A few months ago, I wrote about Denver’s successful High Plains Comedy Festival, which spotlighted such high profile alt-comics as Reggie Watts and Kurt Braunohler. Denver, just a few hours up I-25, is becoming a major port of comedy—and with its success, Albuquerque’s comedy scene grows, too.
Producer and comic Dawn Schary recently created Carpe Diem Comedy, a standup show at Imbibe (3101 Central NE) every first Thursday. It’s the only monthly show in the Nob Hill area and is already bringing in high quality talent from the burgeoning Denver scene. Schary’s stage persona is foul-mouthed and often brutally honest, but as her day-to-day self, the comic cheerfully explains, “My vision is to connect nearby comedy scenes, and to make ABQ an obvious place to hit on a young comic's tour.”
photo by Crystal Allen
For this month’s show, comic Jordan Doll travels down from the Mile High city to riff on monsters, video games and wizards. On stage he skillfully tackles paranormal scenarios, a theme he carries into his comedy podcast “Werewolf Radar.”
Fellow Denver comic Nathan Lund, one-fourth of the comedy group Fine Gentleman’s Club, also takes the helm at Carpe Diem Comedy this month. Watching Lund onstage is like watching a very well-read mountain man expertly navigate a laser beam field—he weaves smartly through jokes about his weight, politics and passive-aggressive lovemaking skills.
Functioning as a bridge between ABQ and Denver comedy, the Nov. 7 Carpe Diem Comedy show is a blend of extremely absurd, silly and politically charged comedy. Show starts at 7pm and is absolutely and magically free.
Comedy superstar Reggie Watts can be a hard man to track down.
Noon the second day of the inaugural High Plains Comedy Festival and about 15 of us hungover comics piled into a party bus and headed to the mountains for a day of swimming at El Dorado springs. The bus filled with Colorado-legalized pot smoke, the Pabst Blue Ribbon flowed, and comic Kurt Braunohler sat in a sink just to catch a ride. As we made our way up the mountain, it occurred to me: The comedy scene in Denver is less a “scene” and more a constant party with amazingly funny people taking turns holding court.
Most festivals are run by comedy clubs, but High Plains, much like The Bridgetown Comedy Fest in Portland, was created by comics. Organized by Denver’s local and national headliner Adam Cayton-Holland and his business partner Andy Juett, it was not only an overwhelming success, but it highlighted the major talent coming out of Denver and brought in comedy legend Reggie Watts.
Watts drew me to the festival. He is a rare talent. His often absurd music illustrates his comedic wit and is embedded with politically and socially charged lyrics. He rarely passes through the Southwest, so when I heard he was the headliner of High Plains, I immediately set out to meet the comedy superstar. My mission and mantra for the festival became “Find Reggie Watts.”
My quest began Friday night at 3 Kings Tavern on Denver’s South Broadway, a divey bar full of that old beer-soaked wood smell. On the outside, it looked like just a bar on a strip of other bars, but that night it was host to national headlining comics such as Matt Braunger, Kyle Kinane and Cameron Esposito, who all performed on a small stage to a sold-out audience. The show that night at 3 Kings was incredible. Esposito was definitely a highlight with her insightful punchlines. Braunger hit hard, as well, and destroyed the audience with his rant about sipping Jägerbombs like an adult.
Watts’ “Fuck Shit Stack” is surprisingly cerebral but isn’t for the faint of heart.
As I made my way through the packed crowd searching for Watts, I came across quick-witted Esposito, whose recent advice to new male comics went viral. One piece of her wisdom was, “Dress to show off your penis. Or, if you don’t have the best penis, try to go for like a dick next door thing. Wear a hoodie on your penis, you know?” About the festival, she said, “I am so proud and appreciative of this. It’s hard to put on a comic-run festival because you have a job as a comic, and you’re probably broke, but for Andy [Juett] and Adam [Cayton-Holland] to bring in such quality people is great.” Watts never showed at 3 Kings, so I walked the few blocks north to Hi-Dive, another bar, and caught New York-based comic Sean Patton, whose sheer energy on stage made the crowd putty in his hands.
