Dudley Riggs, founder of Brave New Workshop, dies at 88

Updated: September 22, 2020 06:15 PM
Created: September 22, 2020 05:03 PM

Dudley Riggs, the founder of the Minneapolis comedy theatre Brave New Workshop, has died. He was 88.

John Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl, co-owners of the theatre, told KSTP they learned of Riggs' death Tuesday morning.


Riggs, a fifth-generation member of a distinguished show business family, started Brave New Workshop in 1958. He produced topical and political satirical shows and regular improvisation performances for 39 years before handing over the reigns Sweeney and Lilledahl in 1997.

During his time at BNW, which is the longest-running satirical comedy theatre in the U.S., Riggs inspired, mentored and employed thousands of comedic writers and performers, the theatre said.

A memorial is being planned for later this year. Those who'd like to share stories of Riggs or messages with his family and friends
can send an email to

The full statement from Sweeney and Lilledahl can been seen below.

"We learned of Dudley’s passing this morning and are heartbroken. On behalf of the entire Brave New Workshop family, our condolences go out to his dear wife and partner, Pauline, his entire family and everyone who has been touched by his one-of-a-kind comedic brilliance and his enduring legacy. We had been communicating with Pauline and some of Dudley’s closest colleagues over the past few weeks to help plan an upcoming tribute for him. Our work here will continue, and we’ll ensure his memorial later this year honors the remarkable and undeniable impact he’s had on the world of comedy.

"We first met Dudley in 1992. To say that we had “never met anyone like this man” is an understatement. A brave, bold beginning is the first part of any great satirical piece, and Dudley’s life fearlessly shot out of a circus canon like no one else on our planet. We have had the honor of knowing Dudley for the past 28 years and have been caretakers of his legacy for the past 22, and have been forever altered by his amazing story, genius, and humility. How many people do you know that grew up in the circus, became an aerialist, later started what is now the longest running satirical comedy theatre in the country, and now have an entire genre of humor named after them (“Riggsian”)?

"While those are reasons enough to consider someone a rarity, there is more. In a world where egos prevail, Dudley was incomparably always about ‘the work.’ Creating extraordinary work, brave work, and work that could make people think, laugh, feel, and squirm in their seats is what drove him. For someone or something to be ‘historical’ it seems it must be significant, both in the past and in how it shapes the future. Perhaps it is also unusual...or game changing. And maybe it is even notable for its staying power. Dudley Riggs himself, and the satirical legacy he has created, are all these things. No other person or place on our planet can claim this comedic endowment. On behalf of everyone who has ever passed through the Brave New Workshop doors, we love you Dudley. And above all, we thank you!"

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