Omaha becomes more welcoming to comedy


Stefan Snijders
Dan Vaughn stood in the beer garden of the Sydney Bar in Benson wearing a t-shirt and shorts,  Blue Ribbon in hand, casting off the adrenaline that comes with performing two live shows back to back.

“When I first started doing stand-up I thought, ‘I’ve been on stage a million times, so this should be a cake-walk,’ and then I sort of froze,” he said with a laugh.

Vaughn had performed with local ska band The Bishops, then taken a quick drive downtown to the Backline for a comic set. He returned, tired but triumphant, to chat about the comedy scene in Omaha and regionally.

Vaughn is one of several former and current students from University of Nebraska at Omaha who have forayed into stand-up comedy. Vaughn graduated in 2012 with a degree in marketing, and holds a daytime job. His involvement in the local comedy scene this past two years stems from a love of the town and a love of talking with and to people. Vaughn said there exists a great camaraderie within the local scene. It’s a competitive field, but one that is friendly in nature.

Balancing is an issue for most comics.

“It’s about time,” Vaughn said. “The hardest part for me about having a band, a comedy career, and a day job is finding time to do the everyday stuff. I don’t really like to do that stuff anyway, so it makes it sometimes even harder.”

Mollie Bartlett, a creative writing junior at UNO, who also invests time in stand-up comedy, concurs. “It’s about priorities. Homework and school is important, but a lot of times I have to choose between do-ing a show and writing a paper for a class…my paper is going to suffer,” she said with a laugh. “But comedy
is what I intend to do with my life, so it’s important.”

Bartlett, whose focus is television and comedy writing, said that after repeated encouragement from a friend, doing stand-up became a natural extension of what she intends to do for a career. Many successful comedy writers –Jerry Seinfeld, Conan O’Brien and Tina Fey, for example – spent time do-ing stand-up at some point in their careers. She and Dan Vaughn both agree that there aren’t enough fe-males involved in the local scene. Bartlett offers a unique perspective, being a female in a male-dominated field of entertainment.

“I think a lot of people judge you right away. I’ve had people come to me at an open mic, saying, ‘Oh, are you going on tonight? Girls aren’t funny,’” she said. “Or you get people who will pay attention to you because you’re a woman, because of the way you look. I’m not up there for Fashion Week; I’m up there to do comedy. It’s annoying that people are still so closed-minded about that sort of thing.”

Eastern Nebraska’s comedy scene has flourished in recent years, not just in Omaha. Dedicated clubs, such as the Funny Bone Club and the Backline in Omaha, provide excellent spaces to perform. Ben-son’s Barley Street Tavern has an open mic on Wednesdays. Duffy’s in Lincoln has hosted to a weekly comedy “workshop” for 25 years.

Don Bowen, an instructor in the school of communications at UNO, is a semi-regular attendee at Duffy’s. He’s done local comedy for seven years, and has seen the local comedy scene blossom.

“There are some really good local comics, enough that some are touring regionally. They’re going to Denver, to St. Louis and to Chicago, doing gigs there, sometimes as the feature or even headline act,”
Bowen said.

That sort of exposure helps the development of the local scene.
That said, Bowen believes that the scene could benefit from “more welcoming venues,” as he put it. Bowen said there aren’t many willing to take a risk by hosting a comedy event.

“They’re in a business to sell alcohol and food, you know,” Bowen said. “It’s easier for a venue to decide to switch to a music gig if a comedy gig isn’t bringing in people right away, because they know they can make some money off that. You can’t fault the bars, because they are in business to make money.”

Venue limitations aside, the consensus with these three is they’ll keep on doing their level best to make us laugh.

“It’s a labor of love, and it’s something that you pretty much can’t escape in this town,” Vaughn said