May 12, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Just as in other places similar in size to Omaha, the city’s comedy scene has been on the rise, and the work of the comedians from different groups in Omaha are to thank.
“We’re still young as far as established scenes go,” Mike Perry of Omaha’s comedy collective OK Party says. “We’re never going to have a New York or L.A. because we just don’t have the entertainment side of it, but as far as the smaller cities, like Denver and Austin, I think we are ahead of the curve. We can follow their example of what they’ve done, and we’ve let them make mistakes so we don’t go through the same mistakes.”

When Perry began doing comedy four years ago, he had to drive to Lincoln to get a chance to do open mic because the Omaha scene was small. He believes now that Omaha has these opportunities, comedy is becoming popular here.

“We’ve gone from having zero places to perform in the city to pretty much every night of the week you can find a comedy show or an open mic going on somewhere,” Perry says.  “And that’s just in three years.”

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The scene here includes multiple comedy groups and collectives, including OK Party, The Weisenheimers, 88 Improv, 1980star, Backline Improv, and more. Even though the scene is growing, it still isn’t massive, which, for Backline Improv performer and part owner Elissa Ami, is alright.

“It’s definitely smaller, but in my experience that has been a good thing,” Ami says. “I never took any improv or acting in grade school, high school, or college … now I know that I want to get into it.”

Originally from Chicago, and veteran of the well-known The Second City improv class, Ami has been able to discover what exactly it is about improv she likes, and has gotten the opportunity to do it more.

“I like how small the comedy scene is here. I like that it’s growing, but I also like that there’s not so many people that you can’t start from the bottom and feel like you can’t get somewhere,” Ami says.

Now, as a member and co-owner of Backline Improv, where recent OEA Best Comedian Award winner Heather Jones also performs, Ami has more chances for performing.

“At Second City I got to perform on stage once every seven weeks, and that was only three times I got to do that. Here you get a lot more experience quicker because there are less people in the scene,” Ami says. “It’s good and bad. It’s great that it’s small for people who are just starting and trying to get into things, but of course we want it to grow.”

Beyond open mic nights, many collectives in town offer improv classes and other performing opportunities for aspiring comedians to get on stage.

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“Our goal was to have showcases with people that were already performing at these open mics [and] create a chance for new people to perform,” Perry says. “One that we do is a comedy battle where we give the performers topics and ask them to write two minutes of material, They go head to head until we have a champion.

Ryan de la Garza, a member of OK Party with Perry, says the Omaha scene is growing because of the way it is run.

“I definitely feel like our scene is thriving,” de la Garza says. “We bring a lot of comics from other cities and what we hear is that we are where Denver was a year ago. Their scene is blowing up right now … we are right on the cusp.”

Outside of weekly and monthly comedy events around the city, there are bigger events for people interested in comedy to enjoy. OK Party’s Crom Comedy festival, which will take place May 23-25, is one event. This festival will play host to over 60 comedians from Denver, Atlanta, New York, and more. In addition, the second annual Omaha Improv Festival will take place May 28 through June 1.

“Super exciting. We have coaches from all across the nation coming in to teach us what they know about improv … it really gives you a lot of insight into how other people do improv,” Ami says.

As far as continued growth, Perry acknowledges that it is a group effort by the local comedy collectives.

“Having other comedians or other shows in Omaha is really important,” Perry says. “We include people from those groups on our shows, they put us on theirs … it can’t be a solo venture. If there’s actually going to be a scene, there can’t just be three guys and they’re the ones running it; it needs to have that whole community around it.”

The now well-established comedy scene is one local talent is proud of.

“I’ve never seen anything like what we have created,” de la Garza says. “Some cities  might have one showcase a month, but we’re doing upwards of four or five or six, so it’s pretty great.”

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