Large cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are the proving grounds for many young comics. But for Kevin Bozeman, Madison was his launchpad.
“There wasn’t much of a scene. [The Comedy Club on State] just had the open mic on Wednesday, and there weren’t more than maybe 10 comics that came through,” says Bozeman. “That was the late ’90s, when I started hitting up the mics.”
He was so green that he left immediately after performing his first set. “I thought I couldn’t stick around because I hadn’t paid to get in. That’s how little I knew about standup.”
Bozeman, a former basketball player at UW-Whitewater, is one of the success stories to emerge from Madison’s burgeoning comedy scene. He was a semifinalist on Last Comic Standing in 2010, has appeared on HBO and Comedy Central and hosts the sports-centric Ball Hog podcast. Currently living in Chicago, he even teaches a class on the art of standup comedy to students at DePaul University.
Bozeman returns to his roots June 9-11 to record a live album at the Comedy Club — the same venue where he used to tell what he describes as “ridiculous poop jokes.”
“I always wanted to do something here, but it had to fit logistically,” says Bozeman. “I had to be ready, and I knew my date was coming up here in Madison. And they have a great room. It’s one of the best clubs in the country.”
Bozeman is not the first to record there. In recent years acclaimed comics Wyatt Cenac, Rory Scovel and former Saturday Night Live cast member Brooks Wheelan have recorded live albums in its performance space.
“We set the room up so that recording is very easy,” says Comedy Club manager Joe Buettner. “When we redid the sound and the recording stuff in the showroom, we installed a bunch of extra mics in the crowd and bought higher-end recording equipment, so that comics can decide last minute if they want to record an album. Not a lot of clubs do that.”
But, says Buettner, it’s not just the improved tech that’s bringing performers to their stage. “Madison is great for having smart crowds that understand jokes that take brainpower to get,” he says. “The crowds come because they know they’re going to see good comedy. A lot of people will come not knowing who the comic is. It’s really the only type of entertainment that people will buy tickets for not knowing who they’re seeing.”
Bozeman’s crowds will need a lot of that brainpower for his material, which features his wry, cynically optimistic take on subjects like sex, politics and parenting. “There’s some darkness in it,” he warns.
“This will probably be the last album where I’m being more objective, talking about pop culture and society,” says Bozeman. “My next body of work will probably be more of what I experience in my life as opposed to my point of view. I’m excited to get it out.”