Acme’s Derick Johnson talks feuds, Craig Ferguson, and a near-death onstage

Derick Johnson

Derick Johnson Brandon Simon

The week has arrived. This Sunday, Minnesota’s most famous comedy club celebrates its 25-year anniversary with a show that is overflowing with local talent. Tickets sold out right away. More were later released to the public only to sell out once again. Acme also held a contest where fans could share their favorite memories of the club, letting everyone get in on the nostalgia.

Acme Comedy Co.

Before they raise a glass to the quarter-century mark, we chatted with Acme manager Derick Johnson about his favorite -- or, at least most memorable -- moments during his nearly 10 years of employment at the club.

The Miller-Abshire blood feud

Local comedy fans likely know the names Bryan Miller and Nate Abshire extremely well. Both comedians started around the same time, both share a common aesthetic (white dudes with glasses is all the rage in comedy!), and, most importantly, they are both hilarious. While the two have grown and improved in parallel over the years, even performing a co-headlining show at Acme in the past, Johnson laughs at the healthy rivalry between the two, and how it came to a head back in September of 2011.

“Anthony Jeselnik was headlining the club one Saturday, and the emcee canceled,” Johnson recalls. “The first person we offered that spot to was Nate Abshire, but he was out of town or something so Bryan got the call instead.”

While opening for Jeselnik at Acme would be a massive feather in any comedian’s cap, it just so happened that a very special guest was sitting in the audience that night.

“Craig Ferguson was at Mystic Lake the same weekend, and he came down to catch the second show. He thought Bryan was great, and that Tuesday he got the call to do his show.”

That appearance would be Miller’s first major TV appearance, and pave the way for his continued climb up the ladder as a headlining comedian himself.

“It’s just funny, because Nate was so pissed about it. Like he missed his chance, but then of all people to take his place and get that opportunity, it was Bryan.”

Jimmy Pardo’s electrifying show

While the club has managed to successfully operate through seemingly every type of natural disaster and human-created headache, Johnson recalls one night where the show couldn’t go on.

“Jimmy Pardo was headlining back in 2009 or 2010, and a conduit exploded,” he says. “It took down all of the power in the club. Everything. We had to evacuate, and it was a giant clusterfuck. We were using flashlights to direct everyone out.”

The club would manage to fix the problem and allow Pardo to finish out his week, but the night was something that both the club and the comedian will never forget.

“On the last night he said, ‘Maybe next time we do the whole week?’”

Confronting a giant

While the club has dealt with it’s fair share of hecklers over the years, there have been a small number of occasions where things escalated. Johnson recalls one night when he became the only thing separating a comedian from certain death at the hands of an enraged crowd member.

“The comedian said something to this guy and his wife, and the guy just got up and immediately stormed the stage,” he remembers. “So I run up and put my hand on him, and it’s at that moment I realize he is the biggest man I’ve ever seen. Just all muscle.”

While the situation could have turned ugly, Johnson was able to diffuse things without bloodshed.

“I realized I couldn’t physically do anything with this guy, so I just politely asked him to please sit back down. Luckily he obliged, which was good because otherwise he probably would have killed me.”