It's not just about having a great year, but where we're going, and what part 2014 plays in the big picture of things. We kept this in mind when selecting candidates for this edition of Artists of the Year, which includes notable actors both up-and-coming and established, architecture firms that have brought new life to old buildings, and a yarn bomber who manages to work both commercially and underground.
Let's revisit some of the people, projects, and moments of 2014 that make us excited to see what 2015 will bring.
Shelly Mosman's photography thrillingly disrupts our supposed equilibrium. Her portraits deliver the depth and mystery associated with the Old World Masters' coloration and gravity, while accentuating the flaws we struggle so valiantly to hide, a la Diane Arbus. In her work, the man on the street, your next-door neighbor, and ordinary children with their pets become characters from a William Faulkner, Dorothy Allison, or Cormac McCarthy novel through the brooding narratives Mosman excavates from her subjects.
This year, she showed with photographer Steve Ozone in his Traffic Zone studio, and in a pop-up event, titled "The Mercury Exhibition," which was the result of a Kickstarter campaign and sponsorship by the development company First & First. In the show, Mosman placed many of her images in ornate Bakelite-type frames, accentuating the magnificence of her subjects, while simple black frames around other images underscored their inherent drama.
Meanwhile, write-ups around the world — including publications from France, Australia, Germany, and Brazil — led to Mosman's inclusion in SeeMe & SCOPE Art's fifth annual "Art Takes Miami" show, putting her in the company of photographers from Thailand, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Austria, and South Korea. She's no longer ours alone. She has risen quickly, reaching the world stage and the artistic stratosphere where she belongs, adding to the conversation about contemporary art and its revelations about modern civilization. —Camille LeFevre
Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy
Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy suffuse Bharatanatyam, an ancient South Indian dance form, with thoroughly contemporary exuberance. While celebrating its classical rigor and rich traditions, this mother-daughter team has created new and vibrant dialects within the precincts of a 2,000-year-old dance language and culture.
Ranee immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1978. Through hard work and dogged determination, she forged a company, Ragamala Music and Dance Theater, in a place where few audiences had ever experienced Indian dance. She and Aparna have worked together for the better part of three decades while continuing studies with their mentor, Bharatanayam superstar Alarmel Valli.
Today Ranee and Aparna co-direct Ragamala, equal creators of its varied repertory. Both have contributed substantially to the global conversation on how to approach ancient-culture-based art forms not as museum pieces, but as living, emotionally charged works that have the power to foster a dialogue between past and present. Mother and daughter have frequently chosen to work with artists and groups of diverse backgrounds and cultures. This includes Minnesota poet Robert Bly, the Çudamani Ensemble from Bali, and most recently a collaboration with jazz saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa, which resulted in Song of Jasmine, currently touring nationally.
The world is taking notice. The company of six dancers and five vibrant musicians tours internationally, receiving kudos and rave reviews along the way from New York to Cochin, India. Ranee, the youngest and first dance artist to be named a McKnight Distinguished Artist in 2011, has recently received a Doris Duke Artist Award, and currently serves on the National Council on the Arts, appointed by President Obama. Aparna, whose solo work has toured the U.S. and India with support from the National Dance Project and USArtists International, has been praised far and wide as a dancer who infuses Bharatanatyam with fluid spontaneity and rock-star allure. Ashwini, the youngest member of the family, is fast following in the rhythmically intricate footsteps of her mother and sister. She was granted a prestigious McKnight Dancer Fellowship in 2012, an award received previously by Aparna and company member Tamara Nadel.
Minnesota has plenty of reasons to celebrate Ranee and Aparna, who continue to endow our chilly northern prairie with the sensual warmth, rhythmic power, and the spiritual resilience of Indian music and dance. —Linda Shapiro
In case you weren't aware, Nick Swardson is sort of a big deal.
The Twin Cities native has been part of Hollywood's A-List for the past several years, rubbing shoulders with Adam Sandler and the Happy Madison crew, starring in major motion pictures, and carrying the flag for Minnesota comics gone big on the West Coast. This year, he came home.
Last June, Swardson came back to the club where he started, Acme Comedy Co., for three very special performances. In addition to setting the record for fastest sell-outs in club history, Swardson gave fans a sneak peek at his all-new material, which he took on the road for his cross-country Taste It tour over the summer. Swardson made another trip to Minneapolis in September with a sold-out evening at the State Theatre, showing off his polished material.
