Tag Archives: Comedy

2018 May/June Performances

May 3, 2018 by

Comedy Shows
Recurring Thursdays-Saturdays at The Backline Comedy Theatre, 1618 Harney St. Primarily long-form improv, the Backline also hosts standup shows, short-form improv shows, and occasionally sketch shows. INTERROGATED, the Backline’s premiere show, recurs every Friday. Times vary. Tickets: $3-5 Thursday, $5-10 Friday and Saturday. 402-720-7670.

Three to Beam Up
Through May 13 at Shelterbelt Theatre, 3225 California St. Directed by Roxanne Wach, this performance tells the story of a man who believes he is the captain of a Federation starship trekking around space. His children have to fight to keep their father’s feet firmly planted on Earth. 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. 6 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets: $12 on Thursdays. $20 general, $15 students, seniors, and TAG members on weekends. 402-341-2757.

The Mountaintop
May 4-27 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. This Olivier Award-winning play of historical fiction, The Mountaintop imagines the final night in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Times vary. Tickets: $24. 402-553-0800.

The Best of Chicago with Brass Transit
May 5 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. The Omaha Symphony presents the ultimate Chicago experience with the eight piece band of Brass Transit, who performs flawless renditions of hits like “Saturday in the Park,” “25 or 6 to 54,” and more. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $19-$89. 402-345-0606.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
May 5-6 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. Shakespeare’s best-loved romantic comedy comes to life in the form of ballet. 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets: $27-$92. 402-345-0606

An Evening with David Sedaris
May 7 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Master of satire and observant writer of the human condition David Sedaris is one of America’s preeminent humor writers. Hear him live and be ready to laugh. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $50-$55. 402-345-0606.

Jessica Lang Dance
May 10 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. Choreographer Lang has a knack for blending modern design elements and classical ballet to create emotionally moving performances. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $20-$45. 402-345-0606.

Omaha Symphony: The Planets
May 11-12 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. From Mars, the Bringer of War, to Neptune, the Mystic, Holst depicts the planets of myth and mystery, leaving the audience breathless. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $19-$72. 402-345-0606.

Big Canvas (Short-Form)
May 12 and 25, June 9 and 29 at various locations. Looking for the kind of improv you see on Whose Line Is It Anyway? Big Canvas performs every month’s second Saturday (The Backline at 1618 Harney St.) and last Friday (Sozo Coffeehouse at 1314 Jones St.). Times vary. Tickets: $5.

Mick Foley
May 15 at Omaha Funny Bone, 17305 Davenport St., Suite No. 201. Listen to this professional wrestler’s tale of the most famous match of his career. With humor and ease, Foley talks about the “Hell in a Cell” match, which made him a wrestling legend. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $25-$75. 402-493-8036.

May 16-June 3 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. This Broadway sensation tells the untold story of what happened in Oz long before Dorothy, and from a different perspective. Times vary. Tickets: $54-$164. 402-345-0606.

Arturo Sandoval: The Dear Diz Tour
May 17 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. This renowned trumpeter and 10-time Grammy Award-winning artist brings his tour celebrating the legendary jazz master Dizzy Gillespie to Omaha. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $20-$45. 402-345-0606.

The City in the City in the City
May 17-June 17 at BlueBarn Theatre, 1106 S. 10th St. After the death of her mother, Tess and a mysterious woman set off to the ancient city-state of Mastavia and together encounter strange places and people. 7:30 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday), 6 p.m. (Sunday 6/3 & 6/17), 2 p.m. (Sunday 6/10). Tickets: $30 adults, $25 students, seniors, TAG members. 402-345-1576.

Tiffany Haddish: #SheReady
May 19 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Dubbed the “funniest woman alive” by Vanity Fair, Haddish is quickly establishing herself as one of the most sought-after comedic talents in TV and film. She recently starred in the hit comedy Girls Trip. 7 p.m. Tickets: $35-$55. 402-345-0606.

