Interview: Dan Friesen

As host and producer of The Comedy Evening at Ace Bar, Dan Friesen, proved himself to be an important asset to the Chicago stand up scene. His hard work and knack for booking strong, varied lineups, has helped make TCE a new scene favorite. Friesen recently launched his new project, The Nicest Guys In Town, with the hopes that it'll become a multimedia hub for online content from Chicago-based comedians. I talked to Friesen about the new site, as well as their IndieGoGo fundraising campaign, which you can (and should) donate to by clicking here.

The Steamroller: Your bio on the Nicest Guys site says you went to school in Colombia, MO. Is that where you're from originally? What brought you to Chicago?

Dan Friesen: I lived in Columbia from the age of 10 to 26, so I'm as good as from there. I became an adult there, so that's enough to call it my hometown. Toward the end of my college days, I started doing stand up, and I quickly realized that there was nowhere in town to perform if you weren't a professional. My immediate reaction was to start my own show, so I did that for two years before I realized that I had to leave or I would be stuck there forever. I never gave the choice of city a second thought. I knew Chicago was the place to be if I wanted to do comedy, and pretty much every experience I've had here re-enforces that.

TS: What inspired you to start up a site like NGIT?

DF: This is a two part answer. One part will sound really sane, and the other a little nutty.

I think there's great power in centralization. There are so many people in town who are doing amazing work, but a lot of it runs the risk of going unnoticed because it gets somehow lost in the online shuffle. I believe that if a good number of us creative, motivated folks try to put our projects under one umbrella, it serves all of our interests. I firmly believe that this is the direction online media is heading, loose-knit collectives banding together to become bigger than the sum of their parts. We already see that on the professional level, with Nerdist and Earwolf being highly successful examples.

The other part of this is that I want to put myself in a position where I can help people with good ideas but possibly limited resources or know-how turn their ideas into reality. I'm not sure if it comes from the Mennonite influence of my upbringing, but being able to help others and somehow be of service is very important to me, and I really enjoy finding ways to do that in comedy.

Now, the potentially crazy part. Growing up, a couple of my heroes were the RZA and Master P, and it didn't dawn on me until pretty recently, but the reason I admired them so much was because they took the initiative and tried to build something when everything around them told them they couldn’t. I've always tried to be like them (probably more like RZA than P, all things considered), at least as it relates to creative projects.

TS: Will there be crossover between NGIT and The Comedy Evening?

DF: There have been some talks about a crossover, but it's hard to figure out exactly what that looks like. In as much as the people involved with NGIT will be regular guests at The Comedy Evening, and that Nate Burrows (my partner at The Comedy Evening) will be appearing on podcasts, there's a crossover, but at this point, I haven't been able to come up with a compelling idea for a full-on crossover project that excites me. I'm working on it.

TS: Is there a site or other organization (comedy or otherwise) you'd cite as an influence when drafting plans for something this multifaceted?

DF: Every time I tell someone about this idea, they say “oh, like Earwolf,” and they're not totally wrong. I think the professional podcast networks are amazing and a great inspiration, but what works for them is not going to work for us. We do not have the advantage of their finances, their celebrity and fan-bases, or their access to famous guests, so their model simply won't end up working for us. We have some plans about how to make this sort of thing work (and so far, it's worked pretty well), but a lot of that learning is just going to have to come from doing and listening to the feedback of the audience, which is something we're very into.

TS: Where can folks expect their donations to the IndieGoGo campaign to go?

DF: It's pretty hard to get anyone to believe this, but we do need a fair amount of money to get everything rolling. The reason it's hard to explain is that podcasting is really cheap, but podcasting professionally is not. We have very decent equipment right now, but in order to realize this project the way we want to, we need some upgrades. I have lost a number of episodes due to tech glitches on my computer, and there are intermittent problems with the recording equipment itself, so the dream is to replace the mics, the computer, and possibly our soundboard.

We need to be able to run this like a business, and unfortunately, that's almost impossible when we're worrying if what we record is going to be usable. Plus, if our equipment is not reliable, we are not putting ourselves in a position to be able to help anyone, so that part of the mission really falls apart.

And, as for why we need to do a fundraising campaign, I really wish we didn't. Most of the comics who are involved work full-time jobs (or no jobs), in addition to running live shows of their own, on top of creating their own podcasts, and they're left not having the kind of money we need to turn this into what we want it to be. We all really appreciate the people who have donated. We really hope that some of you reading this will consider donating, but we would really encourage you to view it less as a donation and more as an investment in something that will help everyone, both by creating a place where people can launch a project, and by helping build up the reputation of the comedy going on right here, right now.