From political rallies to jazz concerts, film festivals to local theater, the Watertown-Mayer Performing Arts Center has hosted a wide variety of events in its brief 5-year history.
But this weekend, the venue will host its first ever standup comedy performance when Jason Schommer and Mary Rowles perform co-headlining sets at the 600-seat theater Friday at 7:30 p.m. The show is being called the “Hunting Widows’ Weekend Comedy Show,” and is the first show as part of a new agreement between Watertown-Mayer schools and a St. Cloud entertainment booking agency designed to bring more entertainment to the PAC.
Despite the inclusion of the term “Hunting Widows” in the show’s title, a reference to the women left behind as men head off for opening weekend of deer season, both comedians said the show’s material is not geared toward the theme, which is simply a reference to the timing of the show. While the show is designed to provide a perfect opportunity for a girls’ night out during hunting season, it really is for all audiences.
“Everybody’s welcome — even the hunters,” Schommer said.
Schommer, a Little Falls, Minn., is a relative newcomer to the comedy scene, but has found quick success since beginning to pursue comedy more rigorously just 3 years ago. Schommer originally stumbled into comedy while working as a production assistant for “The Rosie O’Donnel Show” in New York. The show’s writers, who thought he was funny, signed him up to perform at the New York Comedy club. Schommer’s performance was a success, and he has since landed a gig opening for one comedy’s biggest legends.
Schommer, who has relocated to Las Vegas, serves as the nightly opening act for Louie Anderson, another Minnesota comedian perhaps equally famous for his former role as host of The Family Feud, as well as his stand up comedy.
“Every time I go on stage before him, it’s a weird thing,” Schommer said. “It’s like, how did this happen? I remember being in high school, I used to ride my bike down to the video store to rent his comedy special. Now, I work with him every day. It’s a weird, surreal thing.”
Schommer first met Anderson at a comedy boot camp, an intensive weekend seminar designed to teach comedians the business. Later, when Anderson was back in Minnesota, he asked Schommer if he would open for him, and the relationship continued to build from there. Schommer has opened for Anderson in Las Vegas for the last 15 months.
Both Anderson and Schommer are “bigger guys” (Schommer’s words), are both Minnesota natives and base much of their comedy on their Midwestern upbringing. Schommer said his pairing with Anderson is somewhat of a natural fit. Schommer’s comedy style ranges from observational humor based on his life and family, to recounting encounters with celebrities and commentary of pop culture.
“(Anderson) often jokes that I’m a younger version of him,” Schommer said. “We’re not identical by any means, but we’re very complimentary.”
While Schommer opens nightly for Anderson, he does return to Minnesota often for shows in his home state. Schommer said it’s a lot of travel back and forth, but Anderson’s flexibility with his schedule has made it easier.
“When you’re a comedian, and your boss is a comedian, they get it completely,” Schommer said of his busy schedule.
Rowles also got into standup comedy by chance. The 20-year veteran of the industry said she never would have predicted she would have turned out to be a comedian, because she grew up wanting to become a jazz singer.
But, Rowles got her start doing improv in Minneapolis, and has been entertaining audiences across the region and even the country ever since. Lately, she says her work has included mostly corporate events, colleges and private parties. No matter what type of audience, Rowles said it’s easy to identify what she enjoys about being a comedian.
“I love having a positive effect,” Rowles said. “I just love when people come up to me and say they were having the worst day ever, and they totally forgot their problems. It’s making people laugh, and making them laugh hard, that I enjoy.”
Rowles’ comedic style includes a little of everything. She does characters, original songs, song parodies, audience participation, and straight-up standup. She said she is most known, however, for her characters.
“I do characters that everybody has met at some point in their life, and I risk to say they probably have at least one relative of the same nature,” Rowles said.
The comedy show at the Performing Arts Center is part of a new agreement that was reached between the local school district and G.L. Berg Entertainment, a talent booking agency based in St. Cloud. As part of the agreement, the school district simply provides the venue, while G.L. Berg assumes all financial risk and retains any profits. The two parties are hoping to partner for a series of shows in the coming months.
This show, the first of the new partnership, is designed to be a family-friendly event, or at least as much as a comedy show can be. Rowles said the show is probably geared more toward 14-and-up, and said a clean show with now swearing or vulgarity is always something that’s important to her.
“I just think it shows a certain level of intelligence,” she said. “It’s pretty easy for anybody to go blue and get a laugh. You’ll get the laugh, but as far as sustaining an audience and getting them to come back, it takes more.”
Schommer also said he puts on a clean show, because he believes that is what audiences truly want to see.
“I just think there are a lot of negative things in the world as it is,” Schommer said. “I don’t need to add to it. For me to get up on stage and rant and rave and yell and swear for an hour, what good does that do anybody? It would just make me look like a crazy person.”
Friday’s show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the show are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Tickets are available via www.glbergpresents.com or at Watertown Pharmacy, Marketplace Foods and the Watertown-Mayer Community Education Office.