ST. PAUL -- Scott Hansen, the man many credit for creating the standup comedy scene in the Twin Cities, died in hospice Sunday, Sept. 5, at the age of 66.
“In terms of the development of the overall scene, nobody is more important than Scott. Comedy used to be just in New York and Los Angeles. Scott took something that hadn’t existed and turned it into this mega empire,” said Patrick Strait, author of the recently published book “Funny Thing About Minnesota … The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Twin Cities Comedy Scene.” It features an entire chapter devoted to Hansen.
Hansen got his start in 1979 when he – along with Louie Anderson, “Wild Bill” Bauer, Alex Cole and Jeff Gerbino – began performing in the late Minneapolis bar Mickey Finn’s. While more than adept at standup, Hansen also excelled in promoting comedy and opening venues. He went on to found an agency that brought the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne Barr and Jay Leno to town. At the peak of his business, he was booking 35 clubs around the country as well as colleges, corporate events and weddings.
In 1982, Hansen opened the first Comedy Gallery above JR’s Restaurant at 11th Street and LaSalle Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. During the 1980s comedy boon, Hansen simultaneously operated as many as five clubs.
“I’d agree that Scott is Mr. Comedy in the Twin Cities,” Bauer said in a 1997 Pioneer Press interview. “We’ve been poking at each other for years, and we aren’t exactly bosom buddies. We didn’t always get along, but I appreciate everything Scott has done for me and comedy in general. And I believe we share a mutual respect.”
“The Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead got her start thanks to Hansen’s support. “He’ll help anyone who puts 100% into comedy, because he does,” she said in 1997. “He’s a fair employer and a man who will promote other comedians, even at the risk that they will outshine him. Compared to many other club owners around the country, he’s a gem. And besides, he’s a nice guy.”
Hansen suffered from numerous ailments throughout much of his adult life, including a fall in 1997 that left him bedridden. In 2001, the 6-foot-4 comic spoke to the Pioneer Press about his struggles with weight and his decision to get gastrointestinal bypass surgery. At his heaviest, Hansen weighed an estimated 640 pounds.
“Before surgery, a lot of things were wrong with me,” Hansen said. “My metabolism was really slow. I had an amino-acid deficiency. I had problems with hypertension, sleep apnea. I’m a person who likes to think I can lick any situation. I always thought I should be able to lose weight. I’m not a stupid person. I don’t think I’m a weak person. I had lost 100 pounds in 90 days on diets before. I was on a 1,500-calorie diet and gaining weight. I had to realize that I just couldn’t do this on my own.
“I went to the doctor for a consultation. The pain was so bad that I couldn’t get out of my car. I had to go into the ER on a stretcher. I said, ‘When can you do this (surgery)?’ ”
Two years later, Hansen retired from standup after arthritis made it difficult for him to stand on stage. But he eventually returned to performing while using a wheelchair. He made his final live appearance on New Year’s Eve in 2019.
“He had a plethora of issues,” Strait said. “He was really fortunate his wife, Michele, is a nurse and was able to take care of him.”
Hansen’s friend and publicist Martin Keller wrote a post about Hansen on Facebook: “Scott called me a few weeks ago to say goodbye. It damn near broke my heart. But he did it with finesse and grace and made it easy and occasionally funny.”
Keller also wrote about Hansen in his 2019 book “Hijinx and Hearsay: Scenester Stories from Minnesota’s Pop Life.” If Hansen “found an empty room — or, in the case of the Laff Boat, an under-utilized floating space — there was a good chance he would convert it to a comedy venue. Among his projects: the Comedy Gallery, a club he opened in downtown Minneapolis largely to showcase Joel Hodgson (who later created “Mystery Science Theater 3000”) after a rival club kept cutting his and other comics’ stage time; a second Comedy Gallery inside a Howard Johnson’s in Rochester; a club tucked inside Grandma’s Saloon and Grill in Duluth; the Comedy Cabaret in south Minneapolis; and Belly Laughs, inside Mandarin Yen restaurant on the 494 strip.”
Hansen had opportunities to go national but ultimately chose to stay in Minnesota. Keller quoted Leno’s take on Hansen in his book: “I think he’s very funny. And I enjoy working for him. Usually I don’t say that about other comedians; I just cringe and tell people, ‘Well, I’ve never seen so and so’s act.’ (Hansen is) funny all the time. He thinks funny, his premises are funny.”
Strait got to know Hansen while writing his book. “Scott was a larger-than-life persona. He was funny, he was caring. He’s dealt with every major comic of the last 30 years, but whenever he and I would talk, he wanted to talk about his kids and grandkids. To him, they were much more interesting than Leno or Seinfeld.”