It's all in the delivery.
That's how you get laughs, Dan Cole said. It's a lesson in comedy he learned decades ago watching his older brother Alex perform standup routines across the country.
Dan - better known to local sports radio listeners as the Common Man - went on tour in the early 1980s with Alex Cole, who performed at 1,700 college campuses from the East Coast to the South.
"That's where I watched comedy," said Dan, a Woodbury resident and KFAN radio personality. "You'd think, 'I could do that.'"
Some 30 years later, Dan has finally decided to try his hand at it. He said it only makes sense that he's taking to the stage with his brother, a veteran of comedy circuits.
"I kind of try to pattern myself after what he does," Dan said earlier this month in an interview with the Bulletin.
On Saturday the Cole brothers bring their act to the Big Laughs Comedy Club at Wildwood Lodge in Woodbury.
They're calling it the "Flop-sweat and Tears Tour" - a nod to the discomfort comics can experience on stage when audience members respond with the stone face. The crickets. The courtesy laugh.
Dan, a relative newcomer to standup, knows the feeling. The 52-year-old recalled a show in Mankato where an opening bit he expected to kill was met with virtual silence.
"That was a flop-sweat night," he said.
Thankfully, he said, there haven't been many nights like that.
With about 25 shows behind him now, Dan said he's getting his comedy legs under him.
"I enjoy it when I'm onstage," he said. "It's a thrill."
But it's a far cry from his day job as a radio talk-show host who riffs on everything from sports to his golf game.
"I try to separate the two," Dan said.
Still, he can't leave it all at the office. Some jokes are just too good to pass up.
"If the Timberwolves ever get good, there goes the first seven minutes of my act," he laughed.
Dan's act usually runs about 20 minutes before he turns it over to Alex, the headliner.
Alex, the storyteller
For Alex, 56, the tour represents something of a throwback to the days when he and Dan would hit the road for shows. He lamented how live comedy has taken a backseat to easy-access standup, like programming on Comedy Central and the Internet.
"Now it's kind of different," Dan agreed.
Back in the day, you hit the circuits to packed houses. Even in small towns.
But Alex said he senses a revival in live standup: comics going out to communities, rather than making audiences drive miles for a show.
"That's what we're doing in Woodbury," Alex said, referring to the Wildwood show, located on the other side of 494 from Woodbury.
But if you're expecting Alex to meet the comedy industry's six-joke a-minute quota, you'll be in for a letdown. Hearkening back to a different age of standup, Alex delivers the slow burn in his routine - allowing jokes to develop through storytelling.
The method continues to be a hit with audiences, said Bill Bauer, a comedy promoter and longtime friend of the Coles.
"I'm not even sure how he does it," Bauer said. "There's certain people - and Alex is among them - who can get you to sit on the edge of your seat and be fascinated with their story."
He said Alex brings a distinct certainty and confidence to the stage that's unparalleled in Twin Cities standup.
"It's an art form, and Alex is the most talented comedian in the Minneapolis scene," Bauer said.
Blame the act on Bill Cosby.
As children in the 1960s, Alex and Dan listened to the legendary comedian's records and absorbed his narrative style. Alex fondly recalled how he would also find his parents and other relatives soaking up the Cosby records.
"I was definitely influenced by the way he told stories," Alex said.
That, and funny family members.
The Cole brothers remember how their father and uncles used to generate belly laughs. "Uncle Laddie," Dan recalled, "could have killed on the Tonight Show."
"We have a funny family," Alex said. "When we were kids, it was like watching people perform."
And now both the Cole brothers are there. Up on stage. Making them laugh.
"It is cool," Dan said. "You go, 'Hey, they like me.'"