Denver, Colorado has one of the most underrated comedy scenes in the country. The scene has boomed in the past few years and has now become a destination city for up-and-coming comics to put down roots. A big part of this boom has been because of a handful of hardworking local comics, two of which launched an indie comedy festival last year. Adam Cayton-Holland and Andy Juett, co-founders of the High Plains Comedy Festival, are bringing in heavy hitters from coast to coast (Kumail Nanjiani, TJ Miller, Ben Kronberg, Jared Logan, Kate Berlant, etc.) to join some of Denver’s finest for the fest’s second year this weekend, August 21-23rd. I had the opportunity to talk to Adam and Andy about the Denver comedy scene and what they have in store for this year’s festival. Check it out.
How did you two get your start in the Denver comedy scene?
Adam Cayton-Holland: I started doing stand-up in Denver about ten years ago. I had just moved back to town (I’m from here) and I started hitting mics in 2004.
Andy Juett: I didn’t really know anyone when I got to Denver, so I pretty much blindly called a comic named Chuck Roy after seeing him at Comedy Works to see if he wanted to do shows or anything creative. We ended up doing about 80 episodes of a podcast called the Chuck Roy Show and we did a monthly live show of the same title with friends like Howard Kremer, Chip Pope, and Brody Stevens from out of town, mixed with some of Denver’s up-and-comers. It was a great learning experience. Looking back, I really had very little idea what I was doing. But I showed up and was enthusiastic and made it happen.
How has Denver’s comedy scene changed since you first started/came to Denver?
Adam: Denver has always had a good comedy scene just because of Comedy Works, which is one of the best clubs in the country. But when I started there was very little outside of that. Not much of an alternative scene. I remember there were two good open mics and that was about it, maybe a one-nighter here or there, but sh*tty rooms. Now the scene is exploding. There’s mics most nights of the week, sometimes multiple mics, and tons of awesome showcase shows around town. Like, really, top notch shows. There’s now two Comedy Works and an Improv has moved to town so there’s plenty of stage-time. National comedians love stopping into Denver because there’s so many amazing shows and rooms and an awesome, comedy-savvy audience. The scene has grown so much in the past ten years, it’s really amazing. I don’t hit open mics much anymore, but every time I drop in to one to run some new stuff, I meet so many new comedians, tons of who have moved from other cities to pursue comedy. In Denver. It’s nuts. Denver is getting a reputation as a great comedy incubator and I think the word is out.
Andy: I think it was more about cliques before whereas, even though now cliques exist, they don’t feel separate. They’re overlapping and more inclusive now. As Adam mentioned, in the past 5 or so years, shows have started popping up all over. The other night, a comic named Anthony Crawford, who just moved here from North Carolina, hit six mics in one night. If you want to work hard here, there’s definitely stage time you can go get. It’s a meritocracy. Hustle and win. That’s part of why I love it.
Where do you think Denver sits amongst the nation’s top comedy scenes?
Adam: I know I talk a big game, but I’ve traveled all over this country doing comedy, there are not many scenes that I haven’t checked out and I think outside of NYC and LA, Denver is absolutely one of the best. Comics that come in from out of town and do my Grawlix show marvel at the scene we have here, they think it’s this fantasy land that we set up for them the few days they’re here. They’re like, “It can’t be like this all the time!” But it is. It’s really a great, healthy, vibrant scene. And I think people are starting to recognize that. When I started going out to LA and NYC people were always asking me, “When are going to move here? When are you making the jump?” Now they ask me when they can come to Denver.
Andy: Outside of New York, LA and Chicago, I feel like Denver’s scene stacks up against any scene in the country. We also may seem geographically isolated at first, but it’s a quick $250 plane flight to LA and only a little more (usually) to New York and Chicago, so the beauty of Denver is we DO have access to the entertainment hubs. Some of us just choose not to live there yet. We’ve had a tremendous amount of success being stubborn and making the stuff WE want to make in Denver. The music scene is similar. People aren’t necessary trying to write broad commercial hits with the hopes of getting airplay. They just make what they want. The comedy scene is just like that. We’re pushing the envelope to keep making great things on stage and screen here in Denver. This way, there’s a track record of success IN DENVER when the Hollywood folks push for stuff from our scene. We have a little more leverage to shoot here. To make Denver a ‘character’ like Portland is in Portlandia. Denver’s a hot town so there’s a lot of reasons to plunk production down in the middle of the town and actually draw from the comedy scene itself.