A Big Plus for Comedy

open mic offers right vibe for local stand-up comics

Ross Lindquist, photos by Andrea Paulseth

The “stage” at The Plus (formerly Pizza Plus) is home to one Eau Claire’s most popular open mics, featuring a special block just for stand-up comedy.
The “stage” at The Plus (formerly Pizza Plus) is home to one Eau Claire’s most popular open mics, featuring a special block just for stand-up comedy.

Stand-up comedy begins with Barry White. It’s tradition at The Plus in downtown Eau Claire. The host introduces each comic in his best Barry White impression (with help from the sound equipment). It’s a good start to a wildly fun time every Tuesday night. With comics performing five-minute sets, the pace is quick and the jokes are fast. But more importantly, also very funny.

There’s no raised stage, a microphone and music stand are all that separate the performer from the audience. The crowd is energetic and friendly and for part of the night the place is close to packed. The Plus has enough space to accommodate all kinds of attendees, whether they want to hang on every word or talk with friends while enjoying comedy and music in the background. After the night is over, the thought I’m left with is: This is a lot of fun, so why is it the only consistent stand-up comedy open mic the Chippewa Valley has to offer?

Whiskeys is known for its comedy night on Wednesdays, but that focuses on national know touring comedians, not local performers. And of course, there are many open mics in Eau Claire. These range from the Mousetrap to the House of Rock to the Stone’s Throw, and many others. And The District Company is just now trying to get their foot in the door of stand-up. But none of them have managed to create that perfect mesh of ingredients necessary for consistent stand-up comedy that The Plus has at their open mic. According to stand-up comic veteran Cullen Ryan, The Plus just feels right.

“Other places around town have great open mics, but not necessarily for comedy. At other open mics, there is such great music that, as a comic, I just feel like I am interrupting.” – Comedian Cullen Ryan, on the comedy-focused open mic nights at The Plus

“Other places around town have great open mics, but not necessarily for comedy,” Ryan says. “At other open mics, there is such great music that, as a comic, I just feel like I am interrupting.”

Ryan has performed at The Plus (formerly known as Pizza Plus) every Tuesday for the past year, and his enthusiasm for comedy and life comes across after talking with him for 30 seconds. He has the loudest laugh in the crowd (that’s a good thing), and all the beginning comics say Ryan has helped them with their jokes. Knowing they have somewhere to try new material and be embraced is important for beginners in stand-up. Ryan gave most of the credit for the inviting atmosphere to Sean Jones, the man in charge of The Plus’ Artisan Evening.

Jones brings in his own equipment, including LED lighting and a sound system. He also told me something unique about this open mic. “Here we put all the comedians in one block after they sign up,” Jones says. “This seems to work best not only for the comedians, but also for the crowd.” But Jones says the most appealing feature is the community of comedians that has emerged, and he thinks that Ryan has been the biggest instigator of this welcoming feel. (Half-price apps and taps from 9pm-midnight can’t hurt either.)

“Cullen has taken so many stand-up comedians from Eau Claire under his wing, and he really cares about helping people get better,” Jones said in a recent phone interview.

This community is something that is entirely unique about The Plus. Ryan, who used to perform in the Twin Cities, told me that the comedy scene across the St. Croix can be highly competitive and fast-paced. Here in Eau Claire, the pressure is off, and people are encouraged to develop their comedy at their own pace.

The comedy scene in Eau Claire has been about more than building a community within itself, though. Jones, along with local comedians, has begun to try to give back to the larger community by putting on benefits. Their most recent effort will be Nov. 22 at The Plus with local comic Ryan Kahl headlining. The beneficiary that night will be Feed the Need, an Eau Claire-based anti-hunger group.

Creating an atmosphere that allows stand-up comedy to flourish is like trying to bake that delicious cake mom always used to make. Even if you follow the recipe exactly, somehow it never seems to taste quite like you want it. It needs that X factor. For cakes, that usually happens to be a mother’s love. For stand-up, even if the night has a good crowd, cheap food and beer, and great equipment, that doesn’t mean it’ll be a success. The X factor here isn’t a mother’s love: It’s a group of people who genuinely care about helping each other become funnier – and making a bunch of people laugh in the process.

Artisan Evening (Open Mic) • 8pm each Tuesday • The Plus (formerly Pizza Plus), 208 S. Barstow St., Eau Claire • FREE • 832-8844

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