By Tucker Henderson
The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center will host a stand-up comedy show on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Twin Cities-based comedians Jodie Maruska and Jason Schommer will take the stage to showcase their comedy talents and raise some laughs.
Maruska grew up in Minnesota and has 30 years of experience making people laugh and working many of the Minneapolis comedy hot spots. She has also performed across the country in casinos, clubs, colleges, theaters and even the occasional back yard.
“I grew up in a family whose love language was laughter and I have a dad with a very goofy sense of humor that I have inherited,” said Maruska. “I loved Carol Burnett growing up and thought I’d be a sketch performer like her but I had a chance to try stand up and the first time I got on stage and did a set of material I had written that week, I had a great set (amazingly) and was asked for my autograph when I was done.
“That was it,” she continued. “I fell in love with the whole experience of it. Hanging with other comics, getting excited to try new material, getting booked, and of course making an audience laugh on stage with nothing but a light and a mic. It immediately felt like I was home!”
Maruska makes a regular circuit at Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy, Comedy Corner Underground, the Joke Joint Comedy Club, and One Man Minneapolis at the Pantages Theater, all in the Twin Cities. She identifies to audiences with her familiar “Minnesota-nice” persona.
“Connecting with an audience and making people laugh is the best thing in the world,” she said. “Touring is exhausting, but fun. It’s not glamorous but it’s an adventure and if you’re lucky you’re working for, and with, people you enjoy and who treat you well and getting in front of great audiences.”
Maruska said that some of her biggest highlights over the years include traveling, as well as some of the weird adventures she’s endured on the road, being able to connect with fellow comics and giving the gift of laughter to her audiences.
“That never goes away,” she said. “It may sound hokey, but the connection… knowing I’m hopefully bringing laughter and lightness to someone who may have a better day because of it. Selfishly, I have such a good time on a stage and hearing the audience laugh at jokes and words I’ve created to bring to them always thrills.”
Along with her highlights over the years, strange adventures including a hotel in Canada full of ferrets running around, she has also had the chance to work with a lot of fellow comedians, not the least of which being Louie Anderson, famous comedian, actor, and game show host from St. Paul, Minn.
“He was so generous to comics, especially local, Minnesota-based comics,” she said of working with Anderson. “His praise meant everything and he was fun and kind to me always. To watch him on stage was always a treat and to be part of that felt really meaningful.”
Jason Schommer is also based out of the Twin Cities and like Maruska, has also worked with St. Paul comedy legend, Louie Anderson, working as Anderson’s opening act for two years in Las Vegas.
“Working with Louie Anderson was a dream job!” said Schommer. “Every single day that we were together, it was a day filled with laughter. It was a masterclass in comedy and showbiz. There isn’t a single thing that Louie didn’t do as a performer… he was a comedian, he wrote four books, he created an animated series, he acted in movies and TV shows, he hosted a game show. He won three Emmy Awards for his television career. He did it all.
“Louie had a career that lasted over four decades… that is incredibly rare in show business, especially nowadays.” Schommer continued. “When Louie believed in you, you had the world’s biggest cheerleader in your corner. No one was more supportive and encouraging than Louie. Best of all, Louie was exactly who you hoped he would be. None of it was an act. What you saw onstage is exactly how he was offstage. Working with Louie made both a better comic and a better person.”
Schommer got his start as an intern for the Rosie O’Donnell Show in New York City in 1997. O’Donnell’s writers thought he was funny and called the NY Comedy Club to get him a spot on a show. He loved every moment of it, but didn’t start pursuing it professionally until 12 years ago.
“People kept telling me I was funny and I just kept getting more and more bookings for shows,” he said. “It just happened very naturally and gradually. Once I caught the eye of a booking agent, I found myself getting bigger and better paying gigs.”
Schommer has performed across the nation as well as internationally in Canada and for the United States Military in Japan. He has been featured on The Moth Radio Hour, the Jason Show, and has worked behind the scenes on the Rosie O’Donnell Show and the FX television series Baskets.
“It is exciting to travel and see parts off the country you normally would not see, it is exciting and it gets to be exhausting,” he said. “The shows can range from locations such as a small rural community in a VFW to a comedy club in Canada to an auditorium in Japan for the US Troops and everything in between!”
Schommer’s favorite part of his occupation mirrors that of Maruska’s highlights. He said that he especially appreciates the people involved in the many shows that he gets to be a part of.
“I love to meet the people after the show,” he said. “I love that comedy and laughing can bring people together. The world is a crazy place nowadays and people are tense and angry. Doing comedy lets everyone forget all about that for a while and just have some good laughs at life and our experiences.”
Among his highlights working with celebrities such as Joan Rivers, Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, Kathleen Madigan, and Tim Meadows, he remembers his father coming out to see him perform his opening act for Louie Anderson in Las Vegas.
The doors will open at 7 p.m. at the Cultural Center for the stand-up show and will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. Snacks and a cash bar will be available.