Tag Archives: Matt Kemple

Matt Kemple’s 10 reasons to see the 10th annual Milwaukee Comedy Festival

Ten years ago, no one would have thought of Milwaukee as a comedy hub. One of the reasons that’s slowly changing is the Milwaukee Comedy Festival.

First produced in 2006 as the Sketch and Improv Comedy Festival, this annual event now draws talented artists from across the country to perform with their equally talented peers from the Badger State. In celebration of the festival’s 10th anniversary, WiG sat down with Matt Kemple, founder and producer of the festival and its parent organization, Milwaukee Comedy, to pin down the top 10 reasons you should attend.

1. There’s a ton of people making you laugh

It’s actually a little crazy for Kemple to think about how big the festival’s gotten. This year’s event, running Aug. 6 to 9, will feature 26 acts spread across seven shows — one Thursday at 8 p.m., two Friday at 8 and 10 p.m., three Saturday at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. and a Sunday night finale at Turner Hall Ballroom at 8 p.m., with nationally acclaimed comic Brian Posehn wrapping it all up. 

Those comedians — about 120 in total — come from improv, stand-up and sketch comedy disciplines, and represent some of the best independent groups working in the United States. Kemple is fond of saying that each year’s festival is the “biggest and best yet,” and it helps his case that every year he’s right.

 2. And a lot of them are from Wisconsin

From the very beginning, Kemple says, the Milwaukee Comedy Festival has been as much about supporting local acts as bringing in performers from out of town. But doing so could have caused an imbalance if those local acts weren’t as good as their fellow comedians.

If anything, Kemple’s had the opposite problem. “(Wisconsin) people actually compare to the acts we’re getting from New York, Chicago, LA — these major comedy cities,” he says.

This year’s festival roster is nearly split down the middle, with 12 acts from Milwaukee, Madison or Green Bay, and every one of the festival’s seven shows features at least one local comedian or group. Among this year’s biggest draws: John Egan, a comedian from Green Bay who’s opened for major acts at Appleton’s Skyline Cafe and will be hosting Friday’s 10 p.m. show, and Sammy Arechar and Christopher Schmidt, stand-up artists on the rise who’ll close the 8 and 10 p.m. shows on Saturday, respectively.

3. It all starts with beer

Kemple says the festival has had a small kickoff event for the past several years, but Lakefront Brewing is helping step it up a notch. On Wednesday, Lakefront will host a brewery tour at 7 p.m. followed by an all-local stand-up show, with music by Milwaukee bluegrass band The Grasping at Straws.

Partnering with Lakefront allows Kemple to solve the conundrum he’s always faced with these kickoff events: how to make them a big deal without overshadowing the festival. “To have it at a different venue, you can make it its own thing,” he says. “It’s a perfect combination.”

4. This year, there are extra laughs for the taking

Milwaukee Comedy is partnering with Milwaukee Record for bonus shows that double as pre- and post-festival parties. These “Extra Laughs” shows will take place at four Milwaukee venues — Bremen Cafe in Riverwest; Club Garibaldi in Bay View; Var Gallery in Walker’s Point; and 42 Lounge in downtown Milwaukee.

Kemple says these gigs are a formal execution of informal afterparties organizers have tried to assemble in previous years, but also can be an opportunity for comedy-lovers who can’t make it to a particular show to still see some of their favorite local comedians in their own neighborhood. They’re also cheaper than a regular show — Bremen and 42 Lounge’s sets are free, while Garibaldi and Var Gallery will charge a $5 cover unless you’ve already bought a festival ticket.

5. You can watch your “Whormones” rage

Kemple says he’s been hoping to schedule a live comedy podcast taping at the festival for several years, and his inaugural guests are certainly attention-getters. “Whormones,” a self-described “anti-feminist, feminist podcast,” is hosted by Jaqi Furback and former Milwaukeean/porn star Alia Janine, and features the duo discussing their different points of view on sexuality, feminism and life. They’ll record the Milwaukee Comedy episode at Next Act at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Before she left the city, Janine hosted a podcast for OnMilwaukee and interviewed Kemple in advance of last year’s festival. That’s when they started talking about collaborating this year. “(Janine) just has no filter and she will talk about anything. … Jaqi is very reserved — so their dynamic is great.”