Life on the Vertical with climber Mark Synnott
May 22 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Rock-climber Synnott has made legendary first ascents of some of the world’s tallest, most forbidding walls. Although he has many passions, one of Synnott’s hobbies includes sharing his life as a professional climber and explorer. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $11-$26. 402-345-0606.

Omaha Improv Festival
May 24-27 at various locations. Catch local and national comedians with improv performances and workshops at The Backline, KANEKO, The Dubliner, and Bourbon Saloon. National headliners include Kevin McDonald of The Kids in the Hall and Seth Morris of Upright Citizens Brigade. Times and ticket prices vary. 402-720-7670.

Lazarus Syndrome
May 31-June 24 at SNAP! Productions, 3225 California St. Elliott has spent most of his adult life as a person living with AIDS. He struggles with the emotional toll of Lazarus Syndrome. A quiet evening is suddenly interrupted with the unexpected arrival of his brother and father, who arrive carrying homemade matzo ball soup and family baggage. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 6 p.m. for Sundays. (June 24 show is at 2 p.m.) Tickets: $20 general, $15 for students, seniors, and military (Friday-Sunday). All Thursday shows are $12. 402-341-2757.

Omaha Symphony: The Beach Boys
June 1-3 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. The one and only Beach Boys return with favorite hits like “Good Vibrations,” “California Girls,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and more. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $29-$109. 402-345-0606.

Disney’s Newsies
June 1-3, 8-10, 15-17 at The Rose Theater, 2001 Farman St. This Disney musical tells the story of Jack Kelly, a rebellious newsboy who dreams of life as an artist away from the big city. 2 p.m. or 7 p.m. depending on the date. Tickets: $22-$27. 402-345-4849.

Tom Segura
June 7-9 at Omaha Funny Bone, 17305 Davenport St., Suite No. 201. This actor/comedian/writer has become one of Hollywood’s most in demand and highly regarded talents. Segura is best known for his three Netflix specials, Completely Normal (2014), Mostly Stories (2016), and Disgraceful (2018). Times vary. Tickets: $35. 402-493-8036

Omaha Symphony: Beethoven’s Ninth
June 8-9 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. At The Ninth’s premiere, a critic said Beethoven’s “inexhaustible genius revealed a new world to us.” It continues to amaze with its celebration of humanity in the “Ode to Joy.” 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $19-$72. 402-345-0606.

Singin’ in the Rain
June 1-24 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. The classic movie musical comes to life on stage with charm, humor, and stormy weather that made it so beloved in the first place. Times. Ticket sales start April 10. 402-553-0800.

Shakespeare On the Green: Much Ado About Nothing
June 21-24 at Elmwood Park, 411-1/2 N. Elmwood Road. A story of quick tongues and a false death kick off this Shakespearean tragedy of misunderstandings, love, and deception. Don’t forget to bring a picnic basket and seats. Times vary. Admission: free.

Sonya Clark’s Translations
June 23 at The Union for Contemporary Art, 2423 N. 24th St. Translations consists of the artist reading poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Audre Lorde, and Nikki Giovanni on the subject of hair, written in Twist—a font resembling hair clippings. The piece is performed in a beaded barber’s chair, and represents the sharing of cultural knowledge through hairdressing traditions, and the complex and fraught relations between black women’s personal and political identities. 1-4 p.m. Admission: free. 402-933-3161

Choir Boy
June 26 at The Union for Contemporary Art, 2423 N. 24th St. Known most recently for his Oscar Award winning movie Moonlight, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy explores the intersections of black masculinity, sexuality, and respectability politics as it holds a mirror to us all, calling us to do better. 7 p.m. Admission: $20 advanced tickets/free day of show. 402-933-3161

Shakespeare On the Green: King John
June 28-30 at Elmwood Park, 411-1/2 N. Elmwood Road. Pack a picnic and bring lawn chars or blankets as John must fight his family, the French, and the Pope in order to keep his throne. Times vary. Admission: free.

Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

Weiner, Weiner, Hot Dog Dinner

January 30, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A lot goes into the making of a hot dog. Even more goes into the making of a hot dog person. Tracie Mauk would know. She is a 35-year-old thespian and comedian (originally from Norfolk). She’s heavily involved in the Omaha comedy and acting community today, most famously as “Your Friend Bella, an Eastern European hot dog person.”

Being so involved didn’t come naturally for this reserved woman, who admits to taking a little while to warm up. “Acting was something I never explored in high school, either out of shyness or paralyzing fear,” Mauk says. “Once I gave it a shot, the bug bit hard.”

Mauk moved to Omaha in 2008 to pursue theatrical opportunities. She soon became involved with the Florentine Players and has been with them since 2009 as an actor, writer, and director. She has served as the troupe’s secretary, chair of production, and currently holds the title of vice president.

The theatrical workload keeps her busy, Mauk confides during a break in dress rehearsals for Eric Green’s Trapped at the Florence Community Theater. Evidently, not busy enough. While her acting career began to flourish in Florence, she succumbed to the siren song of comedy.

“I started getting into improv with the Florentine Players, then became friends with Monty Eich through Capes Comics, and started regularly attending Weisenheimers shows,” Mauk says.

The Weisenheimers are an Omaha-based improv group, and she subbed at their shows for a time before meeting Andrew McGreevy. “I joined his improv troupe SkullProv and began writing comedy sketches for Skullduggery Productions,” she says.

While performing with SkullProv she began tinkering with the character who would eventually become “Your Friend Bella.”

“Bella started as a Halloween bit where I’d put on a hot dog costume, talk in a goofy accent, and pro- vide spurious trick-or-treat safety tips. I took this bit around town to as many open mics as I could around Halloween,” Mauk says.

Eventually, Bella evolved into a character that returned regularly, hot dog costume and all. “It just never felt like Bella without it. Even though I ran out of excuses to wear it. I’ve just let it become part of the bizarre experience of having someone with a vaguely Eastern European accent give heartfelt advice with the aid of cute visuals,” she says.

Mauk has been Bella and many other non-wiener characters as part of Backline, Big Canvas (a nonprofit improv group and school that she helped form in 2014), and Omaha Live, airing at midnight after Saturday Night Live.

One bit about Mauk that audiences might now know is that she was born with cloacal exstrophy (also known as OEIS Syndrome). As a result, she has lived her entire life with an ileostomy (a surgical opening in her abdomen), though she chooses not to lead with that factoid on stage.

“I don’t bring it up often because it’s not one of your sexier birth defects or conditions, and there’s really never a natural conversational way to tell all your friends that you have to go to the bathroom different than they do,” says Mauk with whimsy about the disability she doesn’t allow to define her. “I mean, do you know how your friends process and eliminate waste from their bodies? I bet you don’t. Typical.”

A goal for Mauk has been putting out the kind of change she wants to see in the world: compassion, understanding, tolerance, and kindness. Empathy for Mauk comes from being other people (even hot dog people).

“With improv and theater, it’s just a great way to pretend to be somebody who isn’t me for a while. It’s a wonderful escape to put on someone else’s life, if just for a little bit. I hope to put a friendlier face to comedy and to show that you don’t have to be crude or mean to get laughs,” she says. “Comedy gave me a through-line to unlock so many parts of myself that have only made for a better, more confident, and open human being. It’s still terrifying to go on stage sometimes, but it gives you a lot of little battles to overcome and walk away stronger.”

Visit florencetheater.org for more information about the Florentine Players. Visit bigcanvasne.com for more information about Big Canvas.

This article was printed in the January/February edition of Omaha Magazine.

The Comedian in the Jetpack

October 25, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In June of 2000, Richard Reese took his first tentative—but eager—steps into the brutal, addictive world of standup comedy on the stage of what was then Jokers Comedy Club in the Old Market. After just a few minutes of performing a tight set of long-practiced material, he got his first positive public response. After that, he was hooked.

“My best friends and family filled the audience to watch me do a whopping three minutes,” Reese says of that first small step into a larger world. “It went really well, which I guess is the reason I’m still doing it 17 years later.”

