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'Superior, Wisconsin's No. 1 late-night comedy show' celebrates 10th anniversary

Andrew Kirov and a group of his fellow students launched "Kirov by Night" at the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 2012.

Blond man in gray suit sits at wooden desk bearing 'Kirov by Night' sign, on stage in front of Aerial Lift Bridge painted backdrop
Andrew Kirov hosts "Kirov by Night" sitting behind a desk in classic late-show style.
Contributed / Andrew Kirov

SUPERIOR — Ten years ago, one of Hollywood's most recognizable actors looked directly into a camera and spoke with conviction. "Hello. I'm Martin Sheen , and welcome to 'Kirov by Night': Superior, Wisconsin's No. 1 late-night comedy show."

You might not have realized the "West Wing" star was so well-versed in the Twin Ports entertainment scene. Sheen's local knowledge came from "Kirov by Night" creator Andrew Kirov, who saw an opportunity to enlist a little star power when working as a production assistant on a video shoot in Los Angeles.

"We just asked him, and he was like, 'Yeah, let's do it!' So at the end of the studio session, they just put my script up on the teleprompter," remembered Kirov. "I think he nailed all of it in one take."

"Kirov by Night," which Kirov hosted sitting behind a desk in classic late-show style, would later feature star power of a more local bent. Guests would include former Duluth Mayor Don Ness and the cast of the Duluth Playhouse production of "Spamalot." The show's real stars, though, were Kirov and his collaborators, who first produced the show together as students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

"It was all really self-organized," said Tony Abbott-Kline, who's been part of "Kirov by Night" from the beginning. "I remember being really impressed with the way they got this entire set built. They got a band together. ... The costuming was done by people involved in the show. The cameras were operated by people who ended up being on the show."

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Nick Isaacson, another member of the show's creative team, has vivid memories of recording early video sketches. "I actually got kicked out of helping to record our ' Deep Thoughts With Jenna ' video because I was having a hard time not laughing," he wrote in an email to the News Tribune.

"Kirov by Night," which interspersed sketch comedy with interview segments and musical interludes, had its genesis when Kirov was attending high school in Minong in 2008. "We had a great time with it," Kirov said about the version of "Kirov by Night" he produced with his high school classmates. "I learned a lot."

Kirov took that experience to college at UWS, where he studied theater. "He came to us 10 years ago," remembered professor Cathy Fank, "and said, 'I have this thing I want to do. Could I use the Experimental Theatre?'"

Two men in suits flank shirtless man wearing Pizza Hut apron and, apparently, nothing else but a moustache.
"Kirov by Night" features comedy sketches alongside interview segments and musical interludes.
Contributed / Andrew Kirov

"Kirov by Night," which ran in the black-box space until the host's 2013 graduation, is returning to campus Thursday, March 10, for an anniversary production featuring an appearance by Superior Mayor Jim Paine and "100% new" comedy material, Kirov said.

That material will build on some of the standing bits Kirov and his collaborators developed at UWS and carried through the show's subsequent iterations. Those included a 2013-15 run at The Underground in the Duluth Depot and a 2018-19 television production ("Twin Ports Tonight") on WDSE-TV. "We had some really good recurring sketches like 'the Roaring 1420s,' 'Bad Moments in History,' Kirov by Night Fairy Tales," said the host.

"A lot of the sketches I tend to write end up pretty absurdist or pseudo historical, or usually both," wrote Isaacson. "We like to bring fresh eyes on some of the most disastrous moments in all of history."

Among his own performances, Kirov said, the one that earned the most audience response was based on a Superior man who was convicted for the crime of sexual gratification with an animal in an incident involving a deer carcass. In Kirov's take, he said, the man is "very friendly. He's a very gregarious guy."

For the upcoming anniversary show, Abbott-Kline is working on a sequel to a satirical sketch from the very first episode of "Kirov by Night": a police procedural with actors portraying UWS campus security officers. The new sketch has some "really funny" material that even people who didn't see that original show can appreciate, Abbott-Kline said, but there's also "stuff in there for the diehard 'Kirov by Night' heads to really appreciate."

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Over the years, Kirov has returned to his alma mater for projects including "COmedy VIDeo 2020," which Fank enlisted him to create with students barred from live performance due to the pandemic. While even the charismatic Kirov had trouble pulling students out of the COVID-era doldrums, Fank said, over the years her former student has proved "a great recruiter" for the UWS theater program. "I've given him several new students who were really shy, and that's all it took was doing an Andrew Kirov show one time. Then, they're hooked!"

"It doesn't feel like it's been 10 years. It really doesn't. It feels like it's been a lot shorter than that," Kirov said. "We were just a bunch of college students trying to do some sketch comedy. Now, we've really become professionals at this."

Abbott-Kline said he appreciates every opportunity to reconnect with his longtime "Kirov by Night" collaborators.

"It's almost like Andrew puts up a Batsignal," Abbott-Kline said. "It's like, 'Oh, we're going to do another show,' and we're back there, and it's like there's no time that's been passed."

The "Kirov by Night" anniversary production will take place Thursday, March 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Experimental Theatre in the Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center, 1805 Catlin Ave., UW-Superior. The performance is free, with donations accepted. Masks are required, and guests are encouraged to arrive early as seating is limited.

MORE ABOUT ANDREW KIROV
Andrew Kirov has a house band, a supportive sidekick and a live studio audience. The University of Wisconsin-Superior student has a suit, his own desk, a telephone and a microphone.

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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