Brave New Workshop: Highlights and notable careers launched

Dudley Riggs, an acrobat who became a comedy impresario by founding the Brave New Workshop comedy theater, died Tuesday morning at age 88. Here’s a Workshop timeline, along with a list of notable careers Riggs helped launch.

1932: Dudley Riggs is born into a show-business family in Little Rock, Ark.

1958: Riggs opens the Cafe Espresso on University Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis, where performers of various stripes are presented.

1961: In collaboration with a pair of St. Paul Pioneer Press staffers, Riggs forms the improvisation and sketch comedy troupe, Brave New Workshop.

1965: Brave New Workshop moves to 2605 Hennepin Ave. S., its home (most of the time) until 2011.

1971: A second stage, Dudley Riggs’ ETC, opens in the Seven Corners neighborhood and houses performances until 1991.

1979: Arguably the best year in Workshop history for titles. The season’s offerings include: “Dow Jones Goes Down for Anybody,” “From Here to Infirmity,” “How Much Does the Holocaust or Armageddon Out of Here!” “Tippecanoe and Deja Vu,” “Upstream, Downstream: The World According to Carp” and “What’s Up Yours, Doc?”

1997-99: In 1997, Riggs sells the Workshop to John Sweeney, Jenni Lilledahl and Mark Bergren. In 1998, the theater moves its mainstage to the Calhoun Square shopping center. In 1999, Bergren relinquishes his ownership share.

2002: The BNW moves its mainstage operations back to 2605 Hennepin.

2011: Brave New Workshop moves to its current home at 824 Hennepin Ave., downtown Minneapolis.

2015: A book about the history of the company, “Brave New Workshop,” is published by the History Press.

2017: Riggs’ memoir, “Flying Funny,” is published by the University of Minnesota Press.

2019: Brave New Workshop stages its 300th show.


Work at the Brave New Workshop and ETC has led to careers in acting and directing, journalism and a seat in the U.S. Senate. Here’s what happened to some alumni:

Louie Anderson: Became a stand-up comic and star of his own short-lived TV sitcoms; won an Emmy for his role as Christine Baskets in the FX series “Baskets” in 2016 and has been nominated three times.

Jeff Cesario: Is an Emmy-winning writer and producer for “Dennis Miller Live” and “The Larry Sanders Show.”

Tom Davis: Was one of the original writers and performers on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Al Franken: Joined the “Saturday Night Live” company, became a movie star, radio talk-show host and U.S. Senator.

Richard Guindon: Became a cartoonist for the Star Tribune and the Detroit Free Press.

Peggy Knapp: Was co-host of the TV series, “Newton’s Apple” and “Hometime.”

Lorna Landvik: Is the author of several novels, including the bestsellers, “Patty Jane’s House of Curl,” “Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons” and “The View from Mount Joy.”

Peter MacNicol: Appeared at the Guthrie and went on to a career in film (Stingo in “Sophie’s Choice”) and TV (John Cage in “Ally McBeal,” Dr. Larry Fleinhardt in “Numb3rs”).

Melissa Peterman: Parlayed a role as Hooker No. 2 in the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” into a steady gig on TV’s “Reba.”

Pat Proft: Wrote the “Naked Gun,” “Police Academy” and “Scary Movie” franchises.

Ann Ryerson: Is an actor best known for her role on TV’s “Curb your Enthusiasm.”

Sue Scott: Was a longtime member of the cast of the radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Nancy Steen: Was a screenwriter for TV’s “Happy Days,” “Night Court” and “Caroline in the City,” and a producer for “Roseanne.”

Dan and Faith Sullivan: He became a theater critic, and she became a novelist.

Peter Tolan: Is an Emmy-winning writer for the TV series “Murphy Brown,” “Home Improvement” and “Rescue Me,” and screenwriter for the films “Analyze This” and “Analyze That.”

Lizz Winstead: Is a comedian who was co-creator and head writer of TV’s “The Daily Show.”

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