Why So Serious, Darrell Hammond? (Comedy Works edition)By John Wenzel | September 8th, 2011 | No Comments »
For the latest “Why So Serious?” we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of Denver stand-up institution Comedy Works, which will commemorate the occasion with sets this weekend from master impressionist and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Darrell Hammond, as well as Flip Orley and Denver’s Ben Roy.
Of course, when Wende Curtis started out as a cocktail waitress at Comedy Works’ now-defunct Fort Collins location in 1986, she never imagined she would someday own the club. “I was lucky,” Curtis said earlier this week. “I didn’t start this. I only built upon and evolved the business.”
That may be. But three decades on, the Comedy Works brand — which encompasses the longtime Larimer Square club, a 2008 Greenwood Village expansion and a powerful promotions and booking company — carries the same weight in the comedy world as national chains like the Improv.
“It’s sort of the Lorne Michaels thing, this combination of a great business person and an artist,” said Hammond, comparing Curtis to the creator of another comedy institution.
Check out our interview with Hammond below.
Watch Darrell Hammond as President Clinton in this “reunion” sketch from FunnyorDie.com.
So in a departure from my usual questions, I’d like to talk a little bit about Comedy Works. You’ve said before it’s one of your favorite clubs, but what do you think makes it so appealing to stand-ups?
It really is because of the owner, Wende. People that run great comedy clubs for a long time have a strange combination of talent in that they’re great business people but they’re also funny. They know comics and they know how to put funny people out there. They don’t need to listen to bookers or agents or anyone who tries to persuade them that their client is funny. She doesn’t need to do that because she knows funny.
Can you think of other people in the industry like that?
I mentioned Lorne Michaels, that strange combination of business and art. Or like (booker) Estee (Adoram), who runs the Comedy Cellar. Why is it packed on Sunday nights? It’s because Estee knows funny people. She doesn’t put up people because they’re famous or because some agent told her to. She’s discovered half the comics in America. And Wende puts funny people on that stage, and over time, serving up such a nice product like that, it becomes a part of the community. None of her marketing would matter if you’re not putting funny, amazing people on the stage. Plus, Denver’s got some really funny guys and Wende finds them to open the shows.
The last time I saw you in Denver you played Wende’s South club. How long have you been coming to Comedy Works?
I’m going to guess 10 years. I always try to find an excuse to go. Always. I’m doing less stand-up now, not really doing clubs anymore, but I like to do concerts. The last time I was there I thought it was booked into the downtown one, which is why I took that job. It’s a a fine club, but there’s a lot of sentimental value to that (downtown) room because it’s been among my to two or three comedy experiences of my career. It’s not an accident that these people want to come there and tape their albums.
What specifically about the Larimer Square club do you like? I know a lot of people mention the subterranean coziness of it.
The whole thing about having audiences members on stage with you is a stroke of genius. It connects audience member and performer in an intimate way. The impact is immediate. The club is layered so there are no bad seats, and also Wende has mined the theater-going people in the Denver and Boulder area. She’s found them. When we take our act to that room we actually improve ourselves. We end up writing jokes while we’re on stage. It’s hard to explain. But maybe it’s the difference between a baseball player in a sandlot versus Yankee Standium, or maybe Coors Field. That’s the playing surface she provides for comics.
John Wenzel is an executive editor of Reverb and an A&E reporter for The Denver Post. He is the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum) and maintains a Twitter feed of random song titles and band names.