For 12 years, Josh Dunkin was part of a huge comedic scene in Chicago. “I’d had more success than some, not as much success as others,” he deadpans about his career there. Comedy clubs are abundant in the Windy City, where open-mic nights last into the wee morning hours. On some nights, 50 wannabe funnymen sign up to compete for laughs and a big-break chance.
That isn’t something that will happen at Dunkin’s new venture. Two months ago, he was asked to co-host a monthly open mic night called Get Up Stand Up (just try to read that without channeling Bob Marley) at Sanctuary Brewing in downtown Hendersonville. One volunteer “crushed it,” Dunkin said, at the inaugural event, and eight tried their chops the second month.
The next showcase happens the last Monday of July — with that spot designated for every month. Dunkin won’t be the only former Chicago performer on the bill: the headliner is Mike Barton, an improviser, comedic songwriter, and actor. To increase the number of participants, Dunkin and his co-host Troy Colbert visited open mics in Asheville and Greenville, SC, to spread the word about the new Hendersonville venue. The show typically has a featured performer and the two hosts who also perform.
Dunkin and his family, including wife Barbara and their three-year-old daughter Scottie, moved to Hendersonville to help their friends Joe Dinan and Lisa McDonald, the co-owners of Sanctuary Brewing, with their unusual concept: a microbrewery with an animal-advocacy theme. (Barbara is the bar manager; Dunkin also works at Underground Baking Company.)
He was asked to help introduce comedy to Sanctuary Brewing and decided to recreate Get Up Stand Up, which he’d produced in Chicago for more than a year. The show was voted number two in Time Out magazine’s list of Chicago’s best comedy open mics — not bad in an atmosphere that bred the iconic improv troupe and club Second City.
“The scene is a lot smaller down here,” says Dunkin — an amusing understatement. The comedian also spent eight years working on the production Bye Bye Liver: The Drinking Play, bringing it to 10 cities after its hometown success. “I was at the point, though, that I was ok with that. It’s about redefining your definition of success. I had the commercial success and, in the end, it brought me some happiness but not the ultimate contentment we are all looking for. After so many years of doing this, you get burned out.”
Dunkin has enjoyed the down time since he moved, especially after being a performer for almost 20 years. He began, he said, as a counselor at Camp Ba Yo Ca in Sevierville, Tennessee, doing skits for campers, and then moved into plays in high school before he earned a theater degree at Middle Tennessee State University.
But he says he wasn’t necessarily the class clown, and only occasionally the over-the-top funny guy (he did dress as Elvis for his “Best Personality” senior-superlative photo) — opting instead to study comedy. “I took it seriously. Comedy is as much art as it is science,” says Dunkin, who comes from a military family and stayed with extended family in Knoxville during the summer. “I liked to study words and wordplay and read books.”
Get Up Stand Up South happens at Sanctuary Brewing (147 First Avenue E. in Hendersonville) on Monday, July 25. Open-mic list starts at 7:30pm, show starts at 8. Free. See the event page on Facebook or call the brewery at 828-595-9956.