By JENNY MICHAEL
Scott Long has been doing comedy for two decades, but it wasn't until three years ago that he decided to put a personal spin on his show. He draws material from his life, including growing up in the Midwest, having a child late in life and raising a daughter on the autism spectrum.
"Those don't sound like hilarious ingredients, but what I've discovered is that the more truthful your comedy can be, the more it connects with the audience," he said.
Long will bring his stand-up act to Dakota Stage Friday and Saturday nights as part of the theater's Late Night Alternative Series.
Dakota Stage Executive Director Amber Rae Barnhardt said the theater began offering comedy shows a few years ago "by accident." A friend of hers who is a comic was coming to town and wanted to stay with her. Sure, she told him, if you'll do a show.
Barnhardt said comedy shows, five of which were scheduled for this year, have become a fundraiser for Dakota Stage to help defray the cost of its more traditional performances.
"We've had really great success with it," she said.
She said the shows are aimed at the 20- and 30-something crowds and are adult-only affairs. While Long said he would not call his comedy "dirty," he wouldn't be surprised if others disagreed with that.
"My feeling on comedy is that if it doesn't have some edginess to it, people would stay home and watch a sitcom," Long said.
Barnhardt has a comedian friend in Chicago who grew up in Bismarck who helps connect her with comedians who will be a good fit for a Bismarck audience. Then, the only struggle is whether Bismarck fits into a performer's tour schedule. Often, they go out of their way and come to Bismarck out of "the goodness of their hearts,"she said.
Long seems like a good fit for a North Dakota crowd - it will be far from his first show, and he's got other shows scheduled in state for the same tour. Plus, his brother used to live in Grand Forks, so he has a good feel for the people here
He grew up in Iowa - or as he calls it, the "cornstalk ghetto" - and now lives in Indianapolis. Midwestern crowds are his favorite, he said, because he finds the crowds to be "reasonably smart," "looking for a good time," and "they're usually half in the bag by the time the show starts."
But another reason Long feels comfortable in front of Midwestern crowds is that he finds them more "genuine" than crowds on the coasts. And his show, all about his real life, is about as genuine as it gets.
"If it's joke after joke after joke that seem made up, I feel like people don't connect the same way," he said.
Long's act includes talk about his family, which includes his oldest daughter who is on the autism spectrum and was born when he was 37, as well as twins, a boy and girl, who were born when he was 41. He also does bits about his work; he's written sketches for NFL pregame shows on several stations, including for impersonator Frank Caliendo.
Long said it's not easy making real life funny. He tries to show the "humanity" of his daughter's developmental disability, which he also documents on his website, www.itsanautismthing.com.
And while he has a lot of material about his life, he also tries to play off the crowd.
"The thing I pride myself on is that no two shows of mine are ever the same,"he said.
Barnhardt said the acts that play Dakota Stage are good with crowds and tend to feed off the "mob mentality of laughter" that comes with a full house.
"My motto is ... if you don't come, we can't do it," she said.
(Reach Jenny Michael at 701-250-8225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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