Stand-up comedy and improvisational theater are weekly occurrences at the Teatro Zuccone in downtown Duluth. The Renegade Theater Company, a professional theatrical company, operates the venue inside the Teatro Zuccone building. Along with plays, movies, sketches and more, Renegade offers improv comedy shows twice per week, on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. Another affiliation of Teatro Zuccone and Renegade Theater is Darkhorse Comedy, a stand-up comedy group run by UMD senior Kaio Kealoha. Darkhorse offers free open mic nights at Zuccone every Thursday at 10:30 p.m., where comics perform stand-up sets.
Because Darkhorse does not pay its comics for Thursday night performances, sometimes they are given only a few minutes to perform or are working on very new routines.
"Usually our comics who perform on Thursdays are perfecting their material, trying to get the kinks out," said Kealoha. "Usually it's the first time (the comics) have used (the material)." If Kealoha likes someone he sees, he'll invite them back to do a longer set.
"We'd love to see more students down there on Thursday nights,” said Kealoha. “That's our target demographic, 18-29 year olds."
Dubh Linn's Irish Pub also hosts stand-up comedy on Fridays and Saturdays. But competition isn’t the goal. "A lot of our focus is to give another open mic venue in town," Kealoha said.
UMD grad Matthew Smith ('12) is an actor for Renegade who primarily performs in their shows, but has been involved with stand-up as well.
"I've done (Darkhorse) from time to time, and Dubh Linn's, too," Smith said.
And Smith isn’t the only one.
"I have done stand-up here (at Teatro Zuccone) with Darkhorse," said Mary Higgins, also an actor with Renegade. "And I have done it at Dubh Linns. . . . The stand-up (at Zuccone) is fantastic."
The stand-up is free on Thursdays, but once every few months Darkhorse does a showcase. In these showcases, Darkhorse will pay a few big-name comedians from the Twin Cities area to come perform here in Duluth. And if a local comic has been doing well at open mic Thursdays, they will be invited to perform alongside the big shots.
"We're in talks to have our next big showcase in January," Kealoha said.
He says that the delay is entirely due to lack of available space until then.
Perhaps the increasing supply of the arts in Duluth may be playing a role in pushing up demand for theater space. With Renegade already well established and newer upstarts like Wise Fool Shakespeare Company and The Underground, Duluth is becoming one of the premier centers for the arts on Lake Superior.
Kealoha thinks this evolution is natural, given Duluth's close proximity to the Twin Cities’ immensely popular performance scene.
"(Minneapolis) is centrally located in the Midwest, (compared with) New York and L.A.," he said.
According to Kealoha, artists like to perform there because “Minnesota nice” audiences provide comics and actors a chance to work on experimental material in a relaxed environment.
"Duluth is starting to follow suit (with Minneapolis)," said Kealoha.
Unlike Darkhorse Comedy's free Thursday performances, Renegade Theater's improv shows every Friday and Saturday cost $5. However, Renegade's actors are professional, and the improv teams rehearse every Tuesday.
"(Renegade) is one of the best improv gigs you can get in the entire country," Higgins said. This is partly because Renegade is one of the few improv troupes that pays its actors. Their seldom-held auditions are selective, too. Their last one saw 60 people try out with only 12 making the final cut.
BY JOHN FAHNENSTIEL email@example.com