Comedy show satirizes Minnesota news

“Minnesota Tonight” aims to inform, engage on local topics

Audience members enjoy the June taping of "Minnesota Tonight." Photos by Nate Gotlieb
Audience members enjoy the June taping of "Minnesota Tonight." Photos by Nate Gotlieb

A group of local comedians, writers and actors is hosting a monthly show satirizing the people and topics making news in Minnesota.

“Minnesota Tonight” features in-depth reports, interviews, musical guests and correspondent segments on issues affecting the state. The goal is to entertain, inform and hopefully move audiences to act, the show’s leaders say.

“I believe that the best way to inform people … is through comedy and through something that’s entertaining,” said Jonathan Gershberg, the show’s host and executive producer. “Mainly I hope that the show acts as a conduit for people to find a more engaging way to interact with the issues and events that are happening in their state.”

Jonathan Gershberg
Jonathan Gershberg, founder, host and executive producer of “Minnesota Tonight”

Gershberg, 25, founded the show in 2015, inspired by satirical news shows such as “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” He lamented that these shows didn’t cover local issues and decided to start his own.

Gershberg and three others produced the first episode in October 2015, enticing people to come with free beer and pizza. They modeled the show after satire programs, emulating Oliver’s style in a segment on gay conversion therapy, for example. They also interviewed a nonprofit leader and performed a roundup of Minnesota news in the style of the “Saturday Night Live” sketch “Weekend Update.”

“We didn’t really know what we were doing at first,” Gershberg said, “but I had a clear idea of what I thought the show could be.”

Mustafa Hassan performs a segment on measles in Minnesota.
Mustafa Hassan performs a segment on measles in Minnesota.

The show has retained many of the same elements over the past two years, with Gershberg continuing to host the John Oliver-style segment on a topic making local news. The team has added new elements, such as the correspondent segments, and tweaked others, such as the Minnesota news recap.

Gershberg tackled the issues of hunger and food insecurity in the in-depth segment last month, noting how one in 10 Minnesotans don’t have enough food to eat. The show also featured a segment from Technical Director Mustafa Hassan on misinformation spread by “anti-vaxxers,” a musical performance, an interview and correspondent pieces. In between, Gershberg and Hassan peppered the crowd with jokes on current events.

Audience members appeared to appreciate the mix of humor and information. Patron Ashley Wells said she enjoys that the show brings the late-night comedy formula to a local level. Her favorite part of the show’s first half was when Gershberg showed a picture of U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer photoshopped onto a red delicious apple.

"Intern" Bobby Gardner tells a joke.
“Intern” Bobby Gardner tells a joke.

Marty Corbett and Rachel Neverman came to the show after seeing videos on social media. Neverman said she liked how the show interwove the video segments and that she was impressed with the performers’ ability to improvise. Corbett said he enjoyed the performance of writer Bobby Gardner, who played an overwhelmed intern forced to entertain the crowd.

Gardner, who only recently introduced the character, said he’s excited about the show’s direction.

“It’s kind of like being on the ground floor of something that’s really great,” he said.

Musical guest Maria Isa performs during a "Minnesota Tonight" taping.
Musical guest Maria Isa performs during a “Minnesota Tonight” taping.

Gershberg and other show leaders appeared to share that enthusiasm. The show’s staff has expanded from four to 25 over the past two years, and Gershberg and Producer Sally Foster just closed another round of applications. Show attendance has been climbing, too.

Gershberg said the team tries not to present Minnesota in a singular voice, working to have a diverse group of actors and writers. The show takes a more liberal bent, he said, but talks about issues that “cut through noise of partisan national issues.”

“When we’re talking about an issue like rural broadband, the partisan lines don’t hold as much weight,” he said.

Jonathan Gershberg prepares to interview Patty Morrissey of Finnegans.
Jonathan Gershberg prepares to interview Patty Morrissey of Finnegans.

The hope, he and other leaders said, is that the segments inspire people to stay informed and involved.

“We really pride ourselves on being more than just a comedy show for comedy’s sake,” Foster said. “Our hope is that it’s a call for action. … It’s definitely a more tangible impact that watching (“Daily Show” host) Trevor Noah and hearing a Trump joke.”

“Minnesota Tonight” has monthly tapings at Brave New Workshop, and all segments can be seen online. The next one will be July 26. Visit mntonight.com to buy tickets or learn more.

More in Focus