Grand Forks comedy scene small, but has potential
Tucked away in the dimmed bar at the Ramada Inn, Conroy stood on the small stage sharing dark yet comical stories about going through detox and humorous commentary on the Oscar nominees, during the weekly comedy show.
When he was done with his act, headliner Charlie Wiener, of Cleveland, Ohio, took the stage and entertained the small yet boisterous crowd with bits about old age, sex and bad driving.
The weekly show, which starts at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, has been a long-time tradition for the bar and its comedy-night regulars.
“There’s definitely a good core of people who come every week,” said Trevor Ronholm, lounge manager. “We have a really good turnout. And for the most part, we have a really fun, energetic and packed house.”
Ronholm said the show attracts about 40 to 65 people every week.
Nicole Marynik, Michael Fairfield and Lacey Czapiewski, all of Grand Forks, are among that intimate crowd. They said they started going to the shows about three years ago, and it quickly became a weekly event for their group of eight to 15 friends. They arrive early, order their fishbowl Long Island teas and secure their front row seats.
“It’s pretty much the only fun thing going on Wednesday nights,” Marynik said. “It’s good stuff.”
Dreamer’s comedy nights started more than 12 years ago, showcasing booked talent from around the nation. Two comedians perform each week covering a wide variety of styles.
“They kind of come from all over — Kansas City, L.A., we have a guy who comes from Vegas and certainly a lot come from the cities as well,” Ronholm said, adding that their talent runs the full spectrum of comedic styles.
Aside from sporadic comedy nights at various bars, Czapiewski said Dreamer’s is really the only place to go for comedy in Grand Forks. Although other bars and venues might host comedians on occasion throughout the year, Dreamer’s is the only constant in the small Grand Forks comedy scene. But, professional comedians say they see potential for a great comedy scene in the area.
“I know they have a really good scene down in Fargo; it’s kind of exploding, and I don’t see any reason there couldn’t be a local open mic scene in Grand Forks,” Conroy said.
Canadian comedian Nelson Mayer agreed.
Canadian Comedy Invasion
Mayer runs a comedy club in Winnipeg and has brought a comedy troupe to The Hub in Grand Forks about four times throughout the last year. Mayer said he was looking to gain a new audience and Grand Forks was the ideal location.
“The first show, there weren’t a lot of people… maybe 15, 20 people, but it was a blast,” he said. “Everyone I brought from Winnipeg was really into it.”
Their most recent show was right before the start of the school year, and Mayer said the bar was packed.
“That was probably our most successful show and open mic,” he said. His comedy troupe will return to Grand Forks for the Canadian Comedy Invasion on March 29 at The Hub.
“I’d really like to do it on a monthly basis, where we start building up the local scene... there’s a great vibe in that community, and there’s great potential for something really great.”
Mayer added that it would be awesome to have a helping hand in growing the Grand Forks’ comedy scene.
He’s already connected with local comedian Spencer Dobson, of East Grand Forks.
Although Dobson left the area to get his start in standup comedy, he understands how difficult it can be to get started in a small town with an even smaller comedy scene.
Local comedian pursues comedy elsewhere
From Voss, N.D., Dobson said he was always interested in comedy. He remembers listening to Bill Cosby and Steve Martin albums when he was a kid. He said it was really important to him and something he could identify with. But, Dobson never realized the possibility of pursuing comedy as a career.
“I didn’t know anybody who did stand up,” he said. “All I knew was that I really loved it.”
Dobson later did his first open mic at a club in Minneapolis. He had prepped for months, but nothing could have prepared him for the moment he stepped on stage.
“You’re just emotionally naked standing in front of a room full of people who don’t know you from Adam, and you’re supposed to make them laugh — right now,” he said.
As nerve-racking as it was, Dobson said it was a success, and he was hooked. He started doing regular open mics, and eventually started touring the country doing one-nighters and working clubs. After touring and spending some time in Los Angeles, Dobson found his way back to the Grand Cities.
Dobson had already made a name for himself in the comedy world, so he was able to book clubs and private events in the surrounding areas. But, he said the lack of a comedy scene is a challenge he still deals with all the time, and he understands how being a new comedian in the area is difficult.
‘Any stage time is good stage time’
“You have a great music scene but a music open mic and a comedy open mic are two different animals,” he said. “At a music open mic, people talk and half-way pay attention to the show and don’t really listen. At a comedy open mic ... It’s one of those things that people need to pay attention to.”
Conroy said it’s intimidating to do stand up at a general open mic, but he added, “If it’s all you’ve got, go for it… any stage time is good stage time.”
When he started doing stand up seven years ago, he’d go to general open mics and comedy open mics seven days a week, and he encourages new comedians to do the same.
There are regular open mic nights at Rhombus Guys, El Roco and The Hub.
For aspiring comedians, Dobson advised, “If you can start something here, then start something here.” He said local comedians can also go to Fargo, where there are four open mics for comics by comics. For specific times and venues, visit facebook.com/fargocomedy.
For those just looking for laughs, Dreamer’s may be the weekly option, but The Ho Sports Bar and Casino and Muddy Rivers host comedians on occasion, as well. And, Shotgun Sally’s is looking into adding a weekly comedy night with booked acts and an open mic.
If you go…
- What: Dreamer’s comedy night with comedians from around the nation.
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays.
- Where: Dreamer’s Lounge at the Ramada Inn.
- Cost: $7.