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.