Madison's comedy lovers were spoiled rotten in 2012. Topnotch comedians from around the country performed here on a regular basis, making it difficult for even the most dedicated fan to keep track of all the shows. Here's a recap of my favorite performances.
John Hodgman at Majestic Theatre
This March 2012 performance by John Hodgman, a writer of fake almanacs, was the nerdy affair I had hoped for. In a weird variety show, he prepared the audience for the Mayan apocalypse, enlisted participants for a script reading of his new reality series, Kidnapped! by Robert Louis Stevenson, and invited everyone to join in a touching sing-along.
Hodgman also had great openers: Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, the guys behind robots Tom Servo and Crow from the cult hit Mystery Science Theater 3000. They riffed on cheesy short films, including one about a woman who had been given superpowers by aliens to prevent household accidents.
Nick Offerman at Wisconsin Union Theater
UW-Madison rarely books comedy. So it was a treat when Wisconsin Union Theater brought in Nick Offerman, a.k.a. Ron Swanson, the gruff, meat-loving libertarian on NBC's Parks and Recreation. His live show, "American Ham," was part comedy and part motivational speech, with tips about woodworking sprinkled in. Perfect for a college crowd, it was the commencement address many of us wish we'd had.
Those who didn't feel like visiting campus last April are in luck: Nick Offerman will present this show at the Barrymore Theatre Feb. 9.
Kyle Kinane at the Comedy Club on State
No one tells a story like Kyle Kinane, who weaves devastatingly funny, multi-threaded narratives out of mundane experiences. The highlight of his September set was about a flight where a fellow passenger ate homemade pancakes out of a Foot Locker bag. In case you missed the show, the pancake saga is on Kinane's album, Whiskey Icarus.
Bill Cosby at Overture Center
In October, a casually dressed Bill Cosby sat in a chair and commanded Overture Center's massive Overture Hall. Cosby doesn't perform for the money; he does it because he loves it. You can't fake the joy he radiated on stage. Even when he told old jokes I knew well, I laughed. His delivery is unparalleled. See him live if you haven't.
The Sklar Brothers at the Comedy Club on State
While modern standup is generally a solo affair, twins Randy and Jason Sklar have revived the two-man comedy act. During six sold-out performances in November, they showed off the banter that makes their Sklarbro Country podcast a hit. They took every advantage of their doubleness, delivering jokes at a breakneck pace and peppering the show with short sketch bits.
Matt Braunger at the Comedy Club on State
The Comedy Club on State opened 2012 with a stellar lineup of standup comics, including T.J. Miller and Kumail Nanjiani. One of the best shows came from a comedian I was only vaguely familiar with, Matt Braunger. His mix of self-deprecation and surreal ponderings kept the audience roaring. I picked up his 2011 album, Shovel Fighter, because audience members still laughing at funny moments from earlier in the set drowned out many of his jokes.