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Acme Comedy Co.'s Louis Lee shares his most outrageous stories from behind the stage

Louis Lee

Louis Lee

Acme Comedy Co. has hit the quarter-century mark. This year the Twin Cities comedy mecca is celebrating its 25th anniversary in the North Loop (barring any unforeseen parking issues, that is). To celebrate, they are planning a very special anniversary show this fall (details are still very hush-hush, but owner Louis Lee has said it will be a “celebration of comedians who started at Acme”), which will cap off arguably the most stacked year ever, both in terms of talent and crowds.

While there are plenty of great performers who have shared their Acme memories, in honor of the big 2-5, we wanted to find out what the most memorable moments were for those who know the business best. Over the next few months, we’ll be sitting down with comedians, club managers, and other individuals who have seen it all and experienced Acme from the inside out to get their best Acme memories. To start, we decided to go right to the top and chat with Acme owner Louis Lee about the best and most unique things he’s seen over the past 25 years.

When Louis Met Robin

While Lee had been hearing from comedians, club managers, and talent agents that Acme was gaining considerable notoriety across the country for being a premiere comedy destination, he didn’t put too much stock in the industry chatter. That is, until he received a very peculiar – and random – email in 2008.

“A woman emailed me saying that she represented Robin Williams, and that he was working on a new standup special,” recalls Lee. “She said that Robin had personally requested to perform three nights at Acme. I assumed it was a fake email, so I kind of blew it off. But just to be safe, I sent it to Rich Miller [a well-known comedy booker with ties all across the country]. Rich checked it out, and told me it was real.”

A whirlwind of activity followed. The demand for tickets to see the legendary funnyman was so insane that the club’s ticketing system crashed.

The shows were amazing, as expected, and as a testament to his character, Williams insisted that his half of the profits be donated to charity. While being in the presence of such an iconic figure in comedy was a memory in itself, for Lee it came with the realization that Acme was officially on the map.

“That was the first time I thought that maybe Acme has a good name.”

Never, ever make a bet with Louis

If you step into the back office at Acme, you’ll notice some unusual decorations covering the walls: framed photos of various comedians with handwritten messages calling out their own stupidity, grown men dressed in wildly embarrassing ways, and a handful of dollar bills all serve as trophies of bets between Lee and various comedians throughout the years.

While plenty of comedians have challenged Lee, there is one who seemingly can’t take enough of a beating from the Acme owner: Cy Amundson.

Amundson, a diehard Vikings fan, has pledged his undying allegiance to the purple his entire life. Unfortunately, his heart tends to get in the way of his brain.

“The first year that Favre played for the Vikings, we placed a bet that they would win a championship,” Lee recalls. “Then when they lost, he had [to] write a letter explaining how I was right about everything, and that he was wrong.”

While that may seem fairly innocuous, Amundson and Lee upped the ante the following season.

“The next season, he bet me that the Vikings would go 12-4. When they didn’t, he had to wear an Aaron Rodgers jersey on stage and fellate bananas,” Lee laughs. Allegedly, there is video evidence of this bet locked away in the Acme safe, a fact that Amundson is likely all too aware of.

Though the first two losing bets were harsh, Amundson is a glutton for punishment, and made yet another bet with Lee this past season. The results were exactly what you’d expect.

“He bet me that the Vikings were going to go to the Super Bowl, and they lost again. This time, the deal was that he had to get up on a Monday night and let the other comics roast him. Instead, they held an intervention for his gambling problem.”

With the new season just around the corner, Lee admits that he and Amundson have already set the terms of this year’s bet. The potential punishment, however, he says is top secret. Regardless, the lesson learned here is not to place a bet with Louis Lee, because the man will come to collect.

A family affair

While there have been several names who have frequented Acme over the past 25 years, one of the most consistent and controversial has to be comedian Tim Slagle. His polarizing brand of political comedy has resulted in walking (a term that means causing someone to walk out on a performance) a full room, while he’s also been endearing enough to officiate a wedding for two super fans in the backroom of the club.

The most incredible Slagle-related moment in Acme didn’t happen onstage, however, it happened in front of no audience whatsoever.

Back in the late '90s, Lee’s then-wife was very interested in ancestry. It just so happens that Slagle is adopted, and to that point had never met his birth parents. “She kept asking if she could track them down, but his adopted father was very sick, and he didn’t want to be disrespectful,” recalls Lee. “After he passed, Slagle gave her the okay, and she was able to find his biological mother.” It just so happened that Slagle’s birth mom lived in Michigan, where Slagle was scheduled to perform after doing a week at Acme. After some back-and-forth, however, she ultimately decided that she didn’t want to wait, and hopped a plane to Minneapolis.

“Slagle met his mother for the first time here at Acme.” What they discussed and how their relationship changed is a mystery that only Slagle can shine light on, but the fact that Acme has brought people together through more than just laughter speaks volumes to its importance in the lives it has touched.