High Plains Comedy Festival celebrates roaring Denver stand-up sceneBy John Wenzel | August 22nd, 2013 | No Comments »
Adam Cayton-Holland is biased.
â€śPound-for-pound, weâ€™ve got one of the best comedy scenes in the country,â€ť said the Denver stand-up who helps run the Grawlix comedy troupe. â€śAnd Iâ€™m tired of Denver being overlooked because it doesnâ€™t have a festival to elevate it.â€ť
Unlike a lot of Mile High City arts boosters, Cayton-Holland has evidence to back up his assertion. Heâ€™s logged thousands of miles traveling internationally for gigs, festivals, and TV recordings, flying the Denver comedy flag and taking lessons from similar scenes in Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; Minneapolis and Atlanta.
â€śIf some of our Denver comedians canâ€™t always go out to New York and L.A. and make impressions with the industry and other comics, then New York and L.A. can come here,â€ť he said.
Denver has never enjoyed a dedicated national stand-up fest, despite groundbreakers like the Laugh Track Comedy Festival or Too Much Funstival. That changes this weekend when Cayton-Holland, along with producer and comic Andy Juett, debuts the High Plains Comedy Festival.
The two-day event features a mix of Denverâ€™s best comics, such as Chuck Roy, Jordon Doll and Mara Wiles, backed by acclaimed national stand-ups with numerous Comedy Central and TV credits, including Reggie Watts, Kurt Braunohler, Kyle Kinane, Matt Braunger and Beth Stelling.
â€śWe have this great scene with two Comedy Works, an Improv, some B and C clubs and a flourishing alternative scene thatâ€™s taken their cues from the music scene,â€ť said Cayton-Holland.
The nationally renowned Comedy Works has groomed its patrons to appreciate top-notch touring stand-ups, he said. But the High Plains Festival, which takes place at four venues along South Broadway Aug. 23-24, is a DIY event in the vein of The Denver Postâ€™s Underground Music Showcase. Some events, such as the running open-mic at the Hornet, are free.
The festival evolved parallel to but separate from the sceneâ€™s commercial heavy hitters. In other words, Comedy Works and Denverâ€™s Comedy 103.1-FM station are not taking part.
â€śThe spirit of Denver is pretty independent and art-focused, and the Grawlix guys and their earlier incarnations have shown you can be successful working that way,â€ť said Juett, who helps produce the monthly, sold-out Grawlix shows.
Juett wonâ€™t reveal sales figures for High Plains, which is bankrolled by the Illegal Peteâ€™s burrito chain and others, but said itâ€™s already profitable. The national comics are not coming out on their own dimes, but their affection for Denver is a result of the relationships Cayton-Holland and his Grawlix cohorts have built outside the city, as well as the now-established circuit of comedy shows those comics play in Denver after each Grawlix visit.
â€śItâ€™s exciting when a whole scene comes together like that,â€ť said Braunohler, a national comic playing High Plains who released his debut â€śHow Do I Land?â€ť on Kill Rock Stars this week. â€śI came up in New York, and there were so many micro-scenes like that. It really builds and starts to snowball.â€ť
The Front Range has more open-mic comedy nights than ever â€” 19, according to comedy-tracking site 5280comedy.com â€” and a number of regular stand-up showcases at venues such as the Voodoo Comedy Lounge, the Bug Theatre and the Deer Pile.
â€śI think it could happen in any city, but it happened here because of a serendipitous turn of events,â€ť said Cayton-Holland. â€śI feel like itâ€™s the perfect microcosm of what comedy could be like in the U.S. right now.â€ť