Madison’s comedy scene may be small, but it packs a punch. And it’s gaining prominence in the 608 and beyond.
Home to the Comedy Club on State, one of the most well-known clubs in the country, Madison attracts talent from across the nation. What might go under the radar, however, is Madison’s buzzing local comic scene.
That is until Anthony Siraguse, host of The Argus Underground Open Mic, and Stevie Leigh Crutcher, former host of the ‘Turning Up” Open Mic at Winedown, along with other Madison comics, have made a push for more independent shows as well as visibility outside of Madison.
Siraguse has been pursuing comedy for four years. Since moving to Madison from Denver two years ago, he has been working alongside others toward expanding performance opportunities for local comics.
Siraguse said one of the largest obstacles in growing the city’s comedy scene is the tendency for comedians to leave for greater opportunities in Chicago or New York once they have honed their skills in Madison.
“Chicago sucks away a lot of talent,” Siraguse said.
Still though, Siraguse said as one comedian leaves the scene, a new-comer eager to make their start in comedy usually replaces them. He said many of these novice comedians get their start at local open mics while they’re still in college.
With this in mind, Siraguse and his fellow comics have taken on the task of expanding the comedy circuit from the main open mic night at the Comedy Club to a series of new and exciting shows in the area. Siraguse hopes this will foster new comedians’ growth and the growth of the scene as a whole.
The most visible of these opportunities is the Comedy Club on State, host to one of the biggest open mics in the country. But both Siraguse and Stevie Leigh Crutcher believe it is essential to a fledgling comedian’s development to perform at as many different open mics as possible.
“To only perform at the Comedy Club is like having a T-bone steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Siraguse said. “You may think eating cereal is stupid, but you need some so you’re not hungry anymore.”
Similar to the volatility of the one-in, one-out nature of comedians in Madison, these smaller mics also suffer from a lack of stability, Crutcher said. She said further this instability can be attributed to various factors ranging from businesses shutting down to simply needing a change of scenery, but added someone has always stepped up to find a new venue and start a new open mic.
Aside from open mics offering a space for the younger comedians to practice and get comfortable, they also provide spaces where more experienced comedians can give advice and feedback, which they are always more than willing to give, Crutcher said.
Siraguse, for example, recommended young comics hone their skills in a variety of ways and personalize their jokes. Besides participating in the open mics and various shows in the area, participating in storytelling events, such as the Moth Story Slam, writing stories, making music or doing improv will only strengthen a comic, Siraguse said.
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In addition to stepping up the open mics, both Crutcher and Siraguse said comedians are working to invigorate the scene in other ways as well.
Crutcher said there is power in a comedian’s ability to network in other cities. By booking gigs and performing in open mics outside of Madison, specifically Milwaukee, Madison comedians are able to gain exposure by performing in a wide variety of shows and, in turn, encourage out of town comedians to perform in Madison.
Siraguse said the new changes in the scene continue to impress those Madison comics who decided to move away when they come back to visit. New independent shows are constantly in the works. Siraguse and a number of other local comics, for example, currently host a movie night show where a film is shown and the performers share witty commentary for the audience’s enjoyment.
Though the career of a comic may be unpredictable, through the efforts of people like Anthony Siraguse and Stevie Leigh Crutcher, Madison is quickly becoming a vibrant stop on a young comedian’s journey.
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Stevie Leigh Crutcher’s name as Crtucher. The Badger Herald regrets this error.