Born in Chicago, Reese moved to Nebraska in 1994 to live “the good life.”

“My mother and I moved from Chicago in 1994 to get away from the rising crime rate in our neighborhood,” Reese says. “I grew up in Lincoln. I’ve lived in Omaha for about 10 years.”

Inspiration came from Reese’s comedy heroes Steve Martin and Buster Keaton. They helped set him on the road to comedy, but it was the Prince of Pop who inspired him to be an entertainer in the broader sense.

“From an entertainment standpoint, I love the innovation that Michael Jackson was able to create during his peak,” Reese says. “When I got to Nebraska, I started typing jokes and stories onto an old IBM computer with a green monochrome monitor. Little did I know, I would perform stand-up comedy for the first time on stage six years later.”

“Intellectually silly” and “a bit unpredictable” is how Reese describes his style.

“I definitely like to experiment when given the chance. I have some wordplay and one-liners in my act, and I like to touch on current events every so often.”

Other than the usual career hurdles, Reese says he has taken a pretty smooth but circuitous ride along the “scenic route.”

“There have been the usual roadblocks you face when pursuing a career in entertainment,” Reese says. “I didn’t get my first paid work at a comedy club for three years…two years after that when I received my first standing ovation. Three years after that I got my first road gig at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago…another four years after that I recorded my first comedy special independently…another two years I recorded another one. Another year when I recorded an album. [This year] I’ve had more paid gigs than any other year of stand-up. Like I said, the scenic route.”

Comics have their reasons for performing, but one that comes up frequently is the healing power of public self-expression. 

For me it’s definitely therapeutic to speak my mind in front of people,” Reese says. It’s a thrill to be able to think of something in your head and have an audience respond to it accordingly. Sometimes that response is a laugh, sometimes it’s applause, and, unfortunately, sometimes it’s silence. That’s just a part of the rush that comes with public speaking.”

A regular at the Omaha Funny Bone, Reese also performs at comedy clubs and theaters around the country. One day Reese hopes to find himself writing for film and television.

“That would be awesome,” he says. “But mostly I would like to be the first comedian to perform for the Super Bowl halftime show.”

Visit richardreeselive.com for more information.

Amazing Arthur

October 16, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Amazing Arthur once took the stage seconds after attendees learned that a co-worker was being taken off life support (“How do you pick up from that?”). He has managed countless hecklers and worked around endless interruptions like ringing cell phones and wailing babies.

Offstage, there’s “helpful” criticism from people who don’t get jokes, such as his tagline touting “As viewed on YouTube 9 times!” or the fake anti-theft tag on his jacket. He’s had to listen to people appraising his looks while he’s standing right there. And he has to constantly deal with the disappointment of event organizers when turning down perpetual requests for free performances.
With his education degree, he could spend his days in a relatively calm and climate-controlled classroom, but Amazing Arthur just can’t stop doing what he really loves: entertaining. And being amazing, of course.

“About a decade ago, I came up with ‘Professional Showoff.’ It’s all-encompassing and you know right away this guy does something, he’s a showoff of some kind,” he says. “And it’s easier than saying, “Comedian, mentalist, magician, juggler, it-just-goes-on-forever.’”

Using the stage name Arthur Fratelli (he’s Arthur Silknitter, Jr., in his civilian life), the Papillion family man makes a living doing hundreds of shows a year all
over the country, managing his own marketing and serving as his own agent.

“I’ve been doing this since I was in high school. I used to go the Old Market and street-perform and it slowly gained steam with the clientele as people would ask for my card. I work mainlyword-of-mouth now,” Fratelli says.

Then he quips: “I think 99 percent of it is good looks. I’m extremely attractive.”

He may not take himself too seriously, but Fratelli is actually a serious businessman, offering his
card to everyone he meets and constantly thinking of the next booking.

“Seriously, I’d say it’s just the tenacity of working. The more you work, the more you work. I just do a good show and the calls come in,” he says. “It takes time and consistency. I try to give you a good value for your money, try to offer a variety of things, not just magic.”

