Merrill native Torkelson to headline comedy show at Les & Jim’s

Merrill native Matt Torkelson is excited to be doing a hometown comedy show with some of his favorite comedians at Les & Jim’s Lincoln Lanes, on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, and this time he’s the headliner. The show is billed as “Matt Torkelson & Friends.” Doors open at 6:00 p.m., show starts at 7:00 p.m., buying tickets in advance is recommended to ensure you get a seat.

TINA L. SCOTT
EDITOR

“We didn’t have cable growing up until I was in the eighth grade, and that’s when I first saw stand-up comedy on Comedy Central,” said Merrill native Matthew Torkelson. “Comedian Mitch Hedberg was the first guy I saw, and I just thought, ‘Oh I want to try that some day.’” The desire to become a comedian never left him. Instead, it just grew, and he dreamed of moving to Los Angeles to give it a go.
A Merrill High School Class of 2006 graduate, Torkelson knew he needed a backup plan, so he went to college, graduated from UW-River Falls in 2011 with a degree in Marketing Communications, and then decided it was “now or never.”
He moved to Los Angeles in Sept. 2014 “but didn’t actually get on stage until mid-2015,” Torkelson said, “because I kept chickening out every time I would sign up for an open mic.”
Now Torkelson is excited to be doing a hometown comedy show with some of his favorite comedians at Les & Jim’s Lincoln Lanes this Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, and this time he’s the headliner. The show is billed as “Matt Torkelson & Friends.” Doors open at 6:00 p.m., and the show starts at 7:00 p.m.
Torkelson said he absolutely loves doing stand-up comedy in his hometown every chance he gets and even more so doing it with some of his comedian friends.
Despite his love for comedy, it isn’t Torkelson’s full-time gig–yet.
“I have a job that affords me flexibility in where and what shows I pursue in comedy,” he said. “I’m a Global Account Analyst for Graebel out of Wausau. During the pandemic, we went remote like many, and luckily had the option to stay remote.”
You need a steady paycheck starting out, he said, because most comedy gigs don’t pay much more now than they did back in the ‘90’s. And he enjoys his job for Graebel..
One day, he hopes to be headlining on bigger stages, though. “I’d love to start headlining in the next many years and get to work more comedy clubs across the country,” Torkelson said. He hasn’t been signed for a Netflix stand-up special yet, but he has had some great opportunities in the last few years, including opening for Charlie Berens (the Manitowoc Minute guy). “[It] sounds overly simple, but I just hope to keep doing stand-up,” he said.
“As long as I get to do it on my terms, I’m happy. The second I resigned myself to just getting whatever gigs I could and having fun, that’s when some of the more lucrative shows (like opening for Charlie Berens) started happening.”
Torkelson’s goal right now is to have three weekends out of each month booked with comedy gigs. “Initially I was emceeing, which was about 10 minutes per show,” he said, “but I’ve worked up to feature act, so it’s more 25-30 minutes a show [now]. The goal, of course, is headlining, doing more between 45-60 minutes per show.” He said his schedule varies month to month. Some weekends are jam packed, and other times he’ll go 2-3 weekends without a show. “Post pandemic especially, a lot of people are just finally really getting out there again (comedians and audience members),” he said.
What’s so funny?
