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From punk to punchlines: Omaha’s homegrown comedy scene finds a home

From punk to punchlines: Omaha’s homegrown comedy scene finds a home
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On a still-bright Wednesday evening, a smattering of people step off of a sidewalk on Harney Street in Omaha and into a small space that one might easily miss, if not for a circle of people smoking outside.

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Through the large front windows, The Backline looks like your typical watering hole. The main attraction hides beyond the bar: a large room with black walls, bright lights and red-cushioned metal chairs.

Here in this room, aspiring local comedians and touring stand-ups alike work for laughs. Improv acts hone their craft. And students learn the basics of being funny.

Omaha isn’t New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, and The Backline isn’t the legendary comedy haunts in those cities. But for those in Omaha’s comedy community – a small band of DIYers eager to perform and make something original – The Backline is the closest thing to a home that they have. 

Its founder, Dylan Rohde, started The Backline to teach improv a little over a decade ago. 

Since then, live comedy has exploded in popularity. Ticket sales grossed $909.6 million nationally in 2023, more than three times the total a decade earlier, Bloomberg recently reported. A seemingly countless number of comedians are selling out large venues once reserved for a select few acts. 

During that time, The Backline has survived a pandemic, ownership changes and rifts in the local comedy scene. It’s evolved into a safe and decidedly non-corporate place for all types of comedians to experiment.

Some Backline alums have gone on to write for Netflix’s “Big Mouth” and star in HBO’s “Rap Sh!t” (Aida Osman). Some have become TikTok stars (Cameron Logsdon). Still others have run for political office (Sara Howard and Liz Renner).

“It’s really important for a comedy community to have a hub … I would say Backline is that for Omaha, maybe even Nebraska,” said Zach Peterson, an influential comedian in the city’s homegrown comedy scene.

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Though he grew up less than an hour away in Hooper, Rohde rarely clocked Omaha. His eyes locked on Los Angeles.

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“In high school, my goal was to become a famous comedy movie star,” said Rohde, a 41-year-old with a graying beard and forearm tattoo of his adopted hometown.

After graduating from Wayne State College in 2005, he headed to southern California.

When his acting career failed to take off, he turned to film editing and started working alongside fellow Wayne State graduate Ryan Tweedy. 

Seeking to grow their business, the pair reached out to the Upright Citizens Brigade, the now-famed improv and sketch company co-founded by Amy Poehler. 

It gave Rohde his first exposure to long-form improv.

“Improv kept me in LA for as long as I was there,” Rohde said.

But by 2011, Rohde felt his time in LA had run its course.

He considered jumping to another improv hotbed like Chicago, but he didn’t want to start all over again. Then Gian Molina, a well-known improviser in LA, changed his thinking.

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“He said teaching is what made him a really good improviser,” Rohde said.



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Written by Politixia

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