Happy birthday, Acme Comedy Co. You're almost old enough to legally drink.
This week, the Twin Cities' most famous comedy club celebrates its 20-year anniversary with a mammoth comedy showcase featuring 20 comics performing their best 20 minutes over the course of four nights. The event includes a mix of younger acts who came up through Acme's open mic night, long-time touring veterans who frequented the club starting back in the '90s, and national acts who have developed a dedicated local fan base thanks to their time at Acme.
Tim Harmston, one of the Thursday night headliners, started his career in 2002 sweating out three minutes of raw material on the Acme stage, and has since gone on to tour the country nationally with appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, Comedy Central, and more. This past weekend, Harmston spent a few minutes on the phone with us reflecting on his career at Acme, and why he gets just as excited to perform at the club now as he did before he was a big deal.
How did you get started doing comedy at Acme?
I started going to open mic night on Mondays at Acme back in 2002, and honestly I wasn't very good. It was hard for me to get on at first, and I don't think they [Acme management] thought I was funny. So then I became determined to make them think I was. I entered the contest that next summer, and I ended up winning. So I guess I succeeded in that respect.
Once you won the contest, were you able to start performing regularly?
I actually didn't start MC'ing at Acme until a full year after I won the contest.
Why was that?
The great thing about Louis [Louis Lee, Acme owner] is that he has a good sense of knowing when comics are ready to take that next step. A lot of younger comedians will come in sometimes and assume that they're ready to take that step right away, but they're not. The bottom line is that I wasn't ready, so I kept doing open mic and letting my material develop, and then one day I finally got the invite to MC.
How has the comedy itself changed at Acme since you started back in the early 2000s? Do you feel like it's a place where comics are trying more unique material?
Actually, no I don't. I think that Minneapolis has falsely earned this reputation as a home for alternative comedy, and it's really not. I don't think that the crowd at Acme is looking for something alternative; they just want fresh comedy. That's what makes the club so great: the talent at the club is so good, and the writing is so good, and you have the chance to watch great comedy every day of the week.
You still frequent Acme's open mic night, even though you've gained a lot of national notoriety as a comic. What keeps you coming back?
Comedy is an art form that can only be practiced onstage. You need to try new material almost every night. Acme's open mic is a great place to do that because the crowd is smart and isn't just trained to laugh at anything. They don't give anything up for free, so you have to keep writing and trying new things.
Honestly, Acme's open mic is known throughout the comedy circuit, and is probably one of -- if not the best -- open mic night in the country. It's one of the reasons I stayed here instead of moving to New York or L.A. The talent is always getting better and it keeps you motivated to work hard just to keep up.