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A dozen headliners, 10,000 Laughs, and what you're doing in Minneapolis this weekend

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We're all in a little pain right now, probably.

That or denial, or both. 

The cavalry has arrived. You need laughter in your life, and City Pages has such, such good news for you. Very funny people have come to the Twin Cities with the express purpose of making you laugh. And think. And then laugh again. 

Your pain won't go away -- Jesus, people; they're not miracle workers -- but at least these tears you cry-laugh are ones you won't regret. 

The 10,000 Laughs Festival turns eight  years old this year, and like all eight-year-olds, is developing a will of its own. The comic-driven showcase for nationally celebrated but still-rising comedians opened last night with a single show in St. Paul. There 16 are more shows coming your way, with a wild, weird variety of comics and acts and pairings and subjects. 

Founder/organizer/upsettingly youthful impresario Bob Edwards has booked 60 comics to perform solo, in tandem, and in odd little mash-ups that will make them play off each other. He told Growler mag the fest expects 2,500-some attendees. 

And? "Some of the comedians we've managed to get are insane." 

(Bigtop Studios is doing after-show events for entertainers and staff. If you bump into someone funny, act nice. Don't touch the talent.)

City Pages talked to three comics last week to see what they're thinking about, and what the audience should expect. Their answers left much to be figured out onstage.

You're going to love it. In fact, you might need it. 

City Pages: How'd you figure out how you wanted to look and dress on stage?

Rhea Butcher: I used to address that. I used to feel I needed to do that. But in the amount of time that passed since I started doing standup, I don't really have to do that as much. Audiences and people in general are catching up, and understanding things. People just generally are having an experience of queerness in their lives, and I don't have to address it. It used to be Step 1. Now I can kind of come in at step 4 or 5. It doesn't apply to every space. You have to "read the room," as the phrase goes. I try to do that all the time, in life and onstage. Obviously it doesn't work every place every time. It just means it's work I'm gonna do, and I want to do that work. That's why I'm in that job. I use the term "queerness" because that's what applies to me, and applies to my cohort, my community. When I use it, it applies to the most amount of people I'm talking about. If you don't like it, and it doesn't apply to you, then I'm not talking about you. 


CP: How often do your progressive straight friends ask you questions about your gender or sexuality? Do you answer them?

Butcher: It doesn't happen super-often, because a lot of my audience is queer, or queer-adjacent, or allies. People talking to me afterwards are talking about their experience of those same things. Sometimes it's questions, or curiosity, but it's less about "What does this mean?" It's more about "How do i do it?" It's a little bit more of an in-group. I don't know if the people I'm referring don't feel comfortable doing that, or feel like it's not their space. I'm happy to do those things, and happy to answer those kind of questions. I'd rather that, than somebody they work with do that to them.  I tell people, "If you have questions, write them down, or  listen to podcasts with queer people, or follow queer people on twitter." You can look at those questions and find those answers without asking.

CP: Hypothetical question: You're with someone who just met you, and they use the pronoun "she." Do you correct them, don't correct, or does it depend on the situation?

Butcher: Actually here's the thing. In the reality of my experience of pronouns, all of them are acceptable to me. I understand that is a very privileged thing to do, but I live in a place like L.A., and I live my life in a public way. It's not something every person can do. I realized after I said" they/them" pronouns, what started happening was -- this feels more right, more open, more accessible. But the same thing was happening before, with she-versus-him. Conan O'Brien came to my stand up show to run some time, onstage, and was thanking me, and doing a bit about thanking me. "She answered the phone, I talked to her, and said, 'You did such a good job.' And you guys saw, she crushed it." And Conan O'Brien is saying this about me. I posted it to Instagram, and people kinda got upset he was not using the right pronouns. But do I expect Conan to keep track of my pronouns? I do not. That's my personal choice. I have a relationship with that person, I understand what that relationship is, and to me, in that situation, what is more important is one of my actual comedy heroes who's influenced the comedy I do today was onstage of my comedy show saying I killed it on his show. That is way more important to me.

CP: You're from Akron, Ohio. Do you think you paved the way for LeBron moving to L.A.?

Butcher: Absolutely. I am basically the reason he came to L.A.  Please put in parentheses that I'm being sarcastic.

(Reader: They were.)

Butcher: I hope he is happy. It seems like he is. He did a great service, not just to Cleveland and northeast Ohio, but to Akron. He continues to serve that city, that place he's from, that never thought we could win.  And he did that, brought the Finals to Cleveland for five years. It took the greatest basketball player -- in my opinion -- of all time running into the greatest team assembled, the Golden State Warriors, for him to lose. That's the most Akron thing of all time, to be the greatest thing to ever come from Akron and get to the finals and lose to the best team ever.

CP: I saw you went to grad school at Notre Dame. What's a nice non-binary like you doing at the university of Catholic football in America?

Butcher: Jesus Christ that's a good question. I didn't identify as a non-binary back then. I applied to a bunch of grad schools, because that's kind of the only job to do for people with my degree, become a tenured college professor. Notre Dame paid me to go there, and I went under duress. I went to Catholic school my whole life, and I'm not Catholic. I thought it'd be a better education for me, and actually because of where I grew up, it was more diverse. I had smaller class sizes, more girls, I was in a place where there were only one of me, and I met a lot of great people there, some I still keep in touch with. One Notre Dame story: One time a guy I'd never talked to, a professor in his 70s, saw me sitting on a stoop and said "You are the place." And I thought, "What the fuck does that mean?" It's 12 years later and I understand it now, which is to say: I don't understand it now. But if I hadn't been sitting on that stoop I wouldn't be talking with you right now

CP: You're a baseball owner, and you get to pick one player. Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig?

