By Denise DePaolo
Photos by Dan Thorson Photography
“Me and my dad love George Carlin. My dad might like George Carlin talking about some political stuff. I might like George Carlin where he’s doing his anti-religion stuff. But then we both laugh at a fart joke. That’s the beauty of comedy.”
Entertaining people from all walks of life makes Andrew Swann happy. To the Sioux Falls native, comedy is a type of entertainment that can transcend socioeconomic barriers even more easily than music. After all, not everyone likes alt country or black metal, but as a rule, people enjoy happiness.
Swann is one of several local comedians working to keep Sioux Falls laughing. When he performed at his first open mic two years ago, he was encouraged to do so by fellow comedian Alice Galloway.
“We were drinking one night and she said, ‘I think you’d do well,’” said Swann. “The first time I went up there, I got a good response. So I kept trying it.”
Like Swann and countless comics before, Watertown-based Galloway got her start on a Sioux Falls open mic stage.
“A few years ago, it was my New Year’s resolution to do something that terrified me,” she said. “I wanted to jump out of a plane, but because of my life, I was broke. So my backup was to do standup.”
Galloway sourced her first jokes from material she knew painfully well, “I looked through my old journals and found the most embarrassing stories. That first open mic was on my birthday. All of my friends laughed, which made me think I was the best – even though I’m sure I was horrible. I just became obsessed with it.”
Soon, the pair was organizing comedy shows in a friend’s basement, under the name “Smoke Shack Comedy.”
“I put it together that I could do comedy the way my friends do punk shows,” said Galloway. “It was also really good therapy for me. I could take something that I hate and turn it into a joke and make my friends laugh.”
According to Swann, the basement shows, which were regularly attended by 30 to 60 people – mostly affiliated with the local arts and music scene, were a good place to cut one’s teeth. But it wasn’t long before Smoke Shack moved out of the basement to bar venues like Latitude 44.
“Basement shows were full of people who were very like-minded and at clubs like Latitude 44 or Rookies, you have all kinds of people,” said Swann. “Playing a place like that can be even more fulfilling.”
Sioux Falls and comedy have had a tempestuous relationship. Most of the touring acts that come through are arguably past their prime or are unknown up-and-comers. Watertown-based comedian Timmy Williams partially attributes the lack of big-name comic acts to South Dakota’s sparse population.
“We got Louie Anderson, who’s a cool guy. Then Pauly Shore came through, and the guy who played Screech on Saved by the Bell. And of course, in South Dakota we get the once a year Williams and Ree concert,” said Williams, known for his part in comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U Know. “But I think as far as recognizing different comedy – outside of the ‘take my wife’ kind of jokes – I think South Dakota hasn’t gotten enough of a taste of it. There’s not enough people here for some of the big independent comedy names to come through.”
Sioux Falls has had a difficult time sustaining a dedicated comedy club for long. Most recently, Fat Daddy’s Comedy Club closed its doors in 2012.
“We’ve had four, I believe,” said Sioux Falls-based Nathan Hults. “I think sometimes people in Sioux Falls have a hard time going to see someone they don’t already know. We’re not getting Louis C.K. We’ve been fortunate with Collective Efforts Union that we’ve gotten Todd Barry and Doug Benson, but that’s not happening regularly.”
To read the full article, pick up the December issue of 605 Magazine or click here.