6. Learning is funny-damental

Local comedians hoping to up their game shouldn’t need a push to pay attention to the festival this year, but if you’re looking for one anyway, consider this: Milwaukee Comedy will be hosting improv workshops led by two of the country’s most talented artists. On Saturday, Cleveland’s Missy Whitis will help students develop better instincts for long-form improv. And Sunday will feature TJ Shanoff, a director with almost two decades’ experience in musical improvisation.

They’re more targeted and challenging workshops than the festival’s featured in the past, but Kemple says as the festival has grown, he’s found beginners’ workshops aren’t as good a fit anymore. The caliber of visiting performers has gone up and local artists have more than enough opportunities to take their first comedy steps in the rest of the calendar year.

7. There’s fun swag!

If getting to see a bunch of awesome comedy isn’t incentive enough, you’ll be pleased to learn Milwaukee Comedy’s sponsors have supplied them with lots of goodies to give away. But you’ll have to be willing to play along, because Kemple isn’t interested in just handing out prizes to random patrons: “It’s a Comedy Festival; it shouldn’t just be something boring.”

So if you want nerdy prizes like a Big Bang Theory Clue board game, come prepared to answer nerdy questions. Or “Name That Song” to pick up 88Nine passes. Or win an Irish dance-off for Irish Fest tickets. Or just come ready for anything — because Kemple has a bunch of other swag he’s not quite sure how to give away yet, but if you want it, you’ll have to earn it.

8. Did we mention Brian Posehn?

For the first time, this year’s Comedy Festival will feature a major national headliner to wrap up the weekend: Brian Posehn, a stand-up comedian also known for his roles on The Sarah Silverman Program and a variety of films. Posehn was one of a few acts Kemple says he brought to Turner Hall for consideration and he discovered that they’d already been trying to book him. The Sunday night slot turned out to be a perfect fit for everyone.

“(Posehn’s) not just a really funny guy,” Kemple says. “His level of humor really fits what our audience is looking for. He’s smart, kind of nerdy, but also can be pretty disgusting sometimes.”

Opening for Posehn are two of Wisconsin’s top stand-up artists. Hosting is Ryan Mason, a Milwaukeean who moved to Madison a few years ago and has since returned — better than ever, according to Kemple. Then there’s Geoffrey Asmus, an eccentric Madisonian who’s already delighted a Turner Hall crowd opening for Kyle Dunnigan this year. “It was very important to us to make sure those slots were filled by people that were from Wisconsin. We wanted to give a local comic an opportunity to open for somebody different.”

9. It’s cheaper than ever

OK, OK, reducing advance tickets from $15 to $14 and door tickets from $20 to $18 doesn’t sound like much, but if anything, they should be higher. A $14/$18 price point means the festival costs the same as any other show produced by Milwaukee Comedy during the year (excepting the Posehn show, $20 before fees), an incentive for people to get out and see a show.

“We feel like it’s the right price for the right value. …I would rather have a lower ticket price and be able to have more people come and fill the seats more,” he says.

The biggest comedy junkies can get an even better deal on the festival’s all-access passes — for $50, you can get into any show in the festival (including Sunday and the special events) and receive first-choice seats, along with other goodies.

10.  And you’re helping a community blossom

Kemple says it’s hard to overstate how much of an impact the festival has had on the local comedy community. A decade ago, there weren’t any local clubs that would put on performers; now it’s the norm that businesses will seek out local comedians, largely through the network Kemple and Milwaukee Comedy has been able to create.

More and more, that makes the festival not just about being a single weekend of good comedy. It’s a sampling of what audiences can find throughout the year in their own backyard, and a way to help fund Milwaukee Comedy’s efforts to support it and grow even further.

Kemple isn’t sure what the Milwaukee Comedy Festival will look like in another 10 years, or even next year. But if his audience keeps growing the way it has, there’s only one way it can go: bigger and better.