Butcher: Ooooo. They each have benefits. If I was going to start team in Omaha, Nebraska, I choose Mike Trout. If I was going to start a team in, let's say, Brooklyn, I pick Yasiel Puig. They're both endlessly fascinating players. It's really hard to pick. In Southern California it's a total toss-up. Give me the ability to give everyone collective amnesia, to get Angels fans on board with Yasiel. But Mike Trout is Mickey Mantle on steroids.

CP: But not on steroids?

Butcher: Well that's debatable, because they don't test white players. But Puig is like Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente if they were allowed to do what they wanted  to do. And I don't think those guys would lick their bats the way Yasiel does. But he says, "I don't care, but I'm playing the game, and you can watch me."

[Taylor Tomlinson is also a comedian.]

City Pages: You started standup at 16. What was it at 16 you wanted to say to everyone?

Taylor Tomlinson: Oh, gosh. I don't think I even thought about wanting to say anything to people. I think when you're 16, you're only thinking about yourself. I sort of fell into it. The whole reason I started was, my dad wanted to take a standup class with me before I went to college. I went very reluctantly, just ended up loving it. I didn't really come from a place of wanting to saying something specific. I just got an opportunity to learn how to do this thing that ended up being the one thing that totally makes me feel like myself. I still don't feel like I necessarily have something to say. The only thing I want to say to people now is: These are my experiences, and if you relate to them in any way, hopefully you feel less alone.

CP: What kind of teen were you?

Tomlinson: Young. Unqualified.

CP: You talk about growing up religious. Is that how people would know you?

Tomlinson: I grew up somewhere that was somewhat conservative. Lots of people went to church. I do know whenever people from high school find out this is what I'm doing, or if my parents run into someone in my hometown, a lot of times people are surprised. I was really quiet, a smart kid in high school. I was just boring and quiet and smart, and kind of the last person you would expect to want to do that, didn't really get comfortable until my senior year of high school.


CP: Almost too late.

Tomlinson: Too late. And part of that was I started doing standup, and that gave me more of an identity.

CP: Do you think you'll do current events jokes in your 10,000 Laughs work? Or is that shit just too dark right now?

Tomlinson: It's not too dark, I just feel like I'm not qualified to talk about any of that. It's not that there aren't young people who are qualified. I do know a lot of them, and it's tough for me to feel like, as a 24-year-old white girl who grew up somewhat privileged -- my parents weren't rich, but I lived in southern California, my parents are fine --  I feel very hesitant to talk about anything with any authority at this stage of my life. I've grown up sheltered. These last few years, moving to L.A., and traveling, I'm starting to realize how sheltered I was. I never want to tackle things like that in my comedy before I'm ready to talk about those things with some sort of intelligence. There are so many people who can do that so well.

CP: Explain the Self-Helpless podcast.
Tomlinson: It's something I do with my two friends, where every week we review a different self-help topic, book, documentary, exercise regime, diet -- any kind of self-help. We'll have a guest on to talk about it. We discuss whether we think it worked. It's just all very open and honest, foul-mouthed and whatnot. It's like going to brunch with your best friends who read a book you've been meaning to read and having them explain it to you. And make fun of it.

[Rory Scovel is also a comedian.]

City Pages: I'm having some trouble figuring out how famous you are. Do you know the answer to that?

Rory Scovel: I also don't know the answer to that. I have had trouble finding out. I know for a fact I'm not "mainstream famous." I don't know. I feel like I'm in between phases. I don't feel unknown, I don't feel up-and-coming, I don't feel fully exposed just yet. It's a weird gray area.


CP: People might recognize you from I Feel Pretty, the Amy Schumer movie out this year. What's it like for a comic, who are usually self-deprecating, to be a sought-after romantic lead?

Scovel: That particular role, I can't say I was too sought-after. Somebody dropped out and I got to fill in. [Laughs.] It was a very different job for me in terms of acting, and the comedy I've done. That was probably the first role I've had that made me confident as an actor, getting to play other roles and other characters that aren't as expected as they would be for a comic.

CP: What's the hardest thing about being a handsome, charming, straight white man in the entertainment industry?

Scovel: I don't think there's anything hard about it. I think some people tend to think the world of art means the straight white male has been unfairly dominating that arena, based on the fact we gave ourselves these opportunities, and shut people out. But it just makes my job more fun, and more interesting, now, as an artist. I'm exposed to more people getting an opportunity, and those artists inspire me to think about -- or perform -- differently.  I would argue that it's not hard. I don't want to offend anyone who is finding it hard, but I would find it impossible for it to be difficult even in a changing social climate, to complain.

CP: You've been on with Conan O'Brien several times, and now you're going to go on tour with "Conan O'Brien and Friends." Is there anything bad you'd like to say about Conan?

Rory: In my limited time with him, I've found him to be very disrespectful. No, I have nothing to say. I see him and Andy [Kindler] so briefly when I'm there, there's no chance to get to see the bad side. I've been on that show a lot,  and I guess if he he truly respected me I would've been on double that many times. If there's anything, it's his inability to get with the program. If Conan respected me more you wouldn't have had to ask me if I'm famous. [Laughs.]

CP: Without giving away all your jokes, what sort of topics should people expect from you at 10,000 Laughs? 

Scovel: I have been talking about politics and religion more. Those come up in my act. Usually I just do kind of a sprinkle of it, but I've written into it a little bit more. Sometimes that's a turnoff, people want to escape those things; personally I don't think there is escaping anything, we have to talk about things, hopefully a comedian makes you feel different so you don't have to escape it. People sometimes, like, don't want to talk about Trump, but what if someone has really great jokes and that makes you feel better about this horrific thing? There can be positives to hitting these topics head-on.

CP: And what should fans expect in terms of beard length?

Scovel: I trimmed it way down. I'm gonna let down a lot of people. A lot of people, that's what they look forward to. I got a haircut.