La Crosse Center

Big Bluff was fortunate to come in on the heels of other people doing comedy in the area…wanted to start practicing stand-up comedy…kinda of stumbled into our first venue…

Paul Bratsch

Comedian, Big Bluff Comedy

We sat down with the folks of Big Bluff Comedy, we talked about all things comedy, including how Big Bluff Comedy came about, upcoming shows, how to jump on stage, and where can people find out more.

Special thanks to our Podcast Sponsors!


Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by People’s Food Co Op, a community owned grocery store in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota that promotes local farmers and producers through an emphasis on fresh, healthy, sustainable food. Anyone can shop, everyone is welcome. For more information, visit them online at This podcast is also brought to you by Trempealeau County Tourism. Whether your idea of fun is bicycling, hiking or canoeing, afterwards head into the heart of one of their welcoming communities to experience historic architecture, independent shops and locally owned dining establishments. Visit Trempealeau County Tourism online. We sat down with the folks of Big Bluff Comedy. We talked about all things comedy, how Big Bluff Comedy came about, upcoming shows, how to jump on the stage, and where people can find out more. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website I’m Amy.

Brent Hanifl 01:03
And I’m Brent.

Amy Gabay 01:03
And this is La Crosse Local.

Liz Brannon 01:06
My name is Liz Brannon. I was born in Indianapolis, but I’ve lived my whole memorable life here in La Crosse. I love La Crosse. What led me to stand up I guess would be oh man, I watched a lot of comedy as a kid. I watched a lot of TV as a kid. And Comedy Central was just something that there was always something on. And I think one of the first comedians that was ever really influential to me, was a comedian named Judy Gold. She still is out there working today. I was connected with her because she was on an episode of Law and Order. And she was talking to the wardrobe people. And you know, wardrobe people always get your size and everything. And they were like, okay, okay, and your shoe size. And she said, oh, I wear a size 12. And there were like, you know, sometimes they asked people to bring things from home. And at that time, even as a middle schooler, I wore a size 12 shoe. And I have been in that situation countless times where you know, they might be able to pull a few things for me from wardrobe is and they’re like, yeah, if you could bring your own shoes, that would be great. So I just really connected with her. And then the first time I ever did stand up was because I got dumped. And there was an open mic night at my college and I was like, you know what I’ve always wanted to do this, I’m gonna go do it. And it was fun. And I loved it. And I never looked back. But I didn’t really get into consistent stand up until about 2015. A couple of local stand ups didn’t have gas money and wanted to go to Rochester and then they put me on the list and then got mad when I was better than them. So I mean, that’s a pretty consistent comedy story. I always say the better the comedian, the more likely it is that their car won’t work to get them to a show.

Paul Bratsch 02:47
So I feel like I’m learning a lot about you here, Liz. I didn’t watch Law and Order as a child. I prefered to play outside. But my name is Paul Bratsch. And I grew up in the Minneapolis area, moved to La Crosse to attend college, moved back to Minneapolis, back to La Crosse, out to Denver, back to La Crosse, it just keeps pulling me back in. And this is my home now. So love it here. The thing that led me to stand up. There’s so many things. The thing that comes to mind first is when I was in college at the University of Minnesota, I needed three more English credits to graduate. And I found this class. It was a three week May term class called the History of Stand Up Comedy in the 1980s. And it was taught by this English professor who managed a comedy club in Denver in the 80s. And he just wanted to talk to people about it. And so we would just spend all day watching like old Richard Pryor, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld videos, and then he would say, No, when Ellen DeGeneres came to my comedy club, this is what she was like. And we just listened to his stories. It was amazing. At the end of the semester, our final exam was to write 10 jokes. I only remember one of mine, and they were all terrible. And then, at the end of the class, he took us on a field trip to ACME Comedy Company in downtown Minneapolis to the open mic there. And he said that if any of us just got up on stage and tried it, no matter how horribly we did automatic A for the entire class, and not a single one of us did, including me. We were terrified. But while I was there, there was this middle aged woman who was performing and she was using hand puppets and telling jokes about poopy and it was the most cringe inducing thing I’d ever seen. And she talked about how like this wasn’t her first time she does this a lot. And I thought, first of all, you know, good for her. I respect that she’s doing what she loves. Second of all, if she can be up there doing that I could give this a try. And so that kind of planted the seed in my head. It wasn’t until just like six years ago or so. That as part of my midlife crisis, I decided to go up to Acme and try it myself. And it went okay. And I kind of got the bug and and wanted to keep on doing

Brent Hanifl 05:04
Kind of talking about that sort of open mic, sort of just kind of jumping up there and doing it. How did big bluff comedy come about? Because that’s like a large component of it, alot of your shows correct?

