By Eric Paulsen Special to Published Jan 05, 2005 at 5:24 AM

{image1} Besides our politicians and sports teams being a joke, there are real comedians who've used Brew City as a crutch in their careers.

Milwaukee natives like Gene Wilder, Frank Caliendo, John McGivern, Chris Barnes and even Bob Uecker, pulled cues from their experiences growing up here and spun them into careers making people laugh. Sometimes even on purpose.

So, for the young crop of up-and-coming-wannabe-comedians, what's the best way to start?

Open Mic Night, of course! And the place to do that is at a secret-operations location, all under the shadow of City Hall.

Officially, it's called Underground Comedy at the Safe House. It moved across the semi-secret wall into the Newsroom Pub, 137 E. Wells St., about nine months ago. And here, every Thursday, is the best place to try out those one-liners.

Tony B. Miller has served as producer and emcee for about six years of the 15 years it's been around. He bears the (sometimes) unenviable task of warming up the crowd.

"That place is really great for talent and discovering talent," says Miller. "A good example would be Frank Caliendo, who started a little bit before me. I never knew he was going to be a star, but now he's everywhere. Another guy is Tom Clark, who is now in L.A. doing commercials and various projects."

The average crowd consists of about 30 people -- in the 60-70 person capacity room -- with about a dozen performers. It begins at 9:30 p.m. and runs until about 11:30 p.m., depending on when the material is exhausted.

When OMC scouts investigated the joint, a dozen or so people participated, some of who regularly work other comedy circuits around town. Good comedy properly blends material and delivery. Some handled both well. Some had one but not the other. One or two had neither. But the audience was always courteous, with nary a heckler in sight.

There was no holding back on the material. Relationships, government, the Darwin theory, racism and reverse racism, sex (especially without other people involved), alcohol consumption, STDs, the Irish, Germans, men, women, the fat, the skinny, the ugly and even the hunting shootings in Rice Lake were all on tap.

Miller says there's great camaraderie among the comics. "It's a place where we can go, where we can feel comfortable with one another, network, figure out what else is going on around, what other people are doing ... it's the best place in Milwaukee to hang out for comics. People are willing to help you get funny. Outsiders are welcome, and people feel good about what they are doing. It's a completely positive group."

Regardless of who's standing in the spotlight, it takes guts to up there and deliver lines to people you don't know, as well as those you planted in the audience to clap for you. With that in mind, even someone who's deserves kudos for trying.

So, how do you get on?

If you're a first-timer, you need to contact Miller, and he'll determine when you go up. Women are strongly encouraged, especially there's a shortage of them on stage.

"We prefer people who are serious about it, steering away from spontaneous drunks whose buddies say 'hey, man, you're funny,'" Miller says. "Nobody's going to be denied stage time, but we also don't want someone who will waste our time."

You can contact Tony Miller at (414) 305-2496 or e-mail, It's free, but you might get laughed at.

Ladies and germs, thanks for the time. Y'all have been great; please tip your waiters and waitresses.

Eric Paulsen Special to
Eric Paulsen is a Milwaukee native but also grew up in Chicago, Detroit and Dallas, which means he’s never lived in a decent climate. Paulsen works as the Communications Officer for the Greater Milwaukee Committee, serves as a writer and contributor for commercials and a national TV show and pops up on 103.7 Kiss FM on weekends, doing his share of overplaying Top 40 hits. Previously, he was a business partner and director in a start-up online research company that began in 1998 and reached the Inc. 500 list by 2005. He was an early contributing writer for, dating back to 1999. He got his MBA from UW-Milwaukee in 2007 and also holds a BS in Consumer Science (a degree he can’t explain, either) from UW-Madison and thus cheers on the Badgers with reckless abandon. Eric is a graduate of the Future Milwaukee Leadership Program and participates in many community-minded events and initiatives, invited or not. When he’s not working, Paulsen enjoys running, road trips and practicing for a future career as a beer connoisseur.