In a 140-character world of Netflix specials and cat YouTube videos, stand-up comedy still prevails under spotlights across Madison, providing laughter without a screen.
University of Wisconsin alum Geoffrey Asmus is on the frontlines of this classic medium. Earlier this month he won the Madison’s Funniest Comic open mic competition at the Comedy Club on State, after five gruelling rounds and endless nerves.
A Twin Cities-native, Asmus began dabbling in comedy as a defense mechanism against serious conversations, and a childhood neighborhood without many, well, neighbors. After his high school superlative dubbed him “has them all fooled,” he embarked to UW and earned degrees in history, religious studies and Asian culture.
But about two months before graduating, Asmus entered the realm of stand-up.
“They have the open mic night on Wednesdays at the Comedy Club and I used to go there a lot as a normal human being and I thought it looked really fun,” he said. “My friends kind of goated me into doing it. I spent six months saying nervously I would do it before I finally did it.”
Two years later, Asmus has scoured the many open mic nights found in bars across the Isthmus. Though the weekly tour of stand-up can be daunting, Asmus tries to write jokes everyday, describing himself as a “quantity over quality” joke writer. The nearly constant flow of material has allowed him to edit through the flops before big nights at the Comedy Club.
This process was particularly difficult for the Madison’s Funniest Comic competition; in the first four rounds, performers couldn’t even repeat a joke, making forming a routine all the more difficult.
“The hardest part [was] picking which jokes to tell every week. You don’t want to use all your good jokes the first round and then you don’t want to also not tell good jokes and not make it, because then you feel like an idiot,” Asmus said. “My strategy was … It only really matters what you’re first and last jokes are. No one really remembers what happens in the middle.”
But despite the challenges, Asmus emerged victorious in the eyes of the audience and judges, winning the title of Madison’s Funniest Comic. In addition to a few Badger jokes about football games and the insane ability to name any country’s capital, Asmus’ success likely came from his relatable, enjoyably weird humor.
This approach reflects his two biggest comedy idols: Bill Hicks and Brian Regan. Hicks — described as “George Carlin on steroids” — was renowned for ranting social commentary cloaked in dark humor. On the other hand, Regan is known for mundane self-deprecation, free of controversial subject matter and profanity.
Asmus is not afraid to tackle sticky topics like religion or even history. In fact, his main comedic goal is to make history jokes funny. But overall, he keeps a low-key demeanor and refrains from exclusive humor.
“It’s important to relate to people,” he said. “I try to be normal because people can’t relate if it’s too weird … I think sometimes comedy can be too high brow, ivory tower-type stuff. Like, ‘Oh this joke is about the ‘Brother’s Karamazov,’ you don’t know the ‘Brother’s Karamazov?.’ I’m pretty honest. I’d say honesty is probably the biggest part of my comedy.”
Asmus’ development is also the product of his environment: Madison, and more specifically, students. The student population is a strong indicator of what mainstream comedy will be in five to 10 years, he said. While the current “comedy boom” revolves around Twitter and other mediums, millennials traversing campus are putting Madison comics ahead of the curb for the future.
“[Madison has] a really good comedy scene for the size of the town,” Asmus said. “There are a lot of really funny comedians in Madison. It’s more alternative comedy, because college kids are more open to doing weirder things. It’s really strong.”
As for his own future, Geoffrey Asmus plans to move to Chicago in the fall. Though he may be temporarily leaving the Dairy State, his start in Madison will be forever solidified upon accomplishing his ultimate goal: his own Wikipedia page.