Adrian Washington’s start in stand-up comedy was less than ordinary.
While some aspiring comics are scratching and clawing their way for a few brief minutes of stage time at a local open mic, Washington managed to talk his way onto the stage.
“I remember one night I was at First Street Station in St. Cloud, not even in the comedy club part but sitting over on the other side of the bar,” Washington recalls. “I could hear the comic but I didn’t hear anyone laughing. I thought, ‘That dude is getting paid for that and nobody is laughing. I could at least do what he’s doing, if not better.”
Washington had always considered himself funny and had a knack for making people laugh. Though he says he was always open to opportunity, he never took the idea of doing stand-up too seriously, especially growing up in St. Cloud.
“It was an easy way to meet girls,” he laughs.
Washington knew the bar manager on duty that night and inquired about getting involved with their stand-up scene.
“He told me that they were going to lose their emcee in a couple of weeks because he was going back to school, so they invited me to come back and take over after he was gone,” Washington says. “A couple of weeks later, I go in and they tell me, ‘I’m sorry but the emcee isn’t going back after all, but we can give you a guest spot.’ I had no clue what a guest spot was at that point, but I figured it was either shit or get off the pot so I got up and did it.”
Washington was hooked. He went back to the bar and got on stage every month for the next six months, bringing in new fans and beginning to develop a following locally.
“I started to realize that I was bringing in all of these people and I wasn’t getting a dime,” Washington recalls. “So I decided to start putting together my own shows instead.”
As any comedy club owner or show producer can attest, putting on an event is no easy feat. And being both a producer and a performer is even harder. But to his advantage, Washington was blissfully unaware of the challenges facing him and powered forward in creating a show of his own.
“I ran around town scouting American Legions and hotel ballrooms that could fit like 100 or 200 people. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but I knew there was potential. The biggest thing for me was that I knew if I wanted to perform and make any money, I was going to have to do it myself.”
After a few successful shows in St. Cloud, Washington decided to check out the Minneapolis comedy scene, starting with the most notable club in town—Acme Comedy Company.
“I started coming down to the Cities and I got on stage at Acme’s open mic. I was well-received by the crowd, but it was only three minutes,” Washington says. “I pulled a manager to the side that night and explained that I was driving all the way from St. Cloud, and if I could only make it down once a month, could he make sure I get up on stage? He told me, no, because there were so many people trying to get stage time. But I didn’t let myself get bitter; I just got better.”
Not only did he get better as a performer, but Washington took a town that wasn’t exactly on the radar for comics and made it into a place where people could see amazing comedy from both local and national acts.
“I’d make friends in the Cities with other comics and I’d bring them up here to perform. I also started putting on big shows at the Convention Center,” he says. “I brought in Donnell Rawlings, Steve-O, Gary Owen. It was just a lot of fun and it was allowing me to also perform with these people [while] building my own fanbase.”
Washington had managed to do something very few other comics in Minnesota had been able to achieve. Instead of working at making himself a part of the Minneapolis comedy scene, he had made the Minneapolis scene a part of his.
Now 15 years into his comedy career, he still produces a monthly show in St. Cloud at the Red Carpet Nightclub, under his own 1 Mic Entertainment imprint, and continues to headline the Steel Toe Comedy shows across central Minnesota. He’s also managed to find his footing in the Twin Cities, as a regular at House of Comedy inside of Mall of America and a regular show at The Pourhouse in Minneapolis. Outside of stand-up, he started a podcast three months ago called “Comedy & Kinfolk.”
In addition to his local success, Washington has managed to find his way to performing in other parts of the country, creating new relationships and finding new fans everywhere he goes.
“I was just out in Las Vegas for some shows; I go out to LA, and I love it. I love every second that I’m on stage,” he says. “But I also know that these people don’t know me, so it’s my job to make them remember me. I want to make sure that the next time they hear about me, even if it’s three or four months later, they’re thinking, ‘That’s that dude from Minnesota! We got to check him out!’”
With a natural ability to connect with any audience, and a work ethic that dwarfs the majority of his comedy peers, it’s not too far fetched to assume that Washington would want to leave his native St. Cloud in search of bigger stages or greater opportunities. But to Washington, there’s no place like home.
“Sometimes I’ll think about what would happen if I was in a bigger scene,” he says. “And I think to myself, ‘The sky would be the limit.’ But then I take a step back and realize that I love it here [in St. Cloud] because this is where I built my comedy from the ground up. When someone tells my story, I want them to talk about how I did it right here at home, and didn’t have to depend on anyone else.”
Adrian Washington will be opening up for comedian Chris Distefano at Bloomington’s House of Comedy from November 21–23; show times and ticket information can be found here.