Paul Bratsch 05:14
Right yeah. And I feel like Big Bluff was fortunate to come in on the heels of some other people who had been doing comedy in the area. And so Liz, do you want to talk a little bit about what the scene was like when Big Bluff started?

Liz Brannon 05:29
Sure, I worked with a group called Moonshine Comedy. Now defunct, the members are kind of spread to the wind or got absorbed into Big Bluff. I came in at the tail end of Moonshine, they were putting on monthly shows at Arterial. And then we were trying to do a weekly open mic, which is harder to market their size. But I distinctly remember being either at Boobs in Winona, or up at Goonies in Rochester, and the MC saying, your next comedian is from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Our little group kind of looked around and said, no, he’s not. And it was paused, and we’re like, who is this guy? Where did he come from? Where’s he been every week? So it’s easy has been, it has been a fun, professional challenge to navigate. Coming in on the ground floor of this with all of the previous knowledge. You know, we learned a lot from the mistakes that we made the first time and now we’re back. And we you know, we’re grownups ish. And we’ve learned a lot. And it’s been cool to kind of take what Moonshine did well, implement that, and leave everything else kind of behind to create something new and better and move on from there. And you know, in five years, you’ll be interviewing us for a different one.

Paul Bratsch 06:54
Yeah, so all that had been going on in the La Crosse area. And then my friend, Trevor and I, Trevor has since moved away. But we came along and wanted to start practicing stand up comedy and finding stage time. And really the only opportunity in La Crosse at that moment was you know, you could go to a cafe in town. And it was a mixed open mic. And you might be following someone who just told a really emotional story about something very personal. And then you get on stage and you’re like, nipples are weird, right? Something like that. And it was just so awkward. And, and most of the people in the crowd were students with their earbuds in doing homework anyway. So we asked around and kind of stumbled into this great opportunity with our first venue where, you know, most comedy open mics are like a Tuesday nights, and they’re made up of like, the 10 comics that are performing and no other people in the audience. That’s kind of what we were hoping for. We didn’t know what to expect. But our first night we had 14 comics and 80 people came to watch. And it’s only gone up since then we usually have to turn away comics at each of our open mics because we don’t have enough spots. We have comics traveling from Rochester, Eau Claire, Minneapolis, Madison, because they’ve heard about our great crowds. And it’s been fantastic. Since they expanded from that first venue to working with Fat Head Steve’s and doing some outdoor open mics in the summertime. We do some of our smaller open mics and shows at Turtle Stack Brewery and love working with them. Lately, our main partner has been The Main that’s where we like to do our larger shows where we have crowds of like 150 people.

Brent Hanifl 08:35
For those large shows, you know, you have a mix of the open mic, but then you also have some larger headliners that are going to be coming through what can people expect from those shows?

Paul Bratsch 08:44
Yeah, so at those headliners shows, we do our best to bring in some really top level talents people that we find hilarious people that have often been on late night TV, Comedy Central, have specials on Dry Bar or YouTube. People that are headlining at comedy clubs around the country. And so we tried to do those going to be trying to do those about once a month. If we can starting this summer, we had to stop all that because of the pandemic. We had done two of them and then the pandemic hits. Now I feel like we’re coming out of this quarantine kind of life with all sorts of ideas of big shows that we want to do. And we aren’t able to announce it yet. But we just locked in a pretty big name comic, our biggest one yet for a show in July. We’re super excited about that. And what we found is that it might be tough to get larger names to come to a smaller place like La Crosse, but when we partner with other people like you know Eau Claire, Minneapolis, Winona, we’re able to to bring in some of those larger names for like a three or four night run. And so we’re looking forward to doing a whole lot more of that.

Brent Hanifl 09:52
Kind of transitioning to The Main, coming from these sort of smaller shows and also just you know your reference to someone having an emotional sort of, I guess a traditional open mic where people can play guitar and all those sorts of things kind of doesn’t mesh as well as the stand up component. If you have a full night of stand up for that environment, is it better for first timers to come into something like this? And do you have any advice for them in some ways?