Later this month, he'll be taping a new special, his first in over five years. —Patrick Strait
If you frequent Twin Cities fashion shows, you've probably seen Samantha Rei, the designer behind the clothing line of the same name, with her bright smile and shock of candy-colored hair. Rei has been designing clothing since 2000, but this year marked a big change. Rei closed her old Lolita label, Blasphemina's Closet, and established the more mainstream Samantha Rei brand in fall of 2013. But it was at Envision's fall 2014 showcase that the local fashion scene really stood up and took notice.
There, she showed her S/S 2015 collection, titled Isabelle et Collette, inspired by a clandestine love story between two girls at college in 1940s France. Their pet names for each other, Fox and Sparrow, became motifs throughout the collection, with little felt animals carefully stitched onto sweaters and vests as symbols of love. The summery, bicycle-chic looks combined elements of femininity, tomboyishness, vintage silhouettes, and bright hues, all topped with hats by Apatico (a millinery that she's been fiercely loyal to for several collections). Rei's brand-new line marked a big departure from her previous work, and won a standing ovation at Envision.
The designer's effervescent personality and voracious imagination bubble over into her runway collections. Rei holds tight to her nerd-chic roots still, attending and sometimes showing off her pieces at conventions around the Midwest. She also champions new designers each year while organizing Full Fashion Panic, a fashion show at MCAD that's part of the Mechademia conference celebrating Asian pop culture.
Rei is about more than just fashion, however, as she's not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what she believes in. It just so happens her philosophy crosses over and inspires her clothing, too. "A lot of people feel like you can't be feminine and a feminist. Well, isn't it my choice what I want to wear?" asserted Rei in her introductory video at Envision. "There's no reason you can't have fun and still make a statement." —Tatiana Craine[page]
The title of the film Dear White People is radical comedy in and of itself. Despite the polite phrasing, these three words have prompted white people across the nation to shun the movie before so much as pressing play on the trailer. Across social media and other platforms, this phrase has also been an entry for black people, and other people of color, to collectively express their individual experiences of racism and prejudice. In other words, this film is essential.
Of course, the fact that people chose not to see Justin Simien's first feature film solely based on the title should not be celebrated. The fact that it incites discomfort should. Set on the fictional Ivy League campus of Winchester University, this film blasts the false narrative of a post-racial America with an accessible satire following four black students. It's not surprising if Twin Cities audiences had a sense of déjà vu during screenings, as Dear White People was mostly filmed on the University of Minnesota campus and other locations in Minneapolis (including the Designers' Guild Building, where City Pages is located).
Beyond the entertainment of pointing out locations we know ("I had a class in that building!"), the movie is a simmering pot of comedy and commentary. Simien's wit shines through in the relationship of Sam White (Tessa Thompson), the driving character of this film and the biracial host of the eponymous radio show, and Gabe (Justin Dobies), her white TA.
As a film shown in movie theaters, this is a piece of art you could not click or walk past. Whether it's the climactic racist party or Sam's definition of racism that got people heated, they were forced to confront it. Short of walking out, you had to sit in that dark room and reassess your own opinions, not just about race, but about identity, gender norms, sexual politics, cultural appropriation, and privilege. The complexity of these issues is made more realistic by the film's awareness that not every person or perspective is represented, black or otherwise.
Dear White People has accomplished an important task: creating a film by igniting a fire rather than marketing under a lukewarm platform. The people who took the time to see the film and thoughtfully discuss it understand that this is an awareness — not an attack — movie. It is pivotal in the re-invigoration of mainstream black cinema. At the same time, it is a small piece of a national push eschewing comfort for progress. For those who were initially deterred, for whatever reason, it's coming out on DVD and other platforms soon. We suggest organizing a screening rather than watching it alone. —Alex Lauer
Julie Snow started her studio-based practice, Julie Snow Architects, in 1995, and soon she had a signature style: a lean, utilitarian approach that mediated between purpose and place through the use of simple forms; innovative, super-strong yet light walls; fundamental materials such as wood, steel, and glass; and meticulous attention to structural details.
Twin Citians know her work well. Over the years, Snow has transformed a 1960s food distribution center into stylish headquarters for a design firm KNOCK, Inc, and a Spanish Revival Congregational Church into the Museum of Russian Art. She designed the residential infill structure Humbolt Lofts in the Mill District, as well as Target Plaza Commons and the forthcoming ballpark in Lowertown for the Saint Paul Saints. Elsewhere she's created factories and industrial facilities, U.S. border and police stations, and houses on Minnesota lakes and rocky windswept outcrops overlooking the ocean.
