This Saturday night, comedians Tammy Nerby and Jeff Larson are headed to Elk’s Lodge at Charlie’s Eatery to show our city how to laugh at professional-caliber jokes. You might not know this, but Rochester’s comedy scene is known for its open mics. We get people from all over the place. I’ll get into that later.
First, the comedians. Nerby is a Rochester native with Hollywood credentials.
“I say to people, you may never have heard of me, but you have heard me,” said Nerby.
It’s not an exaggeration. Nerby herself gets surprised by her own voice on the radio. After 20 years of working jobs on both sides of the camera, she’s accumulated a varied list of experiences. She’s been in hundreds of radio and TV commercials, toiled as a production assistant, and coached politicians and Miss USA contestants.
She categorizes her style as observational humor along the lines of Louie Anderson. Nerby’s sets consist of stories, often family-related, with details exaggerated and honed to hilarity. She’s got the co-signs to back it all up, too: in one of his books, Lewis Black calls her one of the funniest women he knows.
She’ll be joined by newcomer Jeff Larson, who has been cutting his teeth on open mics since getting into comedy several years ago. He categorizes his humor as PG-18, as it may nudge against suggestive themes, but he tries to keep it clean. He’s up in the Cities twice a week going to open mics.
He’s also a fixture at Rochester open mics, which have been keeping our comedy scene alive since Goonie’s left, even as rumblings of its return abound.
“Everybody, wherever they’re coming from, they’re working on their comedy. That’s the whole point of an open mic,” said Larson. “So, sometimes, somebody will try something that is a little cringe worthy…That’s kind of the function. You’re trying to solidify some of your core jokes, but you’re also trying to venture out and try some new material. Otherwise you can’t grow as a comedian.”
According to Nerby, the open mics here are so flexible with time constraints that established comics from the Cities come down to escape the escalating competition of their scene.
“In Rochester, they were kind of letting people go as long as they wanted to. Which is really unheard of in open stage. It’s competitive to get into an open stage in the Twin Cities compared to here,” explained Nerby.
When she relocated to Rochester, she was pleasantly surprised at the growth of the boring city she’d grown up in.
“There were some new voices that were interesting,” she said. “When you hear that voice that stands out because it’s so unique, it’s fun. And then you say to yourself, ahh, I wonder where they’re going to go? Are they going to follow through? Because it’s hard. You don’t just become a comic. You’ve got to put in the work.”
That work is brutal. The threat of bombing, the competitive queues just to get in a minute at an open mic.
“I’ve seen every headliner that I know bomb. And they’re famous people. We all bomb, and there’s nothing more horrifying than bombing. But it’s what can you get out of the bomb that shows you who’s the professional and who’s not,” said Nerby.
Both Nerby and Larson are quick to point out that, though Rochester’s comedic reputation has been built on open mics, Saturday’s show is a different level of quality comedy, featuring battle-tested jokes and a pair of comedians with plenty of experience. Don’t believe us? Take Nerby’s word for it.
“I was frickin’ doing shots by the end of the show with all the college kids and they couldn’t get enough of me. Are you kidding me? Relate to people on their level, relate to them in their lives, and you’ve got them,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about the audience.”