Back then, it was all about tenacity -- and it still is today. "I'm developing a show for Comedy Central," he says. "I set a lot of goals this year on just selling a TV show; standup is still at the forefront though. I've written an entirely new act since the last time I was in Minneapolis. So I have a fresh new set for all my 'Minneapolitans.'"
Winfield has been comfortable in front of audiences since grade school, where his teachers often chose him to read out loud, give presentations, and emcee certain events. "I wasn't a class clown by any means," he recalls. "I just didn't have a problem getting in front of people. I don't know why they selected me. It's one of those things where I'd have to be the teacher to actually break down why that happened. But it was something they noticed or observed." It was that attention that would change his life, though thoughts of comedy were far off.
"I think my cousin had a VHS tape of Eddie Murphy's Raw, and I remember watching that," he says. "We weren't as exposed to standup comedy back then like we are today. Today, it's everywhere. It wasn't until college that I started to come together. After my first speech class, my teacher kind of recommended standup to me. I used to stand in front of the class and attempt to give a speech that was serious and it didn't come out that way."
His first open mic didn't go very well. "It was a really horrendous experience, and I quit for like a year and half."
He still went to see live comedy with friends though, and after seeing DL Hughley and Bill Bellamy, on separate occasions, he was inspired to get back on the horse. "I saw those guys and thought, 'This is amazing.' It helped seeing very successful comedians move an audience."
The key for Winfield, even to this day, is to be funny in the same way onstage as he has always been with his friends. "Around my friends, I am the king," he laughs. "Onstage I'm trying to get to who I am around them. That's my goal."
His affable stage presence and trademark big grin immediately draw audiences in. "I have so much material at this point," he says. "You could come to my show every day of the week and see a different show. Even within the same week people are like, 'I don't remember any of that from the last show,' or, 'This is different.' My set is kind of spur-of-the-moment."
IF YOU GO:
Mike E. Winfield
Acme Comedy Co.
708 N. First St., Minneapolis; 612-338-6393
8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
More info at acmecomedycompany.com.