Snow has been dubbed "the Emma Peel of architecture" as well as the "heir apparent" to the Case Study House program of the 1940s through '60s by her peers. She refers to herself and her staff as "techies" who love the ways in which buildings are constructed — which she continually refines through innovation. Last year, she and colleague Matt Kreilich changed the firm's name to Snow Kreilich Architects. The office recently won two AIA MN Honor Awards, for the Brunsfield North Loop Apartments and a retreat home on Lake Minnetonka.
Moreover, Snow also received the 2014 Gold Medal from AIA Minnesota for "a lifetime of distinguished achievement" and significant contributions to the profession of architecture. The Gold Medal was a crowning achievement among years of accolades and awards, including the National AIA Honor Awards, the Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Award, and a Progressive Architecture Award. An American Academy of Arts and Letters jury recently gave Snow its prestigious Architecture Award, and enthused that in her work "elegance is balanced by pragmatism," adding that Snow "is a ballerina who can dance in work boots." —Camille LeFevre
"Just don't fucking ruin the place."
That was the blunt opinion of most Twin Cities music fans when they found out that First Avenue had purchased the Turf Club, and was planning to remodel the beloved St. Paul hole-in-the-wall. Anyone who has ever been to a concert at the Turf — or merely had a drink at the bar — knows that the bare-bones, no-frills approach of the nearly 70-year-old club was a large part of its subtle charm for musicians and patrons alike.
First Ave's general manager, Nate Kranz, was tasked with the unenviable job of trying to fix something that technically wasn't broken in the first place. He and his team purchased the Turf in the fall of 2013 from Tom Scanlon, owner of the nearby Dubliner Pub. After taking stock and assessing the state of the club, they decided that some significant upgrades had to be made to bring the venue into the modern era.
So they closed the Turf for a few months this past summer to install a new sound system, add a full-service kitchen, enlarge the stage, and update and expand the bathrooms (hooray!). They also built a new roof, raised the ceilings, and added some slight cosmetic changes throughout the main bar and the Clown Lounge downstairs. Miraculously, when the club reopened in late August, the overall vibe of the place remained largely the same, something that surely pleased longtime — and somewhat skeptical — Turf Club customers.
In addition to a continuously packed concert calendar (First Avenue talent booker Sonia Grover had already been scheduling shows for the club since well before the purchase), the Turf is now open at 11 a.m. every day for lunch, with brunch on the weekends, adding to the friendly, neighborhood vibe of the place. But the intimate, 300-capacity shows are always going to be the biggest draw, and the Turf's updated look, new sound system, and striking horse-racing mural (unearthed during the remodel) behind the stage have already made for some memorable shows since the grand reopening. —By Erik Thompson
As the film industry scours the literary realm for the next book to turn into a blockbuster franchise, the shrinking yet hardy literary community is on a never-ending quest. Their holy grail? A book that is pure literature, immune to multimedia consumption. A book that breathes, thrashes, and beats inside a cover, inside paper, inside printed words. This year, Minneapolis's Coffee House Press published that book: Eimear McBride's debut, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing.
The story of how it came to be is the stuff of legend. After nine years of rejection, McBride found a U.K. publisher in Sam Jordison, a founder of Galley Beggar Press. Eventually, Coffee House Press acquired the U.S. rights, and published it this September. Then it exploded, winning awards and racking up glowing reviews from every prominent outlet.
McBride's style may at first feel as half-formed as her titular girl, as there's little structure, no quotations, no separation between dialogue, and unnamed characters. But if you simply read, letting go of your preconceived notions of form, you will eventually settle in. The seemingly haphazard prose will reveal itself to you, emerging as a genuine and affecting novel.
The story follows a girl. Growing up in Ireland, as McBride did, she is thrown without hope into the plagues of the country. There's oppressive Catholicism, courtesy of her mother and grandfather, the ignored mental disability of her brother, a perverted vulture of an uncle, and a pervasive culture of alcoholism. Once you get comfortable with McBride's style, you'll be deep in this Irish tragedy — but too entranced to seek escape. —Alex Lauer
Eric Rieger, a.k.a. HOTTEA
Eric Rieger, a.k.a. HOTTEA, has been a globetrotter this year, creating yarn-bombing installations, both commissioned and unsanctioned, in places such as Switzerland, Sweden, Barcelona, Vancouver, London, New York, Denver, Oklahoma City, and Columbia, Missouri. Rieger, who grew up in New Ulm, has also found time to give the Twin Cities some love.
