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Leading Off: Lincoln Brewery Gets Crafty By Entering into the Comedy Game

Mar, 7 2023

Cory Sinclair is a beermaker -- a native Nebraskan who teamed with TJ Walker and Pat Simpson six years ago to open Backswing Brewery in Lincoln.

A year ago, he knew next to nothing about the comedy industry. He's still a relative novice in the craft, but like any good businessman, he's grown to learn that tushes in the seats equate to more beer sold, which usually means more revenue.

And so, when a touring comedian -- a fella from California -- contacted Sinclair last fall to inquire about doing a stand-up routine in Lincoln, Sinclair listened.

In fact, he set up shows at Backswing's taprooms in Omaha and Lincoln, 500 W. South St., and hoped people might hear about it. Remember, he's a beermaker, not a promoter.

Amazingly, a few found there way to the shows, and the smattering of additional foot traffic planted the seeds to this new mind-set, one the creates more entry points to Backswing's product.

After all, not everyone seeks out craft beer, especially in a Natty Light town.

"We get a lot of people at these shows who say, ‘Wow, I’ve never been here before. I didn’t know you were here,'" Sinclair said. "If you can gain new customers to your brand just by having an event, then it’s a win-win."

The moral of this story is there is more than one way to lead a horse to water -- or in this case, to lead a laughter-starved community to comedy.

Eight years ago, Brad Stewart used the comedy connections he'd built over a decade of doing stand-up in Southern California to start a weekly comedy showcase in Lincoln.

In his case, the comedy, along with the allure of the historic Zoo Bar, were enough to grow Zoolarious into a Sunday-night destination.

Sinclair is taking a different path. He's selling beer and providing an added bonus with an occasional comedy show, creatively dubbed Laughs and Crafts, which has increased foot traffic to Backswing's taprooms in Lincoln and Omaha.

Laughs and Crafts returns Dec. 1 in Omaha and Dec. 2 in Lincoln and will feature Mishka Shubali, a Columbia University graduate whose claim to fame is that he lived out of a Toyota minivan for an entire year while touring nonstop to develop a national following as a musician and comic.

Sinclair admittedly isn't Brad Stewart, nor is he trying to be. A month after Stewart's sudden death from pancreatic cancer, it's OK to laugh again. And it's OK to choose a different venue to get your laughs. Hell, there's no doubt that Stewart -- comedy's biggest local advocate, no matter where the laughs were coming from -- would have been there, too, checking out the talent.

Zoolarious, realizing it would have trouble maintaining its weekly shows, had its last show three weeks ago and that's left a void in Lincoln's comedy community.

Sinclair started his shows more than a year ago with little fanfare and even less marketing just as Zoolarious was starting to gain traction.

"We’re tying to get this going on our own," Sinclair said. "There is a lot of interest in what we’re doing."

As well there should be. Lincoln is a big enough town for numerous comedy clubs. Duffy's Tavern has hosted an open-mic night for years, while Bob Rook continues to bring comics to town at the TADA Theatre after his Comedy Loft went under during the pandemic.

Eight year ago, Stewart shined a light -- a beacon -- on what Lincoln was lacking and worked hard to fill the void.

A month after his death, we know now that it's up to someone else to step forward. Maybe it can't be done by one person, but instead by a handful of people who recognize the need.

But it will take time, Sinclair understands.

"It’s starting to catch on a little," Sinclair said. "As with anything, it starts slowly, getting people to look and see. We’re doing something new here.

"So far, it’s going pretty well."

Sinclair would have never believed that would be the case last year when a guy named Agostino Zoida, a native of Los Angeles who wrote for the sitcom "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," told him he was on his way to Lincoln to see a Huskers game.

While here, he wished to do a stand-up set or two and asked if Sinclair could oblige him. Of course, Sinclair did just that. And Zoida came back again this fall for a weekend of football and comedy and plans to keep doing it each fall for the foreseeable future.

That works for Backswing, which only sees the upside of a working relationship like that.

"I’m in the beer business," Sinclair said. "We have a space in the back of the brewery we can set up and it works well for a comedy show.

"That's good for us."

That's good for Lincoln, too.

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