Comedy Corner Underground squashed by police who want no funny business

Benny Quash, Bob Edwards, and Marck Dickhut become outlaws of comedy

Immediately before the public hearing, council member Diane Hofstede asked whether the council should take into account comics' typically racy language when considering how to vote, noting that many jokes are "descriptive and offensive." When Ricardo Cervantes, deputy director of Licenses and Consumer Services, answered that, no, that falls under the First Amendment, chuckles rippled through the back of the room.

The comics took the mic. In the opening act, Edwards recounted organizing comedy events during his Air Force days in Kuwait. Next up was broad-shouldered funnyman Gus Lynch; after addressing the council as "fellow inquisitors," he had his five-year-old son implore the officials to "let my dad play comedy in Minneapolis." Dan Schlissel, founder of Twin Cities-based indie comedy label Stand Up! Records, spoke about the importance of open mics to young and improving comics. Quash, feigning obliviousness, asked the council for a new Twins stadium and a new I-35 bridge, and demanded they make Al Franken senator. Wayne Burfiend said the change to the ordinance was necessary in order to "help new kids, people coming up, to realize that their dreams of becoming a full-time comic, and sleeping in their car overnight, can happen."

They saved the wild card for last. The advantage of unleashing Fancy Ray McCloney—self-proclaimed "best looking man in comedy" and a dead ringer for Little Richard—was his star power. As a bombastic fixture of late-night local TV ads and former quixotic candidate for governor on the People's Champion ballot, Fancy Ray boasted greater name recognition than any of his compatriots.

The potential downside: A genuine eccentric with no shortage of self-confidence, McCloney was prone to going wildly off-script.

"These guys aren't out committing crimes," he said during his impassioned speech, motioning to the rogue's gallery of comics behind him. "They're not out there doing nothing...." Brief pause. "Probably if you check their THC levels, it may not be too good."

The comment elicited nervous laughter. Overall, the councilmembers were not so much receptive as they were enraptured. Guffaws sounded throughout the bravado performance. Council member Don Samuels—who seemed eager to insert a few quips of his own—vowed to tweak comedy laws now and again just as an excuse to get an encore performance.

So it wasn't surprising when the council voted unanimously to amend the ordinance. The new language, which goes into effect this week, tolerates live comedy acts not only for Class B venues, but for Class C and D holders, as well. The move effectively legalizes standup in a majority of Minneapolis's bars.

"It didn't seem like it was anything that they were even going to try to fight against," says Tommy Thompson, who serves drinks at the Corner Bar when he's not on the comedy circuit. "It was like they just wanted to sit back and enjoy it. It was pretty comical."

But the punch line came after the hearing. Wanting to thank the council, Edwards and Quash approached the seated officials. Hofstede beckoned them forward. The same council member who had just minutes before voiced concern about the potentially salacious nature of their content, Hofstede now had a special request: Would they mind doing a private show at her ward's annual outdoor party on September 23?

They tentatively accepted the invite, and agreed to keep in touch. Hofstede sounds decidedly less priggish when recounting the hearing three weeks later.

"I think it's a good change," she says of the vote. "I think we sometimes forget how important laughter is." 

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