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Acme’s Funniest Person Contest laughs in the face of coronavirus (from a safe distance)

Last year's winner, Charlie Settles, already social distancing in 2019.

Last year's winner, Charlie Settles, already social distancing in 2019. Patrick Strait

With everything fun being canceled this summer, aspiring standup comedians were pleased to find out this week that Acme Comedy Co.’s Funniest Person Contest is alive and well.

Kicking off today, July 8, the first round features upwards of five contestants each night doing their best three minutes of material. It will continue throughout the summer, with the winner earning $1,000 and the ultimate bragging rights of wannabe comics.

Starting back in 1992, Acme’s FPC has been responsible for helping some of Minnesota’s biggest standouts get their start. Chad Daniels, Bryan Miller, Mary Mack, Andy Erikson, Ali Sultan, and a whole bunch more have either won the contest or come really close, before becoming local and national comedy stars. It has also served as a proverbial cemetery of cringeworthy performances by people who had to learn the hard way that they don’t have what it takes to make it on stage (including yours truly; 2008 was a rough year).

While Acme didn’t know until just a few short weeks ago if they would even be allowed to have audiences inside the club at all this summer, the contest was never on the chopping block.

“We really did not consider cancelling it, because it’s an exciting event that we and the local amateurs look forward to doing annually,” says Acme manager Derick Johnson.

That said, the club has recently converted itself into a full-scale studio in order to present shows via Zoom with a slick, polished, Netflix special-like feel. So they did have to consider how they were going to keep the contest alive if they couldn’t have crowds.

“When we were shut down, we were working on figuring out how to make it a Zoom contest,” Johnson continues. “Now that we’re open again, all contestants will perform on stage. However, we are still going to be using Zoom for these shows, so now contestants can invite their college buddies from Florida, or their grandma from Arizona to watch them.”

According to Johnson, the contest typically draws anywhere from 150-175 signups each year, although a chunk of those get too scared to follow-through. This year, there are already 80 contestants registered, and anyone who is interested (and has never been paid to perform comedy) can still sign-up over at Acme’s website.

In past years, contestants were allowed 20 complimentary tickets for their night to help them stack the deck in terms of crowd reaction. Due to the capacity restrictions (each show at Acme is currently capped at 75), performers will receive four tickets and four Zoom tickets instead. But unlike other contests where drawing a crowd equals success, Johnson insists that Acme is unphased by popularity.

“Any performer can tell you that we don’t place much weight on whether a performer can bring people to the show, and audience response is never a tie breaker,” he says. “Our contest is heavily based on merit. Performers don’t need to worry about whether they can pack a room; they just need to focus on whether they can tell the best jokes.”

Whether this year’s crop of contestants turn out to be comedy trash or treasure is still up in the air. But the one thing we can say for almost certain is that there will be a LOT of awful jokes combining masturbating and quarantine.

IF YOU GO:

Acme’s Funniest Person Contest
Weekly, beginning July 8
Sign-up at AcmeComedyCompany.com