Just as his 2012 installation at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts became the highlight of the Northern Spark Festival that year, 2014's La Maroma installation underneath the Third Avenue Bridge wowed visitors at this year's Nuit Blanche celebration. The raging storm that night, which put a huge damper on much of Northern Spark's activities, actually aided Rieger's mystical work. Protected from the rain, Rieger's colorful bridge was textured with the lines of the yarn. Suspended on top of this yarn bridge was a ghostly figure wavering in the wind. Wrapped in white cloth, the figure almost seemed to be a real person standing at the precipice.
Rieger began his career as a graffiti artist, but after getting busted by the police, he found a new path using non-destructive yarn. These days, Rieger has been embraced by the establishment to a degree, with commissions from corporate and nonprofit entities, but he still finds time to continue his covert operations as well. In New York this year, he was commissioned by Sesame Street to work on a piece that was used in a launch of their new website. For another project, Rieger created a protest piece commenting on the gentrification of a building at Bowery and Spring Street. Installing the letters "U-U-G-G-H-H" on an old bank, which for years had been used by graffiti artists and would soon be turning into a condo development, Rieger's simple message was an act of dissent.
In Minneapolis, Rieger also swings back and forth between corporate darling and elusive art Batman. One the one hand, he was invited to speak at Target Corporation headquarters, and was commissioned by Caribou Coffee to create a public art installation raising awareness for breast cancer research. On the other, he has sneaked into places like Menards and Home Depot to string letters on fences for sale. He also showed up on an episode of MN Original, a segment that won a Regional Emmy this year. —Sheila Regan
It's hard to know if the past 12 months have been a dream year for Sally Wingert, or just business as usual. The actor has appeared on stages as vast as the Pantages Theatre (in the Theatre Latte Da/Hennepin Theatre Trust's Cabaret) and as intimate as an actual living room (in the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's Rose), with her skills always working perfectly wherever she performs.
This is something that goes deeper than technique — though Wingert has that in spades — and into the harder-to-define areas of acting. When in a supporting role like Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret, Wingert finds the space to be a perfect piece of the ensemble. Her character's journey was not only clearly defined and supremely acted, but it melded with the work of the entire company to bring out the full impact of the musical.
Still, it is Wingert's confidence and skill when she's the center of attention that make her such a special actor. If you go back to last December, Wingert played the titular character in Dark & Stormy's The Receptionist with absolute control, making the simple actions of Adam Bock's pitch-black play all the more horrifying.
In Rose, she played a woman sitting shiva, the Jewish custom of mourning the dead for a week in a person's home. This production traveled to several private houses around the Twin Cities, as Wingert shared the play with a very close audience. She barely moved during the two-hour-plus show, but kept everyone in rapt attention through her voice, face, and the subtle application of the hard-to-define command. No matter that you could see a beautiful, sunny summer afternoon just outside — all eyes were on Wingert.
She followed that with a quite different but equally magnetic performance in Master Class. Working with Theatre Latte Da and director Peter Rothstein once again, Wingert played a truly larger-than-life character, opera singer Maria Callas. Terrance McNally's play is more about style than substance, leaving it to the lead to move beyond the superficial talk of art and Callas's career to find something deeper. It should be no surprise that Wingert found that depth, giving a performance that would make any diva jealous.
Wingert's work over the last year has been heavily lauded, and she earned a well-deserved Ivey Award this fall for her performances. —Ed Huyck
Courtney McClean & the Dirty Curls
The Twin Cities' favorite naughtybilly band had a very busy 2014. First, McClean and crew released a brand new album, This One's for Dad, through comedy powerhouse Stand Up! Records in June.
If you're familiar with the group's past work, then it probably came as no surprise that the record includes songs covering a number of hilariously filthy topics, like having sex with a baby (once he's legal, obviously) and having sex with Joe Biden (whenever he's available, obviously), along with equally over-the-top videos for both singles.
While the album is fantastic, the real appeal of Courtney McClean and the Dirty Curls is their live shows. This year the Curlfriends outdid themselves, headlining a host of fantastically weird shows around town, including Pundamonium's Valentine's Day Sextravaganza at Club Underground, The Sex (Ed) Show at this summer's Fringe Festival, and Ballerween '14 on Halloween at Memory Lanes, before hitting the road for a 10-city fall tour that was heavily funded through crowd sourcing.
