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Live From Fargo-Moorhead: The Linebenders

Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography

From comedy to the theatre to a symphony orchestra, Fargo-Moorhead has many opportunities for community members to attend or get involved with local performing arts. Join us as we discover more from some of the organizations offered in our area — hopefully, you’ll be inspired to catch a show or maybe even audition and get a first-hand experience.

*Throughout the month of March, we will be releasing different sections of Fargo Monthly’s cover story, Live From Fargo-Moorhead, online. Continue to return for more articles featuring local members and organizations of Fargo-Moorhead’s performing arts community.

The Linebenders

In 2001, Marty Jonason decided that the region could use a professional improv comedy troupe. He held auditions and The LineBenders were born. Ownership changed hands in 2003 when Bill Lucas took over the troupe and eventually sold the company to JJ Gordon in 2008. Gordon, the artistic director, explains who the LineBenders are and the impact they make — both locally and nationally — as well as an update on their new space — the Comedy University.

What do the LineBenders offer throughout the year?
JJ Gordon: There is hardly a weekend where The LineBenders are not performing or using their unique set of skills in some way or another. Here are some examples.

Touring
The LineBenders have traveled from coast to coast with their unique brand of improv comedy. Over the last 17 years, more than 1,500 companies have invited The LineBenders to perform at their company functions. That means we have had the pleasure of providing laughs for somewhere north of 100,000 people. Every fall, we offer a season of free shows called “The Living Room Series” during which we bring a full improv show to fans’ living rooms. You can host a neighborhood event, a fundraiser, a birthday bash or just about anything. We provide the entertainment. It’s the least we can do to show our gratitude to all of the people who support us during the year.

Custom Trivia with a Twist
Every Tuesday, members of The LineBenders host an evening of general knowledge trivia at Fargo Billiards and Gastropub. Every question is written by comedians to be funny and challenging. Questions like “Name That Stache” (where teams must identify a celebrity from JUST their mustache) have been around since we started hosting in 2010 — a long-running staple that has also become very popular for corporate events. We mix questions based around your company with some of our favorites from the past eight years. Oh yeah, we also provide some pretty sweet prizes — free t-shirt, anyone?

Crisis Intervention Training (CIT)
The LineBenders leave the laughs at the door and focus on creating real-world scenarios dealing with mental crisis to aid in law enforcement training. We have had the pleasure of touring the region acting in these training scenarios. Situations deal with manic bipolar individuals, schizophrenia and suicide. These scenarios last for almost an hour at a time. Our small part in these training exercises is changing the way law enforcement agencies serve the public. We use the same skills as a traditional improv show, but the end result is making our communities a better place to live. We are very proud and honored to have been a part of these training sessions for the last eight years. When a Crisis Intervention Training participant tells us that our small portion of the training was incredibly realistic and helped them hone the skills to help those community members, it takes our breath away.

Improv Skills in the Workplace
The LineBenders also get a chance to tell their story to companies across the country while helping to build communication, teamwork and improve company morale. We all have sat through a boring presentation and we wanted to change the approach to onsite workshops. It’s like having a live improv comedy show during the business day. Add to that the fact that laughter helps your memory retain ideas and concepts, it’s hard to top and sure to please any group.

In what ways can people get involved — on stage or off?
JG: We always have opportunities for those who would like to learn improv or sharpen their skills. On Thursdays, we offer a drop-in improv class for beginners and intermediates. Non-stop fun and a great way to improve your reaction time. A lot of business professionals come, we also see some retirees looking for something out of the ordinary and, of course, the college-aged folks. We are also looking for people who want to perform in the new space. Recitals, sketch comedy groups, stand up, performance artists, classes — you name it. If you are looking for space to create something special, let’s talk.

What about the LineBenders specifically adds to the culture of Fargo-Moorhead? What’s unique about it?
JG: Our company provides a small piece of relief from everyday life. When you come to a LineBenders show, you get to laugh, participate in the comedy and have a story to tell folks the next day. We also feel like we add to the business community. All the members of The LineBenders are paid. Over the last five years, our total payouts to performers have surpassed anyone’s wildest dreams. Those individuals pay taxes, rent, shop at stores and add to our local economy. It’s a perfect blend of art and business.

Year to Volunteer

JJ Gordon: In 2019, we’re launching our third “Year to Volunteer” in which we donate our shows to organizations looking to host a fundraiser, but don’t want to break the bank on entertainment. We will have a large collection of dates and groups can contact us to get on the list. From there, we will choose a date and help put together a show that the nonprofit can use to fundraise or celebrate the individuals who volunteer for their organization. Just another way we can show our sincere appreciation and gratitude for helping make The LineBenders the longest running professional improv troupe in the region.

New Venue

Tell us about your new space — the Comedy University!
JJ Gordon: For years, we’ve bounced around from venue to venue, and we greatly appreciate the folks who have hosted us, but it was time we had a place to call home. We’ll still tour, but we can now invite groups from the region and nation to come to Fargo-Moorhead and perform on our stage. We’ll perform there as well, but the end game is introducing the awesome people of the FM area to some of the best comedy that North America has to offer.

What will the schedule look like?
JG: In the beginning, it will feature The LineBenders a lot. We are planning on every single Friday and Saturday in March — with multiple shows on St. Patrick’s Day. After that, we are opening the doors to welcome other groups from anywhere. You’ll see the local high school troupes in here, as well as professional additions. I would highly suggest checking out our Facebook page and website because the schedule will be constantly evolving. Something for everyone!

Written by Kara Jeffers

Fargo Monthly Editor Kara Jeffers is from Garrison, North Dakota, a small town north of Bismarck, North Dakota, on Lake Sakakawea. She graduated from North Dakota State University in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in theatre arts. In addition to working at Spotlight Media, Jeffers also works at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor’s Center, where she’s one of the first people (and, at times, the only person) visitors meet when they arrive in North Dakota—talk about pressure.

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