Liz Brannon 10:16
I think it is an amazing place for a first timer. The first time I walked into The Main, I was blown away. Because as someone who’s been doing stand up for six or seven years now, for the first time I was both in my hometown and at a comedy club. I was in a room that felt like someone should be on stage telling jokes. There is a small part of me that’s like jealous of a first timer getting up there, because it’s almost like you jumped the line on a couple of things, you know, you didn’t have to do a dingy bar where no one was listening, or, you know, a college open mic where people were already plastered at 8:30, or, you know, something like that. It was, it feels so professional, but it also, it gives us a little more room to be and this is gonna sound silly, serious about comedy. There are some of us, we run the gambit, as far as what comedy is to us. For some, it is a hobby, it’s something for fun, it’s an exercise in writing and creativity. There are also some people who view this as I want to make this a career. So having this resource here is incredible. I think it gives this kind of polished feeling of well, if I’m here, I better do a good job. So it’s been great for our community to have that. Matt at The Main is amazing. We love that they ask all the groups to do some sort of philanthropic donation like that is cool. It is our community creating but also supporting others, like, it’s just a very cool thing, I’m so happy to have it and be able to use it.

Paul Bratsch 11:54
Our whole thing with Big Bluff Comedy is we want to create a great local stand up comedy scene. And so for us, that means that we’re doing things at a lot of different levels. So we want to have something like every step of the way for a person who’s interested in comedy. And so Liz mentioned, we have those larger open mics. But for some people that can be a little intimidating to go up in front of 100, 150 people. And so we have our smaller open mics where people can be a little more experimental, also at Turtle Stack Brewery. And then we like to think that we have this progression where a person could start at our open mics, gets practiced enough to the point where they would want to try hosting one of our open mics. And then maybe eventually, they can be a host at one of our headliner shows, or even like the middle feature act at one of those. And so we’d like to think that a person could work their way from just a beginner to a person who’s ready to make this a career.

Brent Hanifl 12:49
Just going through that process with someone, I think would relieve sort of the tension of just jumping up there at least for in my mind. So is there anything like really exciting that’s coming up? Is there anything in the future a year or two that you guys are pretty excited about?

Liz Brannon 13:05
We are working to diversify the shows that we’re doing, you know, we want to keep it at monthly just because we don’t want to burn people out. It’s a lot of work. You know, it’s a lot of work to write five minutes of jokes. You think that five minutes isn’t a very long time, stand on stage for five minutes. It is eternity if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s also no time at all if you’re really comfortable. So we want to get people as much practice as we can in that. So we’re trying to do a little bit of small experience shows all the way up to our big monthly open mikes, and then expanding into showcases where maybe you’re not a professional yet, but you have a talent and we want to highlight it and people want to see it. So we want to give you a little more time. So I think really our big push is going to be diversifying what we offer for people also working to diversify the voices that we have on stage. Comedy is not known for its diversity sometimes. Sometimes it is. So you know there’s, we here at a Big Bluff believe that there is space for everybody on stage. So we want to make room for everyone and diversifying the options that we have for people makes it a lot easier to to get people who maybe are underrepresented in comedy and all creative endeavors, give them more space to feel comfortable, low pressure all the way up to those higher pressure shows to get more voices on stage to get more people in the audience to say hey, I understand that. That’s really our punch right now. And if we can do that in fun, cool ways with cool people, that’s even better.

Paul Bratsch 14:40
Yeah 100%. I would just add to that we also are really interested in getting more involved in the community. One thing that a few of us comics got to do during quarantine was we got to work with a middle school drama class and talk to them about what it’s like to do stand up comedy, and go through some comedy exercises with them. And it was just so fun getting to interact with younger people. We would also like to do more fundraiser type shows and anything we can do to get out there into the community, connect with people and make a difference.

Brent Hanifl 15:12
So if people want to find out more, maybe even come to one of your largest shows, or maybe kind of the smaller sort of ones at the local breweries, what’s the best avenue for them to go to?

Paul Bratsch 15:21
We put stuff on Facebook all the time and Instagram. We’re on both pre show and post show. If you want to see photos from shows we have done, and get information about shows that are coming up, Big Bluff on Facebook, Big Bluff Comedy, and then @bigbluffcomedy on Instagram. We’re also working on a website that will allow people to purchase tickets right on our website, which is very cool.

Amy Gabay 15:47
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse Local. Find out more about us at and you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.

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