Outside of the band, McClean participated in the hugely popular Naked Girls Reading series this past August at the the Great Minnesota Naked Get-Together event at the Ritz Theatre, served as a co-producer for this year's 10,000 Laughs Comedy Festival, and performed with the rest of the Rockstar Storytellers collective, who have been responsible for some of the most fascinating and unique shows of 2014 in their own right.
To cap off their packed year, the group recently participated in the inaugural "I AM ST. PAUL!" event, celebrating the best in art, music, dance, fashion, and comedy. —Patrick Strait
It takes a special kind of performer to bewitch an audience with stillness. Rosy Simas has that gift. An articulate dancer, Simas has the ability to suffuse the smallest movements, or even complete motionlessness, with a captivating aura.
Simas's Seneca heritage and Native identity figured strongly into her work this year, whether through her family's history or her own experiences as a person of color. Her subversive art takes on a point of view, but also deeply embraces beauty.
In July, Simas showed two versions of We Wait in Darkness, a piece that explored her family history as well as the U.S.'s treatment of Native tribes. The work was featured as an installation at All My Relations Gallery, which included performance and mixed-media elements, and it was also performed as a full-length dance work at the Red Eye Theater. The project was heavily researched through interviews and trips to the reservation where her family is from. The choreography that Simas created was noteworthy for its introspection, finding generations of trauma in her breath and adroit gestures. Onstage, even the way she curved her spine, her bare back facing the audience, became a moment of chilling purpose. Channeling the stories of her ancestors, particularly her grandmother, Simas created an intense depiction of anguish and strength.
This fall, Simas showed another work, "Skin(s)," as part of the Right Here Showcase at the Cowles Center's Tek Box. In that piece, Simas continued her fruitful relationship with composer François Richomme, and worked with Navarrete x Kajiyama Dance Theater (NAKA) to mine the experiences of people of color. While often finding surprising uses for rhythm, Simas displayed her skill in creating work that employed sounds of the dancers bodies in relation to the composer's score. This work especially came alive when Simas herself took the stage, emanating with her transfixing presence.
Simas's use of sculptural objects, both in "Skin(s)" and in We Wait in Darkness, demonstrate how Simas is more than a choreographer; she is an artist who can shift through various disciplines. She's already a celebrated local artist, but now she's poised to establish herself more surely on the national scene. —Sheila Regan[page]
From his dramatic entrance on the balcony in Cabaret to his co-directing efforts on 7th House Theater's Jonah and the Whale, Tyler Michaels has commanded all eyes on and off stage during the past 12 months. The young actor has been performing almost constantly during that time, leaving the lead role of Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres to take on love-struck Freddie in My Fair Lady at the Guthrie Theater. However, it is his performance in Cabaret that really made its mark this year.
Traditionally, the role of Emcee has gone to an older actor (Joel Grey was 40 when he played the role in the 1972 film), but Michaels put his own indelible stamp on the role in Theatre Latte Da's production. It started with that moment on the balcony, as the acrobatic actor lowered himself to the ground and strutted up on the stage in fishnet stockings, shorts, and a purple dinner jacket. This was the Emcee by way of The Rocky Horror Show, and it worked perfectly. Michaels's performance heightened the sense of excess, decadence, and decay in the moments before the Nazis took over Germany and cast the world into a decade-long abyss.
For much of the rest of 2014, Michaels split his time between Chanhassen and the Guthrie, transforming several potentially by-the-numbers characters into something special. This included Freddie, the naive young love interest for Eliza in My Fair Lady. Michaels and director Joe Dowling pushed Freddie beyond the usual charming-twit territory into something that took full advantage of Michaels's unique skill set. During his character's signature song, "On the Street Where You Live," Michaels moved like a crazy man, nearly crashing into set pieces and other actors as his love left him dumbstruck.
While his career has moved Michaels to bigger stages around the Twin Cities, he is still connected with the next, younger generation of creators. He is a founder of Bearded Man Improv and co-directed the current show for 7th House Theater. He is a performer who has truly emerged in 2014. —Ed Huyck
The most famous Scandinavian practitioner of psaligraphy (fine paper cutting) may be fairy-tale author Hans Christian Andersen, who snipped while storytelling in order to unfold his remarkable cuttings as a visual finale to his tales. But Minneapolis artist Sonja Peterson needs little verbal narrative to explicate her large-scale paper works. Whole worlds exist within the intricate details of her complex cuttings. Native plants and cultures clash with invaders. Historical events merge with present-day environmental dilemmas. The effects of globalization are intertwined with commerce and consciousness.
