MinniHaha: Tim Harmston at Acme
Harmston first took the stage early in the decade, but it was winning the Funniest Person in the Twin Cities contest in 2002 that kick-started his career. He's since gone on to tour across the country, participate in Comedy Central's Open Mic Fight, and appeared on NBC's Last Comic Standing.
Gimme Noise: How did you get into standup?
Tim Harmston: I started comedy in 2002 at the Mall of America. I was living in Wisconsin and I would come up to the mall and do the open mic [at Knuckleheads]. My first six months of comedy, every joke I did was about the Mall of America.
I actually started in improv in Chicago at Second City, but I didn't like it very much because of the team concept of comedy. It seemed really foreign to me. I always wanted to be alone onstage and do my own thing. I think standup comics typically can be loners, distant, introverted-type people sometimes, and I didn't like sharing my ideas and my comedy. It was a bizarre open mic because it was usually people that trickled in from the mall, tourists, and it was kind of a weird assembly of people, because you didn't know who was from out of town, and sometimes people would bring their kids thinking it was a family show. It was a good place to start because it was pretty low-pressure.
GN: How did winning the Funniest Person contest change things for you?
TH: It sort of started the professional end of my career. I emceed for, I don't know, two or three years, just getting a good 15 minutes, then eventually I started to get asked to feature. Tom Steffen, Mary Mack were in that class. The next year Chuck Bartell won. I was petrified. I was so nervous that I felt like it was American Idol finals, and if I lost I'd be ridiculed forever.
It's very fortunate to have a club like Acme in the Twin Cities. It's some of the best stage time you'll find anywhere in the world. It's a privelege to be able to work there and be a part of the Minneapolis scene. It's one of the strongest scenes in the country.
GN: How has your style evolved since you began?
TH: I really feel like my style is constantly evolving. I don't think it's settled in one place. I try to maintain a personal policy of trying anything if I think it's remotely funny. But I feel like my set is kind of like a bag of comedy trail mix. There's a lot of different elements to it. Some people enjoy the M&Ms, and other people don't like the raisins.
I often feel bad because I feel like it's too dark for some people. Although a lot of my jokes aren't about my personal life, I feel like they're honest. Every one has an element of honesty to it, and I don't feel bad telling it. It's something I struggle with. Whenever I try to write a happy joke, it always takes a turn into the darkness. But I guess starting comedy at an older age, I feel like you're always going to have plenty of dark things to draw from. I like to think that it's the cheeriest dark comedy that you'll see.