Story by Emily Przekwas at Innovator’s Peak. Check them out for more stories about Colorado’s relationship with technology, innovation, and the human spirit.
It takes a special person to be a stand-up comedian. Not only do you have to have passion, quick wit and a unique perspective on the world, you also need balls/ovaries of steel to make it through what will likely be years of cold rooms, bad jokes and bombing before the fruits of your labor will finally pay off.
But if you can make it through the heckles and boos, there is, I’m guessing, no better feeling than knowing you have the power to transform people’s perspectives on their ordinary lives into something entertaining and their struggles into something laughable. And the ego boost must be nice, too.
Right now, the Denver comedy scene is blazing with talent. Almost every night there are opportunities to see local and national comedians cutting their teeth at shows around Denver. The Deer Pile Wednesday nights, the Biergarten in Boulder Sunday nights, and 3 Kings Tavern on Thursdays run weekly, all put on by Sexpot Comedy. Monthly shows like Tickle Monster at the Bug Theatre, and the new Underground Stand Up Comedy Showcase at the Soiled Dove draw national talent as well. But for the grandest, most bedazzled spectacle of them all, there is nothing better than the annual High Plains Comedy Festival, which runs at various venues along South Broadway, and the Paramount Theatre from August 20 through 22.
Sponsored by the righteous supporters of Denver’s comedy scene, Illegal Pete’s, Sexy Pizzaand Denver Relief, the festival showcases over 70 comedians at various stages of their comedic career and was founded by Denver comedians Andy Juett and Adam Cayton-Holland with the help of Pete Turner of Illegal Pete’s. Just as no two people are the same, stand-up comedy showcases our collective individuality. The diversity of perspectives shared at the festival really means that there is something for everyone.
And the interaction between comedian and audience is what allows comedians to grow and develop. In Denver, we have the perfect combination. An enlightened (or perhaps just stoned) audience giving comedians the preparation to enter big cities like Los Angeles and New York City, known as comedy meccas. Denver locals Ben Roy, Andrew Orvedahl and Adam Cayton-Holland, who collectively perform as “The Grawlix,” commute regularly to Los Angeles to film a series for TruTV and have been accompanied by other comedians from Denver like Juett, Haley Driscoll, Kristin Rand and Chris Charpentier, all of whom will be back in Denver for this year’s festival.
There will also be some big names from the national comedy scene headlining shows at the festival including Nikki Glaser who was just named, alongside The Grawlix, by Variety magazine in Los Angeles as one of 10 comedians to watch in 2015; Anthony Jeselnik, who is hosting the current season of Last Comic Standing, which premiered on July 22; and Jonah Ray, who co hosts the Comedy Central show The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail.
But the bread and butter of the festival will be the numerous scrappy Denver comics who can be seen around Denver nightly, hosting, emceeing and turning out laughs across the spectrum. Sam Tallent, Bobby Crane and Nathan Lund of the fine Gentleman’s Club, Brent Gill of Boulder Biergarten and host of the New Faces contest at Comedy Works, and Jordan Doll and Aaron Urist of Crush City will all be performing sets. Denver up-and-comers Stephen Agyei, Christie Buchele, Janae Burris and Steve Vanderploeg will also be performing.
For more alternative perspectives, check out Ben Kronberg, whose dry wit and musical accompaniment gives a contemporary edge to the genre, and Chicago comedy vet Ron Lynch. And for the queer audience, powerhouse Rhea Butcher, also originally from Chicago, and Jordan Wieleba, a transgender comedian from Denver, are must-sees.
For a change of pace from the typical stand-up show, Power Violence, a group from Los Angeles known for their outlandish performances, will be performing Thursday night at 3 Kings Tavern. These Things Matter, hosted by locals Taylor Gonda and Kevin O’Brien, will be performing a live podcast Saturday afternoon. Cartoons and Comedy, hosted by Christopher Baker, will doing a fun show Saturday at Mutiny Information Cafe. Each night will feature an open mic night if you want to see some of the raw stuff, too.
Across the country, comedians have created a tight-knit community that crosses state boundaries. And if you want to be part of this year’s High Plains Comedy Festival, there are opportunities to volunteer on the website. But one of the best parts of having a local scene as strong as Denver’s is right now is that you get to see artists in the midst of their craft. Even if they aren’t on stage, the audience will be crawling with comedians supporting one another and studying their peers for inspiration and technique.
Even if you don’t recognize them now, it’s a good bet to say that one of the next big names in comedy will be sitting a couple seats down from you at some point during the festival.
UPDATE: If you want to see even more from Sexpot Comedy, check out the first three episodes of GLENN HAS IDEA$, created by Andy Juett and Andrew Orvedahl. And stay tuned! Word has it they’re planning for 6 more to drop in the next 2 weeks.