Remember “The Gong Show”? That masterpiece of ‘70s television where shameless Americans would perform acts of questionable talent before a celebrity panel until Phyllis Diller would mercifully strike the massive gong and they would be ushered off stage?
Well imagine if there was a Madison variation of “The Gong Show” in which the enjoyment is derived not from the failure of its contestants but instead from their actual talent. Now take out the celebrity panel, ‘70s haircuts, and anything resembling an East Asian cymbal (OK, maybe “The Gong Show” reference is a bit gratuitous) and you might just have The Big Deuce, the weekly open mic night at the Comedy Club on State.
The Big Deuce runs every Wednesday night and gets its name not from the toilet — though potty humor may certainly be featured — but from its meager $2 admission fee and $2 drinks. It’s a weekly showcase for the local talent to bring their comedic stylings before a regular crowd that’s composed of more than just their friends or fellow comedians. Open mic nights aren’t in short supply, but the Big Deuce provides a real audience for its performers unlike other venues in Madison, giving comedians the best environment to test their material in the wild.
The Big Deuce thus reigns supreme over Madison’s other open mic spots (the Argus and Amy’s both have their own) and draws first-time performers from points as far as the Twin Cities or Chicago, deriving its format from Acme Comedy Co. in Minneapolis. Two dozen comics, often for their first time, perform three-minute bits and there’s no shortage of talent from week to week.
“We’ve got more comedians than we’ve got spots,” said Mike Schmidt, a regular performer at the Comedy Club and someone who’s been involved in the Big Deuce since it began. As someone who understands the importance of getting up on stage for the first time, Schmidt wants the Deuce to be as accommodating to new talent as possible.
“We’ll bend over backwards to get you on,” he said, stressing that if someone can’t get on stage they might not try again, defeating the purpose to get as many people involved in comedy as possible. It’s an event for comedians, by comedians. “I’m just another comedian,” he said. “The Big Deuce is essentially the Comedy Club giving local comedians an opportunity to work together.”
It’s a training ground for sure, but more importantly a collaborative effort for a group of people who assemble themselves for the sole purpose of making other people laugh — the type of high-quality work in progress that remains unique to stand-up.
But don’t let the words “open mic” trick you into believing that the Big Deuce is an excuse for locals to retell hackneyed dirty jokes handed down to them from crazy uncles or bygone humor magazines. The high demand for even a three-minute performance slot encourages friendly one-upping between the comics and a constant desire to come up with better jokes. Nobody wants the show to succeed more than the comedians behind it.
“We try to make the Big Deuce as entertaining as possible for the regular audience that we have,” Schmidt said. He and others gauge the talent of the performers, offer notes and look forward to second and third bits. “The shows are usually really, really good. We’re consistently surprised.”
Particularly successful comics eventually find themselves performing longer five-minute sets, handling emcee duties at other clubs or performing in the feature slot at the Comedy Club’s weekend shows. “Going from a three-minute bit to having a a weekend where you get to do it five times in a row really helps with your delivery and the way you order your jokes thematically,” Schmidt said.
But the Big Deuce has the added draw of affording comedy connoisseurs and teetotalers alike the chance to make their own way in stand-up. It’s an opportunity to see two dozen different comedians with two dozen different styles in a single night, and the invitation is always extended to those who want to shake it up.
For those who want to try comedy, going and watching a group of performers in similar situations is a good place to start. And for audience members, even those with snobbishly high standards for what’s funny, the Big Deuce is the perfect stage.
“If you don’t like the way things generally are [in comedy clubs], then come down to the Big Deuce and you will be pleasantly surprised,” Schmidt said. “If you want it to be different, you can get in there and make it different.”
Next month, the Big Deuce’s time slot will be devoted to a competition to determine the funniest comedian in Madison, with the same premium placed on fresh material. Performers will not be allowed to repeat any jokes unless they reach the finals: a three-comic showdown where each contestant is given ten minutes to try their best.
But it would be unfair to ask a group of comics to defend their comedy or question its taste. “We’re a group of people whose dream it is to tell dick and fart and abortion jokes,” Schmidt said. “I think that should speak for itself.”
The Big Deuce is every Wednesday beginning at 8:30 p.m. at The Comedy Club on State, located at 202 State St. To learn even more about The Big Deuce visit, www.madisoncomedy.com.