Nick Swardson, Lynn Shawcroft and Ken Burns walk into a bar

On the afternoon of April 30, 2006, Johanna and I were in the bar at the Marquette Hotel where we’d been vacationing to attend the Mitch Hedberg tribute at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. Based on the vast knowledge of comedians and hotels we’d amassed from Mitch’s jokes, we assumed the comics were probably staying at the Doubletree — or Quadrupletree — as Mitch called it.

We’d figured out the hotel’s bar was adjacent to a fine dining establishment that had fancy macaroni and cheese the bar would sell during happy hour, so we spent a lot of time there. We’d been there for a while when the bartender noticed he’d forgotten to turn on the big screen, so he asked our feedback on our viewing preference. I encouraged him to pass the sports channels, where he landed on the Ken Burns Civil War documentary. I’ve always loved to make jokes about the sad letters and flute music, so I encouraged the barkeep to turn it up.

We were eating our macaroni when Lynn Shawcroft took a seat at the barstool next to mine. Whoa, this was Mitch’s wife, touring partner and stellar opening act, and I couldn’t think of anything to say. We’d flown from Texas to be there, but all I imagined was that she’d probably enjoy a few minutes to herself before the show started in a few hours. Johanna was nudging me incessantly to say something, but I just basked in the moment, being there with the one person in the world who connected me to Mitch more than anyone.

I watched Ken Burns, I had a beer, and I knew that I was inches away from someone really special. That’s when Nick Swardson appeared behind me wearing a hoodie and jeans, “Do you mind turning on the game, I’d like to check the score?”

“I’m sorry sir, but my guests are involved in this show and it wouldn’t be fair for me to change the channel.”

Nick ordered a drink and went and stood behind me in the hall, watching the game on a wall-mounted flat screen. He was really into the game, and Jo and I spent the rest of our afternoon watching two of stand-up’s most interesting people enjoy some ‘me’ time before the big show. Even though we were clearly the most important people in that bar.

Nick was a perfect gentleman, even though I thought it was absurd that a bar didn’t show a big sports event in favor of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and a lonely letter to my dearest Eloise. But we were there. We still love Ken Burns. And the show was great.

Here’s a strange review:


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