At Brave New Workshop on Wednesday, Lizzo played over the speakers as audience members found their seats, and a Minnesota plaque was proudly displayed on the podium onstage. This wasn’t just any comedy performance — this was Minnesota’s very own satirical news show.
That night, “Minnesota Tonight” opened its third season to a full crowd. Drawing inspiration from shows like “The Daily Show” and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” the comedy show combines in-depth reporting with comedy and a local focus.
“I started ‘Minnesota Tonight’ in 2015,” said Jonathan Gershberg, the executive producer and host of ‘Minnesota Tonight.’ “I think 2015 was a year of a lot of local political stories happening … that were not getting as much attention on the national news. There was no … [local] late night satirical show in the same way that we were satirizing the ridiculous things happening nationally.”
With the intention of spurring local conversation, “Minnesota Tonight” was born. Though the show is in its third season and has been restructured over the years, one thing remains fervent: the production team’s love for the state.
“I’m a transplant to Minnesota, and so is Jon … which is interesting because we’re both producers,” said Sally Foster, a producer of the show. “What we love about Minnesota is that everybody in Minnesota loves Minnesota. It’s this unifying fact for everyone who lives here, and we wanted to come in and embrace that.”
Wednesday’s premiere demonstrated the range of the show’s local focus, including a long-form analysis of redlining and housing segregation in the Twin Cities and a pre-filmed, satirical Super Bowl volunteer training video. The video included a list of conversation topics to avoid, including everything from Al Franken to warmer weather to publicly funded sports stadiums.
It would be easy to make jokes about the freezing Minnesota climate, the recent Vikings loss or the mythologized Minnesota Nice, and “Minnesota Tonight” doesn’t miss those easy jabs at the state. But, thanks to a devoted research team and weekly writers’ meetings between the monthly live shows, “Minnesota Tonight” is able to tackle far more expansive, pressing topics.
“Topics that we have done in the past were refugees in Minnesota, affordable housing, manufactured mobile homes [and] marijuana. We’ve done clean water, and we’ve done access to the Internet,” Foster said. “Typically, when we’re looking for a guest, we’re looking for someone who is an expert on that topic. When we were doing one on refugees, we brought on Abdi Warsame because he was the first elected Somali-American official in Cedar-Riverside.”
“There’s a lot of skepticism when it comes to different information that creates a reaction that is to dig in your heels and immediately deny it or ignore it in a specific way,” said Aron Woldeslassie, a University of Minnesota alumnus and writer for “Minnesota Tonight.” “But, if you open it in a joke, and someone enjoys it, then they have to inherently agree with it. And if we’re doing our job right, and researching it, and making sure it’s clear, then we’re not doing anything wrong with informing people in this way.”
In this newest season, “Minnesota Tonight” hopes to continue to bring the same satirical voice to the weird world of Minnesota, its hot dish, the upcoming race for governor and everything in between.
“What we really want to do is be the comedy show that is a satire, which is funniest when it is speaking the truth,” Gershberg said. “Our focus is as local as possible … and things that are relevant and ridiculous.”