At Friday night’s end, I landed at the open bar after-party in the dark basement of a Buffalo Exchange. I had a few drinks and pondered riding the conveyor belt. As my arm reached to push the “on” button, the store manager quickly intervened and informed me, “It’s quite dangerous and not for recreational use.” Plan thwarted, I continued my search for Watts. So far he was a no-show at any of the venues.
On day two, the Gothic Theatre, an Old West-looking space with balcony seating, was sold out for back-to-back shows. The early show by the Grawlix company had a shirtless Cayton-Holland and Andrew Orvedahl stretch the stress of the festival away as Ben Roy did squats and tried to get the crowd to do synchronized crossfit. Their opening sketch as yoga enthusiasts killed the crowd and set the bar high for the night. Then came the second show and finally Reggie Watts. When host Chris Charpentier introduced him and Watts emerged, the audience went wild. His performance consisted of his absurdist musical comedy with heavy synth beats and improvised lyrics like “bleach is for bitches” followed by nonsensical gibberish that was funnier than most meticulously crafted one-liners. Note after note and beat box after beat box, the intensity of the crowd grew. At 20 minutes his show was surprisingly short, and yet Watts channeled the energy of the audience and triumphantly crushed the sold-out crowd.
When the show ended, I went to the after party at a local comic’s house. At about 1:15am, I saw him. Finally it had happened. I’d found Reggie Watts.There he was, a few feet from me, amongst the thick green vines of the lush Colorado backyard. I had so many things to ask him. What did he think about comic-run festivals? What advice could he give comics who want to improvise? Would he have ridden the conveyor belt? I started the conversation by saying that his show was great. He replied, “Thank you, it’s so great to be here amongst such love and great company.”
With his improvised songs, Watts doesn’t prefer preparation and instead relishes pure comedy “that forms organically.” He is a man of few words. His comedy presence may be boisterous and surreal, especially in music hits like “Fuck Shit Stack,” but he is kind, warm and slightly shy in person. His comedy comes from his need to do a social good and spread, as he says, “love and love.” Maybe it was my timing, maybe it was the booze, but just as I had started to talk to him about comedy, Reggie Watts slipped away.
It was exciting to watch greats like Watts on stage and briefly talk with him afterwards about his urge to do comedy, yet I think a part of me was looking for more than “love” as the catalyst for such a comedy legend. It makes me wonder what I found at High Plains. Was it Watts? Or was it a communion with like minds? While looking for Watts on this journey through the festival, I was witness to one reason why comedians do comedy. It’s because they can take anything, even a bus ride into the mountains or a backyard party, and make it an exciting adventure into the unknown, bolstered by a common goal to bring joy into the world. As Juett says, this fest “reaffirm[ed] that comedy as something to fight for is always, always worth it.”
I called comedian Kurt Braunohler right after one of our Albuquerque monsoons—a real gully washer. The cell reception was sketchy and my phone cut out. I called back and, for the rest of the interview, just to keep him on the line, I had to lean out the window, balancing my computer on my lap, all while under the disapproving glare of my neighbor. Braunohler’s comedy explores those awkward moments in our lives, so nearly falling from the second floor of my house while being silently judged was, in a way, a fitting interview format.
Braunohler, who will feature in Denver’s High Plains Comedy Festival next week, started his career in comedy after college when he took improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. During this time he met Kristen Schaal, the stalker lady from HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords,” and together they created the weekly live variety show “Hot Tub,” now based in L.A. Braunohler’s jokes are big—literally big. He recently raised $6,000 on Kickstarter to hire a skywriting plane to write “How Do I Land?” above Los Angeles.