Fratelli’s versatility means he can customize his performances for the client’s audience. and his business has expanded to handle bookings for other entertainers, like his real-life sister, balloon artist Poppin’ Penelope.

The father of “three beautiful children, four total” (he admits that his wife doesn’t really love that line) is also already grooming the next generation. Fourteen-year-old son Joey has taken the Fratelli stage name with his own juggling act (his first paid gig was at 13), where the years of watching his dad perform have paid off in a stage presence beyond his years…never mind the fact that mom and dad still have to drive him to and from shows.

Fratelli says the neighbors may get a little nervous when they spy flames in the backyard, but he assures them that Joey isn’t just playing with fire. Well, he is sort of playing with fire, but it’s all part of taking his juggling to the next level, and the proper safety precautions are in place.
With Joey stepping into the flaming hot spotlight, 11-year-old juggler-in-training Lauren has taken her brother’s place as Dad’s occasional audience plant, with Fratelli letting his audience in on the joke sooner or later with the line, “I’ll bet her father is really good-looking.”

As for the other two, Fratelli reports that his four-year-old daughter is still completely unimpressed with the family business at this point, but “my nine-year-old is very eager.” So if the youngest doesn’t warm up to the notion of professional showoffery, it would still work either way: the family could eventually become the Five Fratellis or top out as the Four Fratellis, both in the spirit of Amazing Arthur’s confessed love of alliteration.

No two shows are ever the same, Fratelli says. He makes a point of staying up on pop culture so his stage patter is topical, and he relishes improvisation and audience participation.

“A lot of entertainers who are onstage live perform as if it’s a movie. They press ‘play’ and it’s the same scenes at the same time. If something happens—a phone goes off, somebody leaves, somebody walks in—I have to incorporate it; that’s why I can’t do a rehearsed show,” he says. “I have to be able to work with the audience.”

Jack & Jack

August 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It has been said that all glory is fleeting. Nobody knows that better than recent Westside High School grads Jack Gilinsky and Jack Johnson. They’ve found online fame in a big way—all in the most fleeting of six-second increments.

At press time, the entertainment enterprise known simply as Jack & Jack had a stunning 3.7 million followers on Vine, the mobile app now owned by Twitter that enables its users to create short—with double emphasis on the word ‘short’—video clips.

The Jacks, who have been best friends since kindergarten and whose homes are only blocks apart, offer the simplest of explanations when asked to describe the genesis of their creative endeavors.

“Boredom,” says Gilinsky, the son of Katherine and David Gilinsky.

“Summer,” adds Johnson, whose parents are Jennifer and John Johnson.

Hey, c’mon, guys! Just because your Vines are limited to only six seconds doesn’t mean that your interview answers need to follow suit!

Their comedic videos are sometimes slice-of-life observations on teen life, but most involve a certain slapstick vibe that depict the young men in all manner of exuberantly unfettered high jinx.

The Jacks don’t discuss the money-making aspect of their work, but say they have enjoyed some of the perks of fame, including being flown around the country by a sponsor for meet-and-greet sessions with other top Viners. It is there that they are welcomed by screaming, mostly young teen girls in scenes of adoration reminiscent of those when the Beatles first landed in America.

They had once intended on studying together at the same college, but their success now has the Jacks planning to move to L.A. next year to make their mark in the music and entertainment industry. Gilinsky sings and Johnson raps. One of their songs, “Paradise,” recently spent time as the No. 1 seller on the iTunes Hip Hop charts.

“Our first objective is to become professional musicians,” says Johnson. “College is still really important but, if anything, this really helps build a great resume regardless of what we do.”

“And we’ll still continue with comedy as well,” adds Gilinsky. “Not everybody gets a chance like this, and we want to see how far we can take this before going to school.”

Since the mid-1990s, the rise of instant communication on the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on both culture and commerce. And you can say what you will about fears that the web has served to shrink a nation’s attention span.

In the meantime, all bow to the six-second entertainment juggernaut that is Jack & Jack.


Underground Comedy Scene

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.”


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.


“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.”