Mike Bridenstine is cold.
He’s back in the Midwest for a few shows, and the California sun seems to have melted the Burlington native’s tolerance of winter weather.
“I thought that I could handle it because I grew up in the Midwest, but I’m a babe,” said the 37-year-old comedian from Chicago.
On Saturday (2/11), Bridenstine will record his debut album at The Mill in Iowa City. It’s a venue that has special resonance for him in a city full of it.
“My grandfather and my uncle used to play in a bluegrass band there and I used to go see them,” he said.
Bridenstine had a tape of them performing at The Mill and listened to it frequently, even more once his grandfather died, and eventually a family member turned the audio into a digital file for him. When the time came for Bridenstine to make an album, he knew where he wanted to do it.
“I found out they had standup (at The Mill) and I always thought it would be cool if I recorded an album there,” he said.
From Amy Schumer to Aziz Ansari to Kevin Hart, as well as the smaller shows and open mic nights sprinkling the city, Iowa City’s comedy scene has come a long way in Bridenstine’s eyes.
“That just didn’t really exist when I was there,” said the University of Iowa graduate.
He grew up watching a lot of standup comedy, particularly during the ‘90s when it seemed like every other TV channel featured someone between a fake brick wall and a microphone. As the comedy boom busted, it was too late for Bridenstine to divert his interests. He was hooked.
“I was obsessed with standup while it was dying. That’s when I got into it,” he said, comparing the ebbs and flows of its popularity to those of professional wrestling. “There’s times in history when people are like, ‘Did you watch ‘Monday Night RAW?,’ and that would be an OK thing to say at a party.”
During his five years at UI, Bridenstine stoked his interest by hosting comedy nights at Summit.
“(I) slowly met other kids who were interested in standup because they were doing it. There were five of us,” he said. “We would drive to Penguin’s to do that once-a-month open mic and that was it, unless you went to a different town.”
He graduated in 2003 and moved to Chicago, which he pledged to treat it “like it was high school” — he’d stay for four years to work on comedy and then move to New York City or Los Angeles.
After finding some success with Blerds — a group of comics who recorded videos based on their standup bits — it was time for Bridenstine to head west. He’s been in L.A. since late 2007, though he returns to Iowa City each year for the holidays and Hawkeye games.
“Every time I come back to Iowa I fantasize about moving back,” Bridenstine said. “I just like it. It’s what I know. I want to say ‘pop.’ I want to go to Hy-Vee.”
Out in L.A., Bridenstine connected with fellow Hawkeye Tom Arnold who recorded an Instagram video urging people back home to attend the upcoming recording at The Mill.
Bridenstine said Saturday’s show will be “90 percent self-deprecating autobiographical stories where I look like an idiot.” It’s truly a one-night-only affair, as after that he plans to retire this material.
“I’m excited and trepidatious,” Bridenstine said. “Standup is one of those things where you can’t know the variables until it happens. Will it be a supportive crowd? Will it be a comedy crowd? You don’t ever know. I just it want it to go well.”
WHAT: Mike Bridenstine standup performance and album recording
WHEN: 8 p.m., Saturday (2/11)
WHERE: The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., Iowa City
COST: $10 in advance, $15 day of show