Thanks in large part to Matt Kemple — the Milwaukee Comedy Festival’s founder — Brew City’s homegrown humor scene has experienced a renaissance mirroring what’s going on nationally. Small-scale monthly shows featuring local comedians are sprouting up as often as the Netflix perpetual-motion machine can generate specials from stand-up Hall of Famers.
Now in its 13th year, the Milwaukee Comedy Festival runs from Aug. 1-5. It showcases more than 50 comedians – national and local – performing all things funny: improv, stand-up, sketch, musical comedy and more.
Kemple spoke with us about the festival and the current state of comedy in our city.
How different is the Milwaukee comedy scene now compared to when you first started producing shows?
There was practically no comedy here. Comedy clubs would pull people on the national circuit and they wouldn’t book anyone local. There was no local scene.
How has the festival changed over the years?
We still have a focus on local talent. Last year, we had Michael Ian Black, and we were able to book [a local] host and feature for that act. We would not entertain any thoughts of an out-of-state comic having that role because having an opportunity to open for a comic like that can be career changing.
How has comedy changed in the era of political correctness, and now, more specifically, Donald Trump?
It’s interesting, because Milwaukee is such a divided city, politically. A lot of the comedy is slanted left. There are certainly times where a comic has something to say and people in the audience don’t want to hear it. I would argue that a comic has every right to say whatever they want to say – if it’s funny. That’s what I hire them to do. But at the same time, an audience member has every right to not listen to that. What we need everyone to understand is that both of those things are OK. It’s not one versus the other. We can all come into a room and find things to laugh at together … I hope.