Secret Standup comedy show revived through Willow Creek Theatre

Secret Standup, a stand-up comedy show with a focus on creating a space for students to perform, returns to Iowa City at Willow Creek Theatre with co-hosts Joe Marino and Ian Triplett.


Grace Kreber

A sign outside the Willow Creek Theater on March 9, 2022.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

When Secret Standup first started in Iowa City, the event was meant to give beginning comics — mostly students — a place where they could perform comedy routines. The show took place in unfinished basements, its location dependent on mere availability.

Years later, in February of this year, Secret Standup has found a home above ground — at Willow Creek Theatre.

Willow Creek occupies the space that was temporarily The Treehouse on 327 S Gilbert St., a space which hosted improv classes and shows, skits, and stand-up comedy.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many local businesses had to close their doors to the public, including the Treehouse. Willow Creek Theatre took over the space in 2021.

Willow Creek artistic director Luke Brooks said that while The Treehouse has dissolved, there is still a working relationship with the individuals who formed it.

“That’s kind of one of those unfortunate casualties of the pandemic,” Brooks said. “We were in communication with all the folks [from The Treehouse] doing all the different kinds of programming, and we knew going in we wanted to keep all of the fun cool aspects of what they were all doing.”

Secret Standup is one such program. Comedian Brigid Martin was a member of Secret Standup prior to its affiliation with The Treehouse. Martin said that she was glad the program was able to continue with Willow Creek to give students a space to perform.

RELATED: DITV: Inside “Secret Standup”

Before Secret Standup’s formation, Martin said Iowa City’s stand-up comedy scene was not geared toward students — shows took place at inconvenient times and in spaces where students didn’t feel welcome. Most opportunities for comedy exclusively catered to older communities, in locations where younger students — particularly those under 21 — could not get any experience.

Secret Standup was intentionally geared toward students who had a passion for comedy.

“We really just wanted a space where we could have these sorts of programs and have people who could do that without, you know, putting themselves in environments where they weren’t necessarily comfortable or weren’t necessarily the best environments for them to work,” Martin said.

The current host of Secret Standup is Joe Marino, a senior at the University of Iowa who only recently began doing stand-up. Prior to Secret Standup’s revival at Willow Creek, Brooks reached out to Marino and asked him to host the student comedy showcase.

While Marino only started attending open mics in September of 2021, he has already made a name for himself in the Iowa City community. He said that his favorite element of stand-up is being able to hear the audience laugh, and at times, heckle the performer.

“It’s just fun to be able to go off of what [the audience] said and have jokes that only work in that room,” Marino said. “You’re never really going to tell [that joke] again because it’s just based off of that audience interaction.”

Marino said that he looks forward to getting Iowa City’s student stand-up community revived again and has had the opportunity to meet a few of the old organizers. Currently, Marino is collaborating with former Secret Standup host Ian Triplett to co-host the show.

“[We’re] starting to bring a community back that kinda has been dead,” Marino said. “It’s cool to see a ton of students roll up to Willow Creek to watch Secret Standup and getting students more involved in comedy, honestly.”