“I don’t know if I was necessarily the class clown [growing up], but you learn the fun dynamic of how to make friends by making people laugh at a young age,” Torkelson said. “It’s also a decent way to get out of trouble (when it works). In school I’m sure I definitely had a few ‘struggles to pay attention’ or ‘jokes around too much’ from teachers, but I was a decent student. I’m an only child, so you equal parts learn how to keep yourself entertained growing up, and there is also a desire to keep your friends entertained.”
“My Dad’s always been incredibly funny, and so he greatly molded my sense of humor,” he said. “Conan O’Brien once said that at a young age he honed in on what made his dad laugh, and I think I definitely did the same. There’s a special feeling in really cracking him up.”
“My Mom was incredibly sweet, thoughtful, and made sure I grew up as a ‘please and thank you’ kind guy. Both are truly great,” Torkelson said.
The 34-year-old comedian keeps his act pretty clean, he said. Having attended kindergarten through eighth grade at St. John Lutheran School, he has his small-town reputation to protect.
And his small-town and Wisconsin-life experiences often make up a good part of his comedy. “I definitely talk a lot about my Dad, growing up in my family, and small town Wisconsin,” Torkelson said. “I touch on just a lot of my own stories and life experience. I’m adopted, for example, so I talk about that a little, among many other things. Any random little thing that makes me laugh will find it’s way into my set somehow.”
Some of those random things include “Wisconsin stuff” we here in Merrill consider normal. Like deer shining. “When I tried to explain it as a fun activity, all the other comics just looked at me like, ‘What on earth are you talking about?’” he said, laughing.
“The classic earliest joke I had was a story about visiting home,” Torkelson said. “I come to find my parents’ refrigerator is filled with many cans of Mountain Dew Kickstart.”
“When I asked my Dad ‘When did you start drinking this stuff?’ he said it was free at the store.”
“I further pressed him: ‘That’s a lot of cans, did it say free?’”
“And confused, he goes, ‘Well yeah … it was by the door.’ So, of course, the joke being ‘I think my dad accidentally robbed this place.’”
Comedy came pretty naturally to Torkelson. The tough part was getting the courage to stand up in front of people.
Want to be a stand-up comedian?
So what advice would he give to someone else who wants to do stand-up comedy? “Give it a try. Always,” he said. Just do it.
“In stand-up comedy especially, there’s no map for it, so just write down some stuff you think is funny, go and try it at an open mic in front of an audience,” Torkelson said. “Note what works and what doesn’t, edit, and before you know it, you’ll have a few minutes of material.”
“More than ever now, too, it’s super accessible to post funny videos on social media if you want to go that route,” he added.
“I’m also only (barely) seven years into stand-up,” Torkelson said, “So I feel odd trying to give advice, but I grew up in a household that encouraged me to always try stuff that interested me, so I make sure to mirror that encouragement in anyone that ever wants to try something like it.”
Taking things day by day, club by club
“Me personally, I’m just a single guy trying his best,” Torkelson said. “Stand-up is such a fun and important part of my life.”
“In my 30’s. I’ve really gotten into hiking, and I love all things outdoors. Working remotely has afforded me [the opportunity] to travel and see so much of the country in the last couple years. It’s been very fulfilling, and I really hope it continues.”
“Of course, I’d love to have a family, build a little house, and all that, but for the next five years or so, I plan to continue traveling most of the year as much as possible doing shows wherever I can.”
And getting laughs. Hopefully, getting lots and lots of laughs.

