Amateur Hour

by Tom Swift

When the idea arouse to go to Sisyphus Brewing for a taste of their weekly open-mic comedy hour, I imagined our small group being among a smattering who had ventured out on a Thursday night for overpriced microbrews and free guffaws. I pictured a makeshift stage, one that no doubt otherwise hosted try-hard no-name cover bands on Friday nights, a room with plenty of light and even greater opportunity for conversation, as weekend wannabe comics found their way to the stage and tried to find their footing as weeknight jokesters.

Instead, I walked into a room that fits about 100 people — and did; the place was packed — with similar lighting and layout of a traditional comedy club. In fact, the atmosphere in this side area at a joint with a menu seven items long (four of them made in-house, all of them beer) had more of an air of authenticity than did the professional comedy house I visited four weeks before, Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy at the Mall of America.[1] Watching people walk in during the half hour or so before show time the sense was clear that this is a place friends come to see each other.

Sisyphus, of course, is a figure from Greek mythology condemned to the eternal task of rolling a large stone to the top of a hill, from which it always rolls down again. A curious name for a bar. When I asked why, a barkeep told me the brewery was so named because it is the smallest in Minnesota.[2] In fact, on their website there is a perhaps more salient explanation in the form of a first person essay, unsigned, by what I presume is Sisyphus owner Sam Harriman. In this account, Harriman tells of past mental health challenges and what it meant for him to encounter “The Myth of Sisyphus,” the famous Albert Camus essay,[3] during a particular time in his life.

Why Sisyphus Brewing so supports comedy is a lot easier to answer: Harriman used to be a comic himself. I have no idea how good he was — the bartender told me Harriman never made a living at it (few people do) — but clearly he acquired a gift for creating a comedy-house mood. The audience was there for laughter, and good beer,[4] and it was just a fun place to be.

Each comedian was allowed 10 minutes on stage and the headliner — “the only person we’re paying tonight,” the emcee declared in his introduction — maybe got a few more.[5] One quibble: I would have appreciated a printed roster, however makeshift (signups aren’t done far in advance of show time) and, in the spirit of the evening, supporting fledgling comedians, providing one could have served to enhanced name recognition. As you would expect, some acts were more honed and heady than others; I wish I could recall a name or three.

Though I might have been the only one with this want; few in the crowd seemed to have been there for the first time — and it’s not hard to figure out why.


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[1] Curiously, the third comedian to take the stage at Sisyphus was a featured under-card comic the same night I went to RB-MoA. His first name is Brandon. Spending more than a few minutes searching for him on Google did not turn up his last name (my apologies). What I can say is Tight-10 was improved by the time constraints at Sisyphus.

[2] I pushed back: really? That distinction must have a lot of competition these days; you can’t swing a dead cat and not hit microbrewery in 2018-2019. The barkeep confessed: “well, we were when we opened.” That was in July 2014.

[3] Camus: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart and one must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

[4] I had the Irish chocolate stout (solid) and then tried the Peanut Butter Jackpot! Stout (could have done without). Note: contrary to my preconception, the prices were very reasonable.

[5] And deserved them. He was clearly the most polished performer of the night.