fun of his opener.
TM: I won’t be fazed by that. I’ll be ready for it. It’ll be kind of cool to say that I went on a short tour run with Todd Barry. I think that’ll be meaningful to help me get through other filters in the future, but I’m still going to go out and keep pounding the pavement and doing the [open] mics I can get to. It’s important to have credits, but also important not to dwell on the credits. Essentially, I got lucky and I get to open for Todd Barry for a few shows.
See Voyager, a comedy show hosted and co-produced by Menz, at ComedySportz on Thursday, July 16. The show begins at 8 p.m. and costs $5. Menz will also perform as part of Caste Of Killers’ showcase at Karma Bar And Grill on Friday, July 17. On July 24, he’ll return to Milwaukee’s Turner Hall for the last of a three-night, three-city run opening for Todd Barry.