The imposing scale, not to mention the sheer beauty, of Peterson's work seemingly defines its delicate, lace-like construction. The shadows she creates through deft attention to the power of negative and positive space give Peterson's work substance that defies its first-glance whimsy. The Burnet Gallery at Le Méridien Chambers often shows her work, with "Becoming Animal Becoming Intense" a permanent installation. She's also had a solo show at the Bell Museum of Natural History, and exhibited in galleries through the Twin Cities and Midwest.
An artist residency at the American Swedish Institute in 2014, during which Peterson's exhibition "Entangled Introductions" was on display, further enhanced her reputation — and expanded its reach. Incorporating floral and animal imagery, the work delved into the origins of Swedish Dala painting: the story of Jonah, and the kurbits (a plant) he survived on while living in the desert. By embedding yet another layer of narrative within an already daedal design, she achieved psaligraphic alchemy.
While her pieces often depict humanity's desire and ongoing attempts to control nature, there's no questioning Peterson's supreme control of her material and the tool with which she renders her work, revelatory and complete. —Camille LeFevre
Of all the stately buildings on the University of Minnesota campus, the one most in need of a dramatic renovation was Northrop Auditorium. The Beaux Arts signature building of the U of M had fallen behind the similarly sized but more luxurious theaters of downtown Minneapolis. As a result, the 85-year-old, Clarence Johnson-designed auditorium had subsequently hosted fewer high-profile events in recent years, and was being used an average of only 51 times a year.
Following an extensive three-year, nearly-$100 million renovation, Northrop reopened this past April to wide acclaim and universal praise. The aging auditorium was given a stylish facelift that not only drastically improved sight lines and acoustics, but turned what was once an austere, rigid expanse into an intimate, inviting performance space.
"The design effort to solve both the acoustics and the sight lines was incredibly complex," says Tim Carl, lead designer on the Northrop renovation project. "We reshaped the seating and balconies, utilizing a U-shape that wraps the audience in effect around the stage, creating a more intimate relationship between audience and performer."
Carl is vice president of HGA Architects and Engineers, the local firm that oversaw the renovation. HGA competed against a series of national firms for the job, and eventually secured the rights to the project. And HGA proceeded to completely transform the auditorium from a relic of the university's illustrious past into a shimmering, artistic vision of its future.
Carl and HGA not only returned Northrop to its rightful place as one of the distinctive jewels among Twin Cities theaters, but they also created a modern facility that will serve university students for decades to come. In addition to the elegant, curved balconies, updated public spaces, and the cozier floor plan of the auditorium itself (which brought capacity from 4,800 down to 2,700), Northrop now houses a small, 168-seat lecture/recital hall, along with a wide array of academic offices, classrooms, and lounges that fuse together both the artistic and educational aspirations of the University of Minnesota itself.
"What I love the most is when people tell me that it still feels like Northrop, only better," Carl says. "We worked very hard to integrate the new with the historic, to make a new and better whole that creates new opportunities while still being rooted in the history and the culture of Northrop." —Erik Thompson
Pat Susmilch has been the most unavoidable man in comedy this past year. In a good way.
A product of Acme Comedy Co.'s open-mic night, Susmilch has been slowly but surely maturing as a comedian while also growing his fan base over the course of the past eight years. This year he made the leap from local to national standout thanks to consistent gigs working with some of comedy's biggest names, a headlining stint at Acme, and TV time on Last Comic Standing.
With his deadpan delivery and the best cat-related material in the Midwest, Susmilch has been one of the most consistently funny comedians to emerge from the Twin Cities over the past several years. In this past year alone, he has opened for the likes of Kumail Nanjiani and Anthony Jeselnik, and co-headlined his first-ever Acme shows alongside fellow local star Tommy Ryman.
Best of all, he was one of the top 100 comedians in the country invited to put his skills to the test on the rebooted (and way better) version of Last Comic Standing. While he didn't make it to the next round, his set received huge viewership online, and ultimately upped his comedy street cred for the second half of 2014 (he also had the best comedy prop in history, when he came onstage at Acme wearing an iPad playing his LCS set). —Patrick Strait