Braunohler has done everything: improv, sketch and stand-up. Although he only started stand-up about five years ago, he says he prefers this medium of comedy because “it’s a high-stakes scenario…When doing improv, the audience is on your side. They want you to succeed. Even if the improv just barely works everyone is excited for you. But people have very strong opinions about what stand-up is and sometimes the crowd seems to say ‘prove to me that you’re funny.’” Braunohler says he likes this contention, these high stakes, because ultimately the goal of comedy is “to show a level of vulnerability that makes connections with the audience.” To do this, Braunohler says, “No topic can be off-limits, and you can’t be embarrassed about anything.” This sentiment is echoed in his stand-up. Braunohler’s comedy is at times surreal. In one Vine—the short looping video clips so beloved on Twitter—he places googly eyes on an ice cream cone and calls it his little buddy. At other times his work is more personal and reflective. He explores the absurdities of life on his new comedy album, How Do I Land?, released by the venerable indie music label Kill Rock Stars.
Braunohler is excited for next week’s High Plains festival, when comedians from all over the country will swarm Denver for the first major comedy fest in the region. The inaugural High Plains Comedy Festival is headlined by comic genius Reggie Watts, features the brilliant Braunohler and will be packed with Denver comics. Over the past few years, the Denver comedy scene has expanded and flourished, churning out such national headliners as Ben Kronberg and T.J. Miller. As the talent pool has grown, so has the focus on Denver as a key producer of comedy and, in turn, the Southwest as an emerging comedy region. “This is an experiment for Denver and I think anything could happen,” Braunohler reflects. “I can’t wait to see all the comics.”
Take the short trip to the Mile High city and see Watts, Braunohler and 40 other comedians at the High Plains Comedy Festival on Aug. 23 and 24. The Southwest is starting to make a name for itself in the comedy world, and this festival will highlight the area as a place that can bring in big names.
Neutral Milk Hotel super-fan Mike Smith shares an essay deconstructing the man, the myth, the legend as prelude to Jeff Mangum’s Tuesday concert in The Fe. Read Inside Jeff Mangum’s Aeroplane for all the deets. Peep related A/V below. The Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe • Jeff Mangum with Tall Firs • Tue Apr 2 • 7:30 pm • $20-$32 • ALL-AGES! • lensic.org
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Jeff Mangum doesn’t do interviews, so Alibi music columnist (and super-fan) Mike Smith penned an essay that deconstructs the Neutral Milk Hotel phenom and serves as a reminder of Mangum’s inimitable voice and persona.
I am back in college, visiting two girls (Reese Witherspoon and Lara Flynn Boyle.) L is very tall and smells good. A guy named Kenny sits on the floor fixing a fish tank for them. We shake hands awkwardly. We all take a walk down the street, two by two, me with L. We are in downtown Denver. We cross the street. L suddenly has an idea and we return home. I give R a "chicken" crochet sweater. She seems to love it and puts it on over the sweater she's wearing. We discuss her "color." She lets on that she knows about my painting method. She gives me a white, gaudy leather jacket with appliqued colored trinkets. I try it on. It is very stiff and my hands don't seem to fit through the sleeve holes. I do some Russian accent shtick, rather unfunny, with my brother. He pulls on my hand, but pulls me forward and I fall over the couch.
This week’s Flyer on the Wall spirals out of control to invite psych-lovers out to see Denver’s Thee Dang Dangs and locals CanyonLands, Terri Schiavo Dance Party and The Fucking Adventures at Iron Haus (715 Iron SW) on Saturday night. Check out work by performing acts below.
Thee Dang Dangs - “Stone Coast”
CanyonLands - “The Tree Stood Up to the Lightning”
Denver is a big city with the easy-going personality of the mountain states. While it’s not much bigger than Albuquerque in square miles, it’s denser in population and infrastructure. The city is a warren of neighborhoods with names like Capitol Hill, LoDo and Cherry Creek, and I’ve watched them mature over 30-odd years of visiting friends and relatives there.