[Editor's Note: Raghav Mehta is a local standup comedian and writer. Each month, he'll be writing about people on the scene he meets along the way while working on his career.]
"There's enough 'good enough' in comedy," says local standup comedian Chris Knutson while nursing a beer at the West Bank's Corner Bar on a Thursday evening.
Chris Knutson is a comic who likes to push boundaries. But don't let boundary pushing be confused with crass or offensive. His material isn't forcibly edgy, but it isn't so eccentric that it's alienating, either. In fact, he's quite accessible. Balancing his waggish sensibilities with everyman cynicism, Knutson enjoys taking his material to a place far stranger than most standups are capable of going -- or even willing to go.
His backwards set joke, which he originally performed in 2011, is still mentioned in passing by comics of all levels during local shows and open mics (always with nothing but the utmost reverence). It's a piece that also effectively showcases Knutson's inherent affinity and penchant for experimentation (an audio recording can be heard below)."I know where to go find quality comedy and I enjoy it. But it's not the same as seeing someone try something brand new," Knutson says, emphasizing his interest in innovation. "I just like seeing people try new styles. Whether they succeed or fail from an audience perspective, to me, it's always a success if it's a little different."
Knutson made his foray into standup in 2009 after becoming something of a fixture at the Monday Night Comedy Show, a long-running weekly showcase hosted by Andy Bryndilson that now takes place in the basement of Spring Street Tavern. It was there where Knutson's comedic persona and style started taking serious shape. Like many new comedians go on to realize, Knutson slowly learned that it was more about how you said it, not what you said.
"Jokes are like a magic trick. A lot of times they aren't really about anything. It's about phrasing, it's about surprise," Knutson explains.
By 2010, he began attending open mics almost daily, and placed first in Acme's annual Funniest Person in the Twin Cities contest.
Unsurprisingly, Knutson's curiosity doesn't end at standup. He also makes up one half of local comedy-rap duo Valley Meadows, which he conceived with fellow Minneapolis comic Zach Coulter. In 2012, the two were nominated for a Readers Choice Award for Best Musical Comedy Act by Laughspin, a highly-popular online hub for all things comedy. The two lost to Weird Al Yankovic, which, for most comedians, should be something of an honor in and of itself.
But perhaps Knutson's most definitive turning point came last year, and it had nothing to do with comedy. His wife Aimee gave birth to their son. That didn't stifle any of his artistic drive. Since then, Knutson's incorporated his son into his sketch work, which includes an online web series, entitled Baby Cop, featuring local comics such as Jeff Pfoser and the late Gus Lynch. Additionally, last summer he and his wife posted a self-produced stop-motion video, Teddy Bear Meets Best Friend, which immediately went viral. The video is still on YouTube and has garnered over 2 million views."I like to incorporate him as much as I can without exploiting him," Knutson says. "It's my way of being the best dad I can be while still finding time to do comedy."
Even if Knutson has less time for comedy, it certainly hasn't softened or affected his creative senses in the way some might imagine. There's still a darkness and weirdness that remains prevalent in his work.
"I haven't changed the way I feel about the world," Knutson says. "I also want my son to see that you can be happy but also acknowledge the futility in some things."
As Knutson continues to ease into his newfound fatherhood, he still plans on pursuing comedy professionally, but with more of an emphasis on audio and visual productions and less time on the road. He recently signed an agreement with locally-based comedy label Stand Up! Records to record an album this summer of both sketch and standup.
He also remains an avid fan of comedy. He admires bright up-and-comers like John Mulaney and Kyle Kinane as well as legends such as George Carlin and Chris Rock. But the most noteworthy influence Knutson mentions isn't a comedian. It's the late local underground rapper Eyedea (also known as Micheal Larsen of Eyedea and Abilities), who he was fortunate enough to meet a few times prior to the rapper's untimely death in 2010.
"He took risks, he was innovative. Ten years from now, he'll still be considered ahead of his time" Knutson says. "The comedian I like the most is the type of MC that Eyedea was."
The Tommy Ryman and Chris Knutson Show Feat. Mike Lebovitz The Comedy Corner Underground Friday/Saturday 8 p.m. $10