Everybody Loves Ben Roy: Denver comics weigh in on their longtime colleague
Westword: How did you and Ben Roy first meet?
Jim Hickox: Through comedy. Years ago, Ben was still on the outside of the group, because the original Wrist Deep group was Ben Kronberg, Greg Baumhauer, Adam Cayton-Holland and myself -- and then as it evolved into Los Comicos, Ben Roy joined.
Had you been doing comedy very long when you first met him?
Not very long, no. Thankfully, I was around when the whole thing started, which was a pretty cool goddamn time. The whole comedy scene started at the Lion's Lair, probably ten years ago. Troy Baxley hosted it, and from there sprouted the Squire. Baxley wanted to give people a picture of what comedy was really like, because everyone went to Comedy Works and killed -- but that was like falling off a log. When you perform at Lion's Lair where everybody hates you, we all learned what comedy is all about real fast. It was the place to cut your teeth.
I didn't really know Ben very well for the first couple of years. He was that guy who was hysterically funny, but who would show up, kill a set, and then leave.
Was he intimidating at that time, both as a comedian and as an unpredictable guy who drank a lot?
For me, when I was younger, yeah. Ben's got that heart of gold that you can't rip out of him, even with all that alcohol. He kept himself pretty isolated. I never really had too many episodes seeing him completely out of control, there were only a few times when he became that pissy little drunk. No one really ostracized him for it.
There was only one time I can remember when Ben was on stage and really lost it. It was one of the first Los Comicos shows at Old Curtis Street, he went on stage and threw all these pennies everywhere, and then dropped the mic and left.
Ben and I both have alcohol problems. When I first met him I'd been sober for five years, and he was struggling to get out of alcohol. Then he started drying out, and that's when I slipped because my life went to shit through heartbreak and losing my dad at the same time. When you see someone fall off the wagon people lose a lot of respect for them, and I didn't do myself any favors. Ben was there, he was supportive, but it's tough love with Ben. There's a unique understanding, a brotherhood, that comes with people with substance-abuse problems. We hear the same sort of voices, experience the same urges. I'm glad I was able to help him out of the woods before I took my own nosedive.
I imagine you two could also help each other as sober comics, since drinking is not only a huge part of comedy culture, but it's a part of the industry with two-drink minimums.
It's a booze-centric industry, absolutely. What I've realized, and I think this generation of comedians have realized, is that you can't drink like a celebrity for your whole comedy career. I know a lot of people who are drying out. And once you do you realize how easy comedy is without it. From a performance standpoint, you see how booze can mute creative energy. When Ben was running clean, he was running on all cylinders, and that's where the energy should be going, instead of going through the filter of alcohol.
But, as you know, so many comics deal with insecurity and anxiety issues, and when they first start performing, a few drinks can be a way to steady the ship.
I think drinking is fantastic. But not for everybody. I treat it like a food allergy, for me. But Ben had a strength of character that allowed him to transcend that first stumbling block that so many comedians can't get over, that necessity to medicate or tranquilize yourself in order to be on stage. Ben is 100 percent present on stage: I've seen him at open mics where no one is there, but he's performing as if he were in front of 2,000 people. He's just on in that way.
What are some of your fondest memories about working with Ben Roy and Wrist Deep?
The first thing that pops into my mind is more of a feeling. I still believe that Ben is my biggest fan, that's the way he makes me feel. I wonder if a lot of people feel that way. He's always been so encouraging of my weird little style. Whenever we were working on Los Comicos or anything like that, he'd encourage every little whim, no matter how weird or capricious.
My favorite thing I've ever done with them was a video called "The Talk." It was an idea Ben had at a meeting about giving his son the talk [about sex], and I just lit up, full inspiration. We followed through with it, and it turned out to be one of the stupidest things. Ben just crushes it.