On Stage 

The Milwaukee Comedy Festival runs Aug. 6 to 9, with a kickoff event Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. at Lakefront Brewery, 1872 N. Commerce St. Mainstage shows are at Next Act Theatre, 255 N. Water St., while Sunday’s 8 p.m. show is at Turner Hall, 1040 N. Fourth St. Tickets are $18, $14 in advance. For a full schedule or to purchase tickets, visit festival.milwaukeecomedy.com.

Milwaukee Comedy Festival returns, bigger than ever

What’s the funniest event in Milwaukee?

Most comedy aficionados would say that’s an easy question to answer: the Milwaukee Comedy Festival.

The success of this four-day celebration of laughs and the comedians who inspire them has been a long time coming. Festival founder Matt Kemple is marking his ninth year running the show. He says the last two years’ events remained slightly under the radar. But he senses that things are different this time around, with interest among performers and audiences skyrocketing.

“This year it feels like we’ve broken through,” he says.

Kemple appears to have found a formula that works. The festival is arranged into groups of shows, most with three different artists or groups performing. Each artist specializes in a different style of comedy, so a show might open with a stand-up comedian, who’s followed by a sketch comedy group and then an improv troupe.

Kemple says that juxtaposing comedic styles in that way has multiple benefits. On a practical level, comedy doesn’t lend itself to “binge watching,” so offering different styles in a tight 90-minute show keeps audiences engaged. It also allows people to see genres they might not think they’d enjoy.

“I want people to be exposed to all kinds of comedy,” he says. “Some people say they just don’t like stand-up, for example, but they’ll come to the festival and see a stand-up comedian that they love.”

About half of this year’s scheduled performers are from Milwaukee, but there’s also an impressive array of talent from further afield, from comedy centers as near as Chicago and as far flung as Los Angeles and Toronto.

Kemple says there are a few performers he’s especially elated to have attending this year. One is stand-up comic Rob Christensen, an up-and-coming artist who’s appeared on Comedy Central and NBC’s Last Comic Standing. He’ll perform Saturday at 8 p.m.

“It’s exciting to have someone on his level want to be in the festival,” Kemple says.

Kemple is also happy to present the Chicago improv troupe Three to Turn the Stool, a supergroup composed of improvisers Ed Ferman (who recently snagged a writing gig on an untitled sketch comedy show in production by NBC), Beth Melewski (former host of Cash Cab Chicago) and TJ Jagodowski (half of TJ & Dave, the acclaimed improv duo that recently announced plans to open their own theater within iO’s space).

One show that’s a little different from the rest is Sunday’s teen comedy showcase, featuring young performers from the Milwaukee area. It’s the only Sunday show this year, a decision made due to low Sunday attendance in years past. But the teen show has always drawn a packed house, and it provides a great way to close out the weekend.

New to the festival this year is an expansion in food and drink options. Partnerships with Great Lakes Distillery and Sprecher will provide the latter, while food trucks will offer dining options for patrons between shows.

The addition of food-and-beverage service shows the increasing scale of the festival as it closes in on its 10tth anniversary. Kemple says he and other organizers are considering adding more venues and recruiting bigger headliners in the future, but there are no specific plans yet.

Those decisions will be made in the weeks and months to come — after everyone has recovered from this year’s laughter.

On stage

The Milwaukee Comedy Festival runs Aug. 7 to 10 at Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee. Shows are at 6 and 8 p.m. on Thursday; 8 and 10 p.m. on Friday; 6, 8 and 10 p.m. on Saturday; and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $20 at the door or $15 in advance. Go to festival.milwaukeecomedy.com.

The Milwaukee Comedy Festival begins a day early this year — at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 6, with a kick-off party featuring three comedy groups with strong local ties: After School Special (former students of co-producer Patrick Schmitz), Crouch Comedy (a new sketch group) and The Goodnight Milwaukee Show (a mock-talk show starring Jake Kornely and Tyler Menz). Tickets are $10 on performance day and $8 in advance.

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Milwaukee Comedy’s growth proves Brew City has great sense of humor

When Matt Kemple started Milwaukee Comedy back in 2006, the goal was simple: to put together an annual Milwaukee Comedy Festival in August.

Today, the goal is still simple — it’s just bigger: to produce a regular slate of three or four shows a month, serve as a network for local performers, and continue the festival, which is now a consistently sold-out event.

