By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Dudley Riggs made a mark on the Twin Cities before passing away on Sept. 22 at the age of 88, particularly with the Brave New Workshop improvisational comedy club that he ran for 39 years. Along with many warm memories, he also leaves behind a treasure trove — his papers are in the Libraries’ Performing Arts Archive.

The Riggs collection

Young-Dudley-Riggs-the-clown
Young Dudley Riggs, the clown.

After Dudley donated his papers, archivist Kate Dietrick had the task of processing more than 170 boxes of materials, many of which were not well organized. “It appeared that Dudley kept absolutely everything,” she says, so the processing the items took quite a while.

She particularly liked things from his days as a clown: “photographs behind-the-scenes from his time with the traveling circus, his clown shoes and clown makeup, and old circus posters.”

From the Brave New Workshop era, she enjoyed seeing the menus and how they were tweaked. And then there were these (initially mysterious) lists written on cardboard.

“I discovered they were lists of sketches, outlining the order of sketches to be done during shows,” Dietrick wrote. “Makes sense . . . but why were they on cardboard? I had the opportunity to meet Dudley and I asked him about it. He said that the cardboard was from packages of shirts. He wore new white shirts on stage each night, and the cardboard was from the shirt packages. He had so many of them lying around his office that he just used them to list the sketches on!”

Friends remember Riggs

Dudley Riggs balancing on one hand
Dudley Riggs balancing on one hand

“He was awfully good company,” says Paul Von Drasek, husband of Lisa Von Drasek of the Libraries. They became friends with Riggs and his wife, Pauline Boss, after a neighbor, radio personality Krista Tippett, introduced them in 2012. Paul and Dudley would go to the movies or have lunch together.

Riggs had sold the Brave New Workshop in 2010 but, Paul says, “when Dudley and Pauline were sent a limo to go to shows, we went along.” For one show, Al Franken accompanied them. “During the intermission,” Paul says, “it was so great to have all the people stopping by to say hello and to say to both, ‘Thank you for your service.’” He adds that he felt the staff at Brave New Workshop really held him close to their heart.

Erik Anderson, a University of Minnesota Press editor, became close to Riggs while working with him on his memoir, “Flying Funny: My Life Without a Net.” Their relationship started well. “It was wonderful. It’s hard not to get along with Dudley, an incredible, funny, generous person. We hit it off right away.”

Dudley Riggs atop his Brave New Workshop
Dudley Riggs atop his Brave New Workshop

He regularly went to the Riggs-Boss home to go over chapters, while they enjoyed British tea and biscuits. “The great thing about Dudley is you didn’t have to tell him how to tell a story,” Anderson says. Often when they were talking about something, he would get up and go find something related. When he talked about how close he was to his Grandmother Riggs, who performed as a clairvoyant, Riggs got up — and came back with her crystal ball.

Dudley Riggs was known for wearing bow ties. When Anderson and his wife went to have tea with Dudley and Pauline before the Minnesota Book Awards, Anderson wore a suit and a tie. One of them said, “You should really have a bow tie on.” Dudley fetched a couple from his closet and showed Anderson how to tie a bow tie — leaving behind a cherished memory.

Tangible treasures are lovely — and so is the joy of remembering a dear friend.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I loved Dudley, so happy to midwife the perfect marriage between Erik Anderson at U of MN Press and Dudley. Yes, Dudley knew how to tell a story, and WHAT a story it is, a life in a moving circus, flying high, falling ,blown away by a tornado, but always the show went on, So much I didn’t know in their masterful book, FLYING FUNNY. Was amazed that, through
    all his time traveling with the family circus, he managed to attend… Mankato State! Which s what brought him to settle here. He lives on in the Brave New Workshop all all the sketch comedy filling late night TV now. bur also in the delightfully and moving FLYING FUNNY. Do read it. You’ll learn, among many other amazements, that his father did a handstand on a chair at the top of the Empire state building, in the wind, to promote the NT World’s Fair! Jim Lenfestey

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