MinniHaha: Tim Harmston at Acme

MinniHaha: Tim Harmston at Acme
There's no question about this week's can't-miss show -- Maria Bamford doing a full week at Acme. But there's more than one good reason to get down to Acme this week. Local standup standout Tim Harmston, who will open for Bamford, is one of Acme's sharpest and most entertaining regular performers, no small feat at a club whose cadre of in-house comics could put plenty of national headliners to shame.

Harmston first took the stage early in the decade, but it was winning the Funniest Person in the Twin Cities contest in 2002 that kick-started his career. He's since gone on to tour across the country, participate in Comedy Central's Open Mic Fight, and appeared on NBC's Last Comic Standing.

Gimme Noise: How did you get into standup?

Tim Harmston: I started comedy in 2002 at the Mall of America. I was living in Wisconsin and I would come up to the mall and do the open mic [at Knuckleheads]. My first six months of comedy, every joke I did was about the Mall of America.

I actually started in improv in Chicago at Second City, but I didn't like it very much because of the team concept of comedy. It seemed really foreign to me. I always wanted to be alone onstage and do my own thing. I think standup comics typically can be loners, distant, introverted-type people sometimes, and I didn't like sharing my ideas and my comedy. It was a bizarre open mic because it was usually people that trickled in from the mall, tourists, and it was kind of a weird assembly of people, because you didn't know who was from out of town, and sometimes people would bring their kids thinking it was a family show. It was a good place to start because it was pretty low-pressure.

GN: How did winning the Funniest Person contest change things for you?

TH: It sort of started the professional end of my career. I emceed for, I don't know, two or three years, just getting a good 15 minutes, then eventually I started to get asked to feature. Tom Steffen, Mary Mack were in that class. The next year Chuck Bartell won. I was petrified. I was so nervous that I felt like it was American Idol finals, and if I lost I'd be ridiculed forever.

It's very fortunate to have a club like Acme in the Twin Cities. It's some of the best stage time you'll find anywhere in the world. It's a privelege to be able to work there and be a part of the Minneapolis scene. It's one of the strongest scenes in the country.

GN: How has your style evolved since you began?

TH: I really feel like my style is constantly evolving. I don't think it's settled in one place. I try to maintain a personal policy of trying anything if I think it's remotely funny. But I feel like my set is kind of like a bag of comedy trail mix. There's a lot of different elements to it. Some people enjoy the M&Ms, and other people don't like the raisins.

I often feel bad because I feel like it's too dark for some people. Although a lot of my jokes aren't about my personal life, I feel like they're honest. Every one has an element of honesty to it, and I don't feel bad telling it. It's something I struggle with. Whenever I try to write a happy joke, it always takes a turn into the darkness. But I guess starting comedy at an older age, I feel like you're always going to have plenty of dark things to draw from. I like to think that it's the cheeriest dark comedy that you'll see.

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