Kemple is quick to say that Milwaukee Comedy’s growth coincides with an overall expansion of comedy in the city. New sketch, improv and stand-up artists are joining the pool each month, and they’re all dedicated to helping each other grow.

“That’s where the strength of the comedy scene comes from,” Kemple says.

Milwaukee Comedy has given the community a tremendous boost, providing not only support for artists, but also an additional comedy venue: the Underground Collaborative, a shared office/performance space located in the basement of Grand Avenue Mall. 

Besides presenting Milwaukee Comedy shows, the space is available for individuals to rent out for performance. MC’s shows are largely organized around three different “mainstage” series: the Comedy Arcade Show, the Retro Comedy Show and Variety Hour Happy Hour. Each follows a similar format, designed to maximize comic diversity by presenting multiple styles in the same evening, but with different focuses, Kemple says.

Take the monthly Comedy Arcade Show. Kemple invites top-level comedians to participate in order to spotlight stand-up work. But each performance in the series also includes an improv or sketch comedy group at the beginning, usually one that’s new to the scene.

The Retro Comedy Show reverses the formula. Performed every six to eight weeks, each show starts with a stand-up comedian, followed by either a performance of a classic sitcom episode or an improvised sitcom.

Variety Hour Happy Hour takes the formula and throws it in the trash. This monthly show is all sketch comedy, but Kemple says its writers are regulars who try to go for something new and different with every performance. The Variety Hour frequently features guest artists — sometimes stand-up comedians, sometimes actors — and has been increasingly incorporating fun music and comedic songs, which creates something of a zany atmosphere.

Making comic variety a priority is Kemple’s way of introducing audience members to comedy genres they might have written off.

“Some people will say, ‘Oh, I hate stand-up.’ And some people will say, ‘Oh, I don’t really like sketch comedy that much.’ But when they come out and see a show and it’s all mixed together, a lot of people get very surprised.”

The series are a lead-in for the annual comedy festival, which is also a mix of styles — but on a bigger, four-day scale. This year’s festival is scheduled for Aug. 7-10.

“The next (festival) is going to be 10 years for us, so this year we’re trying to make a few changes so that we can grow as healthy as we can,” Kemple says. He says the organization has focused on steady, controlled growth by bringing in more people and connecting with festival producers in other cities to find ways to collaborate.

April 4-5, in conjunction with April Fools’ Day, the Underground Collaborative will host a Milwaukee Comedy Festival fundraiser and kick-off party, with comedy events spread over Friday and Saturday. Kemple describes it as mini-festival of sorts, with ticket and merchandise giveaways for audience members. He’s invited several of Milwaukee’s better-known groups to perform, including the Tall Boys improv group and The Goodnight Milwaukee Show (a duo who hosts a faux late night talk show), as well as guests from Chicago.

The April Fools’ weekend kickoff is the first that the festival has had on this scale, and Kemple believes the organization is ready for it.

“I thought it made sense, because the festival has really grown. And, you know, another excuse to put on a show — why not?”

On stage

The Milwaukee Comedy Festival Fundraiser begins at 7:30 p.m. on April 4, and continues on April 5, at the Underground Collaborative, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with proceeds supporting the Milwaukee Comedy Festival.

Upcoming Milwaukee Comedy shows include a Comedy Arcade Show at 7:30 p.m. on April 11, Variety Hour Happy Hour at 7:30 p.m. on May 2, and Retro Comedy Show at 7:30 p.m. on May 17. For tickets and more information, visit milwaukeecomedy.com.

Milwaukee Comedy Festival Fundraiser

The weekend after April Fools’ Day is the perfect time for a comedy show, especially one that paves the way for the Milwaukee Comedy Festival, which arrives in August. Creative producer Matt Kemple has lined up performers from across the comedy spectrum, including Tall Boys Improv, the Goodnight Milwaukee Show, stand-up comedian Jeff Lampton and Chicago-based improv group Chairs. Each of the two shows features a different line-up, and admission is pay-what-you-can.

For more information, visit milwaukeecomedy.com.

7:30 p.m. on Fri., April 4, and Sat., April 5