Kayvan Khalatbari bankrolls Denver comedy with marijuana and pizza
While the national media may know Kayvan Khalatbari as a thirty-year-old wunderkind of cannabis, with a consulting firm that takes him around the country, many in Denver just know him as the guy who pays them to talk on stage. Khalatbari also owns a couple of Sexy Pizza restaurants, and significant portions of the profits from that business go toward bolstering Denver's comedy scene -- an artform that has seen immense popularity here over the last decade, particularly with the Sexy-sponsored Too Much Funstival and High Plains Comedy Festival this summer.
We included Khalatbari in this week's cover story, Meet three ganjapreneurs in the brave new world of weed. Here's more from Khalatbari about what first sparked his interest in comedy, why philanthropy makes business sense, and what the future holds for public pot smoking.
Kayvan Khalatbari: That was through the Whiskey and Cigarettes podcast guys: Jake Becker, Jake Browne, Zach Maas. I knew Jake through Colorado Dispensary Services, and then he signed on with Denver Relief when they closed down. We'd all been hanging out for a while, going to shows and talking comedy, then we decided to do a comedy show of our own at Sexy Pizza.
And that gave us the idea that we should have these events where people are allowed to smoke freely.
Do you think that legislators will eventually warm up to the idea of allowing marijuana smoke at a bar or comedy club?
With the passage of Amendment 64, I know what's going to happen: There's going to be all of these out-of-towners coming here and getting busted for smoking in public, or getting kicked out of their hotel room. You can't tell people they can smoke pot and then give them nowhere to do it. So I see marijuana clubs as something of a necessity.
Marijuana is obviously going to be huge here. And we have probably the best local comedy scene in the entire country. The talent, the collective nature comics have here -- it reminds me of the marijuana industry.
You've been involved in Denver comedy far more than just Sexpot, though. I see the name Sexy Pizza on almost every stand-up poster in town. How many shows and comedy teams are you involved in?
Sexy Pizza and Denver Relief both sponsored High Plains. We sponsor Too Much Fun, These Things Matter podcast, Narrators, Lucha Libre and Laughs, and we sponsored the Improv Comedy festival last fall.
I feel lucky to have come along when I did. I don't know how it snowballed, but it did. I didn't really do very much to Denver comedy except help promote people who were already doing it. These were people who knew what they were doing, were smart as shit, they were funny as hell, and they already had a community here that were supporting each other. Everything was there, and I was very fortunate to come along when I did and induce a little money and some marketing.
I'd love to help more. I've worked with a few comics on setting up a business and how to deduct expenses related to shows. Just helping with their financial situation, because that's what often hinders them the most, their inability to manage that.
Illegal Pete's launched its comedy-sponsoring Greater Than Collective around the same time that you began helping out the comedy scene. At that time, did you feel that you were once again, like marijuana, witnessing an industry in its infancy?
I'd been going to a lot of Comedy Works and Fine Gentleman's shows, and I think that's what did it for me. I saw what a large draw they had, and how good it can get. I'd been to comedy shows in different places like Nebraska or California, and they just don't compare to what I've seen in Denver. I knew that this scene was something special.
But at the same time I was seeing so many people with a lot of talent that they weren't able to showcase or live off of. Comedians don't always have business acumen; they don't necessarily have all the money they need to get these shows on, or manage that money. So I've been trying to help them out wherever I can. It's just something I want to do, there isn't really anything behind it.