Lots of national comedy acts visited Madison in 2013, making it a great year for folks who enjoy everything from political satire to personal anecdotes. Here are five of my favorites, plus a few honorable mentions.
Comedy Club on State, Jan. 17-19
I hadn't heard much from Foley before her weekend in Madison. In fact, I would have more likely to recognize her from the commercials she has acted in than from her stand-up. Foley absolutely blew me away with a hilarious, well-paced set. Most touring comics talk a little bit about Madison to try to win over the crowd, but Foley's opening observations on the deliciousness and dangerousness of Hopalicious made her seem like a Wisconsin native.
Dan Harmon and Harmontown
Majestic Theatre, Jan. 23, 2013
Dan Harmon was very publicly fired and then very publicly rehired to NBC's Community, a show he created. During the Community interregnum, Harmon focused on other projects, including scheduling a live tour for his podcast, Harmontown. As this was the closest tour location to Harmonâ€™s hometown of Milwaukee, it was a particularly personal stop. Harmon interviewed one of his high school friends and brought his old improv teacher to the stage play a theater game. It was a delightfully scattershot mix of improv, dance parties and onstage Dungeons & Dragons. I still don't get what the random audience members were shouting about in the Madison-made episode, though.
Comedy Club on State, Feb. 21-23
Holmes had a huge year as his new late-night talk show, The Pete Holmes Show, debuted on TBS in the sweet post-Conan timeslot. The weekend before his TV show was announced, he was here in Madison doing stand-up. Holmes was clearly in a celebratory mood, showing up for his interview on Fish in the Morning still drunk from the night before. During his weekend here, he displayed more confidence than I had seen before, showing that he was ready for the next step in his career. I'm glad I caught him at the Comedy Club on State in 2013. The next time he comes to Madison, he will likely perform in a much bigger venue.
Barrymore Theatre, March 1, 2013
Mulaney is a very talented man. He wrote some of the best Saturday Night Live sketches of the last few years, including co-creating the unforgettable Bill Hader character Stefon. Mulaney is also a great stand-up comic, as he proved with his appearance at the Barrymore. I was really excited for his show, having loved his 2012 special, New in Town. Sometimes comics get lost on the big Barrymore stage, but Mulaney commanded it with craft and material way beyond the skill level of most 30-year-old performers.
Comedy Club on State, Nov. 7-9, 2013
I love Scovel's delivery. It's light, loose and lets him string seemingly unrelated jokes into sublime bits. Scovel brought another weekend of irreverent joy to the Comedy Club on State this year, and the Madison comedy community was richer for it. Scovel's act can seem entirely improvised, but dig a little deeper and you'll find a great writer and performer.
Three acts featured in my favorite comedy shows of 2012 list returned to Madison this year: Nick Offerman, John Hodgman and Matt Braunger. In fact, Hodgman and Braunger were here the very same weekend. Another act from the 2012 list, the Sklar Brothers, will be back on Feb. 22. They'll film a new TV special at the Majestic Theatre. Why Madison? I think it's because local audiences are so supportive. They make comedians and other funny performers want to return to this city time and time again.