Standup Spotlight: Who the F is Brandi Brown?
For a lot of standups, there is no back-up plan.
The idea of putting comedy on the back-burner in order to explore other interests, or even perhaps -- brace yourself -- a career, is just plain sacrilege. Some would probably go so far as to label such a person as a "part-time hobby comic." To those people, Brandi Brown has one thing to say:
"Fuck them; I have health insurance."
The 30-year-old comic has been active in the local scene on and off since 2002, but she has really just started to gain momentum over the past two or three years. In August of last year she was hired as an MC at Acme Comedy Co., where she also performed as part of the club's big 20-year celebration this past November. While she considers it her home club today, her first visit was mandatory.
"I was home from college for the summer and I was making up a class, which happened to be about comedy writing," she recalls. "Part of an assignment was going to a club, so I went to Acme. Then I saw there was a $1,000 contest so I entered, but I didn't win or anything."
For a lot of comedians, the next part of this story is all about how they caught the bug once they tried standup for the first time, and have pursued it with everything they have ever since. Brown isn't a lot of comedians.
"I never did open mics or anything like that, but I came back and entered the contest every year. I don't even think I wrote material until right before I would perform in the contest, either," she says.
The tipping point finally came when she made the finals and was encouraged by the club's regulars to start getting more stage time in.
Things went pretty quickly for the Minneapolis-born comic after that, as she gained more experience and even hit the road not too long ago with Tracey Ashley, another local favorite, for a handful of college appearances. That's why at first pass it seems weird that she decided to take some time off from the stage. For Brown, however, the decision was an easy one to make.
"I got to this point where I was really broke, and really needed to take some time to get my life back in order. This sounds lame, but I need structure in my day or everything for me goes to hell," she says.
Now that she has her life -- and finances -- back in order, Brown is returning to the stage and getting back to her standup career.
"I'm at the point in my career where I'm fine with taking my time, working on material, and finding the right outlet for it," she says. "Flexibility is something that's really important to me, and I like branching out into different outlets. What matters most is that I'm creatively active."
That creativity has shown in her material onstage, which ranges from pop culture and observational humor, to more racially-charged subject matter. While her act has been extremely well-received, Brown admits she struggles to find a balance in terms of what type of jokes will connect with her audience.
"A lot of times I stop and think about what people won't understand," she explains. "I have material that's pretty racial, which is basically just me ranting as a black female. But I struggle because it's like, where do you put that in your set? And it's not hacky stuff like 'White people do this, but black people do this.' I have one joke, for example, about how my white friends can get kind of racist when they drink, and I wonder if racists start talking about equality when they get drunk. If you listen to it, that's a joke about bizarre racist behavior. But sometimes people will hear it and ask me if I have a problem with white people. They aren't listening to the joke, and then they get pissed off because they don't get it."
"I have some abortion jokes that I've done, and people will laugh and they have no problem with it. Then I make a comment about race and they get real tense. That's why it's tough to figure out where that stuff fits in your set," she says. "Unfortunately, there isn't much precedent for those types of jokes around here, so I have to look at the guys who have darker material -- no pun intended -- and see how they order things to get an idea of what works."
The support she has received from her peers has proven helpful, and allowed her to continue being one of the scene's fastest-rising new face. But unlike some of her peers, her biggest goals are still pretty basic.
"My end game is just to do what I want to do," she says. "I respect comedy and the stage so much, but I'll admit that being a standup comedian wasn't ever my dream. I feel incredibly fortunate to be where I'm at today, and I plan to keep doing comedy until I don't want to do it anymore."
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.