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Who's laughing now? Stand-up comedy scene growing in Fargo

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Jan Syverson is Fargo-based comedian who travels regionally with 40 Below Comedy show. Special to Forum News Service2 / 3
John Narum, a 24-year-old comic in Fargo, pairs his act with yo-yo tricks, calling himself an “yo-yo artist.” Special to Forum News Service 3 / 3

FARGO — It's 10 p.m. on a Monday night. Many people in Fargo-Moorhead are winding down after a long day at work.

But for 18 people at Dempsey's Public House, the night is just beginning as they try to make a few people laugh.

Stand-up comedy doesn't just happen in the bright lights of the big city. It's alive and well in the heart of the Midwest.

"Fargo is a great place to start if you're new to comedy. There are open mic nights all the time," says Jan Syverson, a Fargo-based comedian who travels regionally with 40 Below Comedy show. "There's a lot of comics who come out to the mics to work on their sets."

David Standal, a 23-year-old stand-up comedian, says the diversity of who's performing at local comedy events has increased. Standal started performing when he was 15 and co-hosts weekly open mic nights on Mondays and Tuesdays with Hao Nguyen, a 25-year-old comic who first performed more than six years ago at the Red Raven Espresso Parlor comedy open mic night. Now Standal says he sees a variety of people and comedy styles while hosting.

"Two out of the three open mic night hosts in town are me—an Indian guy and Hao an Asian," he says. "It's awesome to see so many different people with different backgrounds and talents come out and perform."

The 18 comedians who performed April 9 ranged in age from mid-20s to early 60s. Simon Barthowel performed in during the seventh slot and started doing stand-up in 1987, while another 24-year-old comedian John Narum, pairs his act with yo-yo tricks, calling himself an "yo-yo artist."

A changing scene

Syverson — who first started performing six years ago when she was 24 — says the comedy scene in Fargo has definitely seen its ups and downs.

"The scene has definitely changed over the years. We have had several people start in Fargo but move to Minneapolis or L.A. to pursue bigger gigs," Syverson says. "In Fargo now, it's a young comedy scene, but because of this we have a large group of people regularly coming out to the open mics."

These comedy open mic nights have flourished without a brick-and-mortar comedy club.

"There used to be stuff at Courtney's Comedy Club and we used to do stuff at the New Direction. But all those places slowly died out," Nguyen says.

In 2016 when the Moorhead Days Inn suddenly closed due to slow summer profits, it also meant the end of its once popular Courtney's Comedy Club.

"The thing about mics is that it's only good as long as the business likes it and the host keeps it up," he says. "Otherwise, if you don't have a business or a host that cares about it then you get less people coming out to see it ... and fewer comedians will care about it."

But Nguyen and other comics say although Fargo is without a comedy club it's still a thriving community of both emerging comics and longtime performers.

"This scene is entirely comic-driven," says stand-up comedian Jenni Lou Russi in an email. "I've been in comedy for more than 20 years, and every other community in which I've lived has had at least one full-time club where the comics worked out new material during the open mics."

Russi says that at these comedy clubs, stand-ups could receive feedback from working professionals, bookers and owners affiliated with the clubs.

"But this is the first comedy community I've been in without a club where the comics drive the mics, creating opportunities for themselves and one another," Russi says. "I try to hit three mics a week while driving from Valley City because of the opportunities created."

Where to find the laughs

Area comics have partnered with area businesses to host weekly open mic nights. Here's where you can listen to area stand-up comics.

Mondays at Dempsey's Public House, 26 Broadway N., Fargo,

Starts at 10 p.m.

A favorite of area stand-ups (Narum, Nguyen, Standal and Syverson all highlight this spot as their favorite open mic), the atmosphere at Dempsey's Public House is relaxed but the bar is not overly hushed. Background conversations can go unnoticed but a small crowd of 20 to 30 audience members usually stay engaged, providing comics the testing ground they desire. Comedians usually arrive around 9:30 p.m. to sign up and reserve a five-minute slot. The open mic will usually goes to about 11:30 p.m. but that depends on the number of acts.

Tuesdays at Red Raven Espresso Parlor, 916 Main Avenue, Fargo

Starts around 9 p.m.

This is where Nguyen, Standal and Syverson first tried out their comedic material.

"It's one of the oldest comedy open mics in town that's still active," Nguyen says. As a coffee shop, the Red Raven Espresso Parlor is a quieter venue than others, so new-to-the-scene comics tend to dip their toes in performing here. It's also friendly to the 21-and-under crowd. The open mic night usually goes until the shop's closing time at 11.

Wednesdays at Pickled Parrot 505 3rd Avenue N., Fargo

Starts at 9:30 p.m.

Described by Nguyen as one of the more "rowdy open mics," the Pickled Parrot comedy just celebrated its five-year anniversary. It's hosted by 26-year-old comic Joshua Dullea or "Party Dude" as he calls himself on stage. A favorite of some area comics who enjoy a more interactive crowds, the Pickled Parrot comedy open mic is for those who want to test their material's limits. The mic usually ends around 11:30 p.m.

Thursdays at area breweries, and taprooms

Start times vary by location

Recently the emerging craft beer scene is partnering with area stand-up comedians to create more opportunities for shows. On Thursdays, area breweries and taprooms will often host area comedians like tonight's "Brewing up some laughs: Open Mic Comedy Night" at Fargo Brewing Company (610 North University Drive, Fargo). Performances start at 8 but sign up for performances begins at 7:30.

This month, Front Street Taproom at 614 Main Avenue in Fargo unveiled its new event space, "The Cellar." The space can hold 100 people and features both open mic nights for amateur stand-ups and touring, professional comedians. The Cellar's entrance is located in the back hallway near the restrooms. With a small stage, tables and comfy couches along the back wall, The Cellar has the feel of a more traditional comedy club, complete with a cash-only bar. Locals can check out The Cellar's next open mic night next Thursday, April 19 at 9:30 p.m.

SIDEBAR

701 Comedy Competition

Next month BlueBell Productions will host the Second Annual 701 Comedy Competition starting at 5 p.m. on May 12 at Delta Marriott 1635 42nd Street S., Fargo.

"We are all starting to work on material for this contest so people's sets should be really entertaining," Syverson says.

The 2016 North Dakota Comedy Champion, Nathan Fulsebakke, will be defending his title but anyone is encouraged to compete whether they are just starting out or a semi-profesional.

To receive a time slot, area comedians must fill out an application at ndcomedy.com. Applications are not open this week but those interested are encouraged to sign up on the contact form to be notified once forms are ready.

BREAKOUT BOX

[video icon] Visit inforum.com to see a short video of area stand-ups and their performances.

April Knutson

April Knutson is lifestyle-focused journalist producing stories for the Forum News Service about people, health, community issues, and services. She earned her degree in both English Literature and Mass Communications. After working as a digital marketing specialist and web design consultant for a few years, she joined Forum Communications in 2015. She grew up on a farm near Volga, S.D. Follow her on Twitter @april_knutson.

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