Humor with humility

Local comedian Robert Fones brings his down-to-earth style to the Comedy Corner Underground.

Local comedian Robert Fones performs at an open mic at the Comedy Corner Underground on West Bank on Friday night.

Maddy Fox

Local comedian Robert Fones performs at an open mic at the Comedy Corner Underground on West Bank on Friday night.

Austen Macalus

When he accidentally referred to his routine as “art,” comedian Robert Fones shook his head in embarrassment, half-joking, “God that sounded arrogant.”
Even though he takes the craft seriously, Fones hesitated to talk about his comedy in fear that he would come off as being conceited.
With his unassuming demeanor, constant crooked smile and a warm tone of familiarity in his voice, Fones is almost immediately likeable. 
This manner follows him to the stage, evident in his self-deprecating humor and the way he gains the support of audience members.
This weekend, Fones’ affable attitude can be seen in full form at the Comedy Corner Underground, where he will host touring comedian Mike Cronin.
A large part of Fones’ congeniality on stage stems from his delivery.
“I gravitate towards more of a storytelling style,” Fones said. “A lot of the comedy I do is a ‘something happened to me’ story: Something happened, and this is how I reacted towards it.” 
These stories include Fones’ background. One joke in particular describes the experience of growing up in an orphanage for the first year of his life. 
“That’s a story I can tell that not many other people can,” Fones said. “I wanted to write a story or a joke about [my experience] — something that’s a big thing for me, that took years to come to terms with and be OK with.” 
Recognizing the difficult subject matter, Fones is able to use his amiable personality to make the joke more digestible for the audience.
“Hopefully I find something that is accessible in it so it doesn’t bum people out,” Fones said. “I try to make it OK and palatable and funny for people in like 30 seconds.”
Pointing to the old adage, “Comedy is tragedy plus time,” Fones explains working with difficult material is a typical experience.
“I do gravitate towards darker things, but hopefully I am not wallowing in it,” Fones said.
But he’s always sure to keep the audience in mind. 
“There is this concept that comedy is therapy. I think that can be a bit detrimental because ideally the therapy aspect would come before you go on stage with people,” Fones said.
This comes across in another one of his bits, where he uses the McDonald’s MicRib to discuss depression.
“It’s making it OK,” Fones said. “I am OK with what I am talking about and [the audience is] OK with it — it’s finding a way to connect with people like that.”
Fones said he often starts with a less difficult topic, then transitions into more complicated matters. He is especially aware to never “punch down,” focusing depreciating humor on himself rather than other groups of people.
“You are taking people on that journey and giving people the wisdom you gleaned at the end of it,” Fones said.
So far, Fones has been successful with this approach. After starting less than four years ago, Fones has become ingrained in the local scene, performing stand-up all around the Twin Cities.
This is in addition to Boy Kisses Comedy — the popular weekly showcase Fones produces in collaboration with Minneapolis comedians Turner Barrowman, Collin Klug and Drew Janda. 
Even with this success, Fones still views each performance as an opportunity to learn.
Although the show at Comedy Corner Underground isn’t his own, Fones said it serves as an opportunity to expand his skills. 
“It’s my job to make sure [Cronin] has a good show. No matter how many people there are or how I am feeling that day — it’s up to me to set him up for success,” Fones said.
More so, Fones approaches the show with humility.
“It’s good practice to remember you are not the center of the world,” he said. 
Mike Cronin with Robert Fones
Where Comedy Corner Underground; 1501 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
When 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Cost $10
Ages 18+