Back in 1997 my soon-to-be wife, Jenni Lilledahl, and I took a huge risk and purchased the Brave New Workshop Comedy Theater (the BNW) from the legendary Dudley Riggs.
Dudley, a former circus performer, started the BNW in Minneapolis in 1958 with the motto Promiscuous Hostility, Positive Neutrality. Back then the idea of presenting social and political satire—based on real life, current events, and issues—in a comedy revue format seemed crazy. To make it comedy-only theater—one that presented an original ensemble-created production several times a year, without a dime of grant money—seemed less than a sure thing, and perhaps even shocking.
It's not a stretch to say that since then it has become a legendary comedy institution, in addition to being the oldest running satirical comedy theater in the United States. Alums of the BNW workshop stage include Louie Anderson (Life with Louie), Pat Proft (Police Academy, The Naked Gun), (now Senator) Al Franken (Saturday Night Live), Tom Davis (Saturday Night Live), Mo Collins (Mad TV), Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal, 24), Melissa Peterman (Reba), Cedric Yarbrough (Reno 911, The Boondocks), and Rich Sommer (Mad Men).
Jenni and I met in one of Dudley's improvisation classes in 1992. We both had a passion for theater and a yearning to leave the corporate rat race. At the time, ...