Like much else in the city, the city's sense of humor seems to be split along racial lines. A conversation between Milwaukee comedy veterans Brian Green and Anton Johnson.
Brian Green, a veteran of improve and stand-up, is an original cast member of Milwaukee’s own ComedySportz, founded in 1984. Anton Johnson has been performing stand-up since around 2011. Both have lived and worked in Milwaukee long enough to weigh in on the city’s sense of humor.
BG: Milwaukee crowds are surprisingly hip at times and surprisingly dumb at times. Maybe that’s the way it is everywhere. It’s a pretty sophisticated crowd. You can’t just run any old thing by them.
AJ: People come to a comedy club with the intent of laughing. You can get away with more bullshit at a comedy club than any other show setting. But it can come back to bite you. You’ll definitely get crowds with higher tastes in that same space.
BG: As far as crowd size goes, the smaller crowds have a tendency to be more judgmental than the large crowds.
AJ: It’s true. There are also two very distinct sides of the city that you’re doing comedy on. You’re doing the alternative rooms down here – Walker’s Point, the East Side, the South Side. But it’s a whole different type of crowd and scene on the North Side. The jokes I would tell at Jokerz are not the same jokes I would do at the Comedy Cafe. The jokes I do at Laughing Liberally here at ComedySportz are not the same jokes I’m gonna do at Lux Lounge. It’s two totally different things. You have the same number of people in the crowd and vastly different experiences.
BG: I guess you could just say black and white crowds.
AJ: They ran a comedy club out of the Bamboo Lounge, off Second and Mitchell. It was probably the only majority Latino room I’ve done. I did well, but a guy from out of town, half his set was in Spanish – people were feeling what he was talking about.
BG: I get that. You gotta do well for your own first. I started out doing black clubs. They had clubs that weren’t predominately white or black – just the nights that I was there they’d have a predominately black audience and that’s where you start out.
AJ: It’s a real thing. The comedy scene is segregated. Not a lot of comics go between both scenes.
BG: Not a lot of comics can.
AJ: I go between both. I’m lucky to be able to and it took me a long time to learn how. It’s not easy; it can be done.
BG: I only care about one thing – whether I’m laughing or not.
AJ: What’s funny is funny.
This story is part of the 2017 Fall Arts Guide feature in our September issue. Click to read the rest of the guide.