The past couple weeks Reverb has been looking back — and not in anger, mind you — at the year in music. So I thought I’d shake up the format with two things any mature, 34-year-old man should be deeply concerned about: comedy and video games. Let’s start with the funny stuff.
From economic woes to political turmoil and celebrity meltdowns, we enjoyed — hell, needed — the unfettered opinions of the best stand-up comedians to help put the daily absurdity in perspective, and to say the things the corporate filters and self-censors would rather we didn’t. Stand-up comedy has enjoyed a creative and commercial rejuvenation in recent years, and 2011 proved it’s not over yet.
Here are the top 10 shows I saw in the Denver area during 2011 that showed off the best that comedians can do, from regular showcases to individual stand-up sets, followed by my ten favorite comedy albums of 2011.
10. Laugh Track Comedy Festival, Oriental Theater
Filmmaker duo the Nix Bros.’ growing stand-up and film confab is helping fill a huge hole in the hopping Denver festival (and comedy) scene. What we want for 2012: More out-of-town names and enticements for non-stand-up fans to attend.
9. Too Much Fun, Rockaway Tavern/ City ‘O City
Hip, messy, exhilarating comedy and indie music with a side of PBR from the rising troupe the Fine Gentleman’s Club. If Chris Charpentier, Bobby Crane, Nathan Lund and Sam Tallent continue at this rate, they’ll have created their own scene around their Wednesday night stand-up-and-music showcases, which recently moved from the Rockaway Tavern to City ‘O City.
8. Ladies Laugh-In, Beauty Bar
Heather Snow’s clever marriage of unusual venue and format, which takes place the third Thursday of each month, gives audiences a chance to see stand-ups who often get passed over by the dude-centric clubs and open mics nights around town.
7. Kathy Griffin, Buell Theatre
The Joan Rivers-shaped thorn we desperately need in our sides. Love her or hate her, you can’t deny the laser-like accuracy of her sights or her fearless, frequently self-effacing approach.
6. Marc Maron, Comedy Works
“WTF” podcast star Maron and his everyman anger pretty much nailed the country’s mood this year. Generally uncompromising, cynical and frequently revelatory, his show was a constant must-listen, and his stand-up sets were just as good.
5. Paul F. Tompkins, Gothic Theatre
Urbane, witty narratives from an in-demand L.A. renaissance man. From “Mr. Show” to “Best Week Ever” to his own podcast and celebrity-stuffed shows at the Largo, there seems to be little Tompkins can’t do.
4. Aziz Ansari, Paramount Theatre
Who knew Ansari’s quietly indignant humor would translate so well from MTV’s cred-heavy “Human Giant” to a mass audience? This “Parks and Recreation” co-star and alt-comedy hero is owning his moment in the spotlight, and his live prowess proves it.
3. Mile High Sci-Fi, Denver FilmCenter/Colfax
Costume contests, craft beers and the best live B-movie commentary around? We’ll take it. From “Snowbeast” to “Swimfan,” Harrison Rains and Matt Vogl put on one of the most consistently entertaining shows this side of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
2. Moshe Kasher, Comedy Works
Blindingly hilarious and harsh observations from this rising star, soon-to-be-author and all-around Jew (his words, not mine). A welcome furnace blast of truth and a bracing new voice on the stand-up scene.
1. The Grawlix, Avenue Theater
The core troupe may have changed a bit over the year, as former Wrist Deep Productions members Greg Baumhauer and Jim Hickox left the show, but this monthly stand-up showcase stayed sharp and irreverent in its first 11 episodes, mixing national and local stand-up guests (T.J. Miller, Mara Wiles, Kumail Nanjiani, the Sklar Brothers, etc.) with videos, sketches and an anything-can-happen vibe. Adam Cayton-Holland, Ben Roy and Andrew Orvedahl have done more for Denver’s comedy scene over the past year than many stand-ups have accomplished over their careers.
Top Ten Comedy albums of 2011
10. Amy Schumer, “Cutting”
9. Doug Benson, “Potty Mouth”
8. Sklar Brothers, “Hendersons and Daughters”
7. Doug Stanhope, “Oslo: Burning the Bridge to Nowhere”
6. The Lonely Island, “Turtleneck and Chain”
5. Marc Maron, “This Has to Be Funny”
4. T.J. Miller, “The Extended Play E.P.”
3. Tig Notaro, “Good One”
2. Louis C.K. “Hilarious”
1. Patton Oswalt, “Finest Hour”
Click on Page 2 below to see Reverb’s picks for the Top Ten video games of 2011.