By now you may have heard that the Twin Cities comedy scene is a pretty big deal these days. But north of Minneapolis, Dubh Linn Brew Pub has been the epicenter of comedy in Duluth for nearly 10 years.
Brothers Mike and Seth Maxim were born and raised in Duluth and opened the pub over a decade ago. At the time, they had no thoughts of including comedy as part of their menu.
“We started doing comedy at the pub about two years after we opened,” says Seth. “It’s something we just sort of fell into. A few places in town have done comedy off and on before us, and sometimes it would be great and other times it would be so-so. One of the last places in town that did comedy closed, so we started talking about it. We probably talked about it for a year before finally going for it. For us, the biggest question was what we would do for quality control.”
The answer found them when Acme Comedy Company gave up their booking agency Funny Business and began self-booking talent at their club, opening the door for Dubh Linn’s to secure Funny Business’ services.*
“They arrange our pro shows every weekend, so we can make sure people are getting the best show possible,” Seth says.
The 90-seat club has hosted hundreds of sold-out shows featuring local and national headliners like Doug Stanhope, Steve Gillespie, and John Bush, but has also helped provide a stage to newcomers looking to cut their teeth.
“The open mic started about eight years ago,” Seth says. “It was pretty organic. The comics asked if they could do it, so we let them arrange it for Friday nights.”
One of these comics is Danielle Thralow. A Duluth local, Thralow has been performing comedy for about five years and is one of the most active members of the small-but-mighty local comedy scene. She has seen the growth of comedy, thanks in large part to Dubh Linn’s, but says that the opportunities for stage time have expanded beyond the single stage.
“Five years ago there was only one open mic,” she recalls. “Now, a newer comic, showing up consistently for mics in Duluth, can get 10 or more minutes three nights a week.”
Whether it’s the Friday open mic at Dubh Linn’s, the Monday show at Average Joe’s, a Wednesday comedy night at VIP Pizza, or the showcase at Fitger’s on Thursdays, Thralow says that the quantity of stage time is there and the quality is growing.
“Apparently, like our imbibing, we strive for quantity.”
Thralow is a regular opener for the pro nights at Dubh Linn’s and says that the pub’s commitment to quality and diversity has been a huge part of Duluth’s comedy growth.
“Other than Acme, I think Dubh Linn’s has the oldest and best reputation north of Chicago [for comedy],” she says. “Let’s also be honest and give kudos to Dubbs for hiring and keeping a trans comic in northern Minnesota. I know there were some complaints, but they stuck with me.”
According to Seth, there is a core group of about 10 to 15 comics based in Duluth, with another 10 to 15 that travel to town to perform on a semi-regular basis. As for the audience, he says that it has grown with the talent.
“We’re a destination,” he says. “People come to Duluth for entertainment, so we attract a lot of people from out of town. But we also get the local. I’d say about 70 percent of people who come see a show return for another sometime within the next three months. They realize it’s way better than just sitting on the couch.”
The past six months, Seth adds, have been arguably the best six months in the pub’s history from a comedy standpoint, whether it’s the size of the crowds or the quality of the talent. Still, they aren’t going to get too far ahead of themselves.
“We’ve talked about if we should expand or add other days, but it’s been so solid that we don’t feel like we want to change anything,” he explains. “The comedians love the room and it always sells out, so we don’t want to change the energy and mess anything up. Our goal is just to keep on doing what we’ve been doing for quite a while.”
*Updated for clarity.