Merrill native Torkelson to headline comedy show at Les & Jim’s

TINA L. SCOTT
EDITOR

“We didn’t have cable growing up until I was in the eighth grade, and that’s when I first saw stand-up comedy on Comedy Central,” said Merrill native Matthew Torkelson. “Comedian Mitch Hedberg was the first guy I saw, and I just thought, ‘Oh I want to try that some day.’” The desire to become a comedian never left him. Instead, it just grew, and he dreamed of moving to Los Angeles to give it a go.
A Merrill High School Class of 2006 graduate, Torkelson knew he needed a backup plan, so he went to college, graduated from UW-River Falls in 2011 with a degree in Marketing Communications, and then decided it was “now or never.”
He moved to Los Angeles in Sept. 2014 “but didn’t actually get on stage until mid-2015,” Torkelson said, “because I kept chickening out every time I would sign up for an open mic.”
Now Torkelson is excited to be doing a hometown comedy show with some of his favorite comedians at Les & Jim’s Lincoln Lanes this Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, and this time he’s the headliner. The show is billed as “Matt Torkelson & Friends.” Doors open at 6:00 p.m., and the show starts at 7:00 p.m.
Torkelson said he absolutely loves doing stand-up comedy in his hometown every chance he gets and even more so doing it with some of his comedian friends.
Despite his love for comedy, it isn’t Torkelson’s full-time gig–yet.
“I have a job that affords me flexibility in where and what shows I pursue in comedy,” he said. “I’m a Global Account Analyst for Graebel out of Wausau. During the pandemic, we went remote like many, and luckily had the option to stay remote.”
You need a steady paycheck starting out, he said, because most comedy gigs don’t pay much more now than they did back in the ‘90’s. And he enjoys his job for Graebel..
One day, he hopes to be headlining on bigger stages, though. “I’d love to start headlining in the next many years and get to work more comedy clubs across the country,” Torkelson said. He hasn’t been signed for a Netflix stand-up special yet, but he has had some great opportunities in the last few years, including opening for Charlie Berens (the Manitowoc Minute guy). “[It] sounds overly simple, but I just hope to keep doing stand-up,” he said.
“As long as I get to do it on my terms, I’m happy. The second I resigned myself to just getting whatever gigs I could and having fun, that’s when some of the more lucrative shows (like opening for Charlie Berens) started happening.”
Torkelson’s goal right now is to have three weekends out of each month booked with comedy gigs. “Initially I was emceeing, which was about 10 minutes per show,” he said, “but I’ve worked up to feature act, so it’s more 25-30 minutes a show [now]. The goal, of course, is headlining, doing more between 45-60 minutes per show.” He said his schedule varies month to month. Some weekends are jam packed, and other times he’ll go 2-3 weekends without a show. “Post pandemic especially, a lot of people are just finally really getting out there again (comedians and audience members),” he said.
What’s so funny?
“I don’t know if I was necessarily the class clown [growing up], but you learn the fun dynamic of how to make friends by making people laugh at a young age,” Torkelson said. “It’s also a decent way to get out of trouble (when it works). In school I’m sure I definitely had a few ‘struggles to pay attention’ or ‘jokes around too much’ from teachers, but I was a decent student. I’m an only child, so you equal parts learn how to keep yourself entertained growing up, and there is also a desire to keep your friends entertained.”
“My Dad’s always been incredibly funny, and so he greatly molded my sense of humor,” he said. “Conan O’Brien once said that at a young age he honed in on what made his dad laugh, and I think I definitely did the same. There’s a special feeling in really cracking him up.”
“My Mom was incredibly sweet, thoughtful, and made sure I grew up as a ‘please and thank you’ kind guy. Both are truly great,” Torkelson said.
The 34-year-old comedian keeps his act pretty clean, he said. Having attended kindergarten through eighth grade at St. John Lutheran School, he has his small-town reputation to protect.
And his small-town and Wisconsin-life experiences often make up a good part of his comedy. “I definitely talk a lot about my Dad, growing up in my family, and small town Wisconsin,” Torkelson said. “I touch on just a lot of my own stories and life experience. I’m adopted, for example, so I talk about that a little, among many other things. Any random little thing that makes me laugh will find it’s way into my set somehow.”
Some of those random things include “Wisconsin stuff” we here in Merrill consider normal. Like deer shining. “When I tried to explain it as a fun activity, all the other comics just looked at me like, ‘What on earth are you talking about?’” he said, laughing.
“The classic earliest joke I had was a story about visiting home,” Torkelson said. “I come to find my parents’ refrigerator is filled with many cans of Mountain Dew Kickstart.”
“When I asked my Dad ‘When did you start drinking this stuff?’ he said it was free at the store.”
“I further pressed him: ‘That’s a lot of cans, did it say free?’”
“And confused, he goes, ‘Well yeah … it was by the door.’ So, of course, the joke being ‘I think my dad accidentally robbed this place.’”
Comedy came pretty naturally to Torkelson. The tough part was getting the courage to stand up in front of people.
Want to be a stand-up comedian?
So what advice would he give to someone else who wants to do stand-up comedy? “Give it a try. Always,” he said. Just do it.
“In stand-up comedy especially, there’s no map for it, so just write down some stuff you think is funny, go and try it at an open mic in front of an audience,” Torkelson said. “Note what works and what doesn’t, edit, and before you know it, you’ll have a few minutes of material.”
“More than ever now, too, it’s super accessible to post funny videos on social media if you want to go that route,” he added.
“I’m also only (barely) seven years into stand-up,” Torkelson said, “So I feel odd trying to give advice, but I grew up in a household that encouraged me to always try stuff that interested me, so I make sure to mirror that encouragement in anyone that ever wants to try something like it.”
Taking things day by day, club by club
“Me personally, I’m just a single guy trying his best,” Torkelson said. “Stand-up is such a fun and important part of my life.”
“In my 30’s. I’ve really gotten into hiking, and I love all things outdoors. Working remotely has afforded me [the opportunity] to travel and see so much of the country in the last couple years. It’s been very fulfilling, and I really hope it continues.”
“Of course, I’d love to have a family, build a little house, and all that, but for the next five years or so, I plan to continue traveling most of the year as much as possible doing shows wherever I can.”
And getting laughs. Hopefully, getting lots and lots of laughs.

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