For a lot of folks in the Milwaukee comedy scene, there are two schools of funny: improv and stand-up. And ne’er the twain shall meet.
Steve Breese is hoping to change that. The young comedian and producer is bringing his newest show, "The Comedy Arcade," to the Underground Collaborative in The Shops of Grand Avenue one Thursday night every month, with co-producer Matt Kemple of Milwaukee Comedy. The inaugural show is tonight at 7:30 p.m.
"The comedy scene, even in this small market, is divided," Breese told OnMilwaukee.com. "Matt works more with groups of sketch and improv performers and I work strictly with stand-up performers. Matt and I love comedy, we appreciate all the talent in the Milwaukee scene, and we both work hard to produce some of the best comedy shows in Milwaukee."
"The Comedy Arcade" will be the first mixed comedy showcase happening regularly in Milwaukee. The 90-minute variety-style programs will feature stand-up performers Ryan Mason, Sammy Arechar and Ryan Lowe, as well as improv groups Busy Bar and Homegrown Electric Circus.
Tickets will be $10 in advance and $15 at the door (and since the Underground Collaborative doesn’t have their liquor license yet, Breese assures us the event is BYOB).
Breese hopes it will be a night of promising up-and-coming Milwaukee talent – headliner Mason will be opening for Joe Mande and Morgan Murphy at The Pabst Theater in April.
Plus, he says producing a show with Kemple, who he met at a class at Comedy Sportz, is a great learning experience.
"I've always wanted to work with Matt on a show because I knew I would learn from that experience," Breese says. "He's been producing for a number of years (shows like the Milwaukee Comedy Festival, which he founded) and I know he works hard to create great comedy nights at his venue.
"He has so much to teach that it’s nice for a guy like me who’s just starting out to kind of have a mentor."
Breese, a Madison native, moved to Milwaukee in 2007 to attend college. He's been doing stand-up since then, proving himself as a pack mule at events like the Milwaukee Stand-up Comedy Showcase. In the sort of a career that is "for perceived slackers," he says, he's determined to make a name for himself through good, old-fashioned hard work.
"I try to support the entire comedy scene," he says. "I will try to attend any show, tell anyone about upcoming shows when I am out for a drink, or at least promote it on my Facebook wall."
He appears in the Caste of Killers regularly and attends at least two open mics a week, usually at Karma Bar and Grill, the Comedy Cafe, Art Bar and Sherman Perk Coffee Shop.
"It's a small scene that is growing," he says, noting that the Underground Collaborative space has been an invaluable addition to the comedy community.
The U.C. was opened last May in the basement of the Shops of Grand Avenue, directly below TJ Maxx and contains performance space, recording studios, editing equipment and more. Kemple says they've been hosting comedy shows and events for about eight months, after a grueling three-month renovation.
"It’s a collaboration of all the arts in one location, which is really nice," says Breese. The U.C. offers a diverse lineup of programs that include dance classes, Zumba, comedy, theater and music.
It’s the perfect space for an event that Breese hopes will introduce in-the-moment improv lovers to the delightful dryness of stand-up, and vice versa.
"There are a few comics who cross over, Tim Higgins is really the only one that I know that does both; generally, it’s two different types of comedy and they don’t like each other, from what I’ve been told," Breese says.
His own tastes run towards stand-up, but his roots are in improv. He started doing comedy in college, taking classes at ComedySportz.
"I loved it and I loved everyone at ComedySportz but I started doing stand-up because I have a more cynical sense of humor and that wasn’t really turning out great for me in that family-friendly venue," he laughs.
"Improv is a lot of suggestions, it’s not like a stand-up set where you write it out, you practice that, and you kind of make a persona in stand-up, where in improv you can do a variety of characters, and you’re working with a team of people.
"Improv is always in the moment, where stand-up, you want to present it like you’re telling the joke for the first time but you’ve told the joke a hundred times and you’ve started hating it."
Breese has booked all his "Comedy Arcade" stand-up comedians through August, so he plans on having a good run for the show. Most of his booked acts right now are local to Milwaukee, but he says he’s open to anything and anyone.
"The space holds 60 people, and I have a feeling that this show combined with Matt’s normal audience and the normal traffic at this mall, I think it’s going to be a pretty good show."
But more than anything, he says, it’s a great opportunity for all comedy lovers to try something new.
"There’s a lot of talented people in Milwaukee. I think that there’s a lot of potential but it seems like we’re fairly unknown as far as – it’s hard to get an audience. It depends on the venue," he says. "I feel like there’s people who will come out the first time to an Underground show and they don’t really know what they’re expecting.
"I think that if you like comedy you should try other forms of comedy. Watch it, see if you like it or not. Funny is funny. I don’t think there’s any hard line between it. If you want to laugh, try out another form."
For more information on "The Comedy Arcade," visit brownpapertickets.com.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.