High Plains Comedy Festival explodes in Denver -- and the jokes still echo

Ryan Brackin
Adam Cayton-Holland, co-creator of the High Plains Comedy Festival.
Like an infant growing into an Olympian athlete overnight, this weekend the Denver comedy scene went from an impressive-but-small collection of local talent to a nationally recognized force with its own annual rendezvous. The High Plains Comedy Festival was more than just a killer weekend of ab-crunching hilarity; the heavily attended event was also a kind of state of the union address for Denver comedy, showcasing the strengths, progress and future options of a once-unacknowledged slice of the entertainment industry.

See also: High Plains Comedy Festival: Behind the scenes with Andy Juett

Reggie Watts's festival-headlining performance brought out the big numbers, surely exceeding everyone's expectations of what this festival could draw -- but the dozens of shows along South Broadway throughout the weekend were delightfully stretched to capacity. Treasured locals like Jim Hickox, Jordan Doll and Kristin Rand were introduced to many comedy fans unfamiliar with the local scene, who came out only to see Comedy Central stars like Kyle Kinane and Sean Patton. Now they all have some humorous homework to do in the weeks to come, learning more about all the talent that's been right outside their door.

"I live, like, literally 75 feet from here, and it's so awesome to be able to leave a comedy show and go use your own bathroom," Grawlix comedian Andrew Orvedahl said from the 3 Kings stage Friday.

I also live only a few cartwheels away from these venues, and after bouncing in and out of rock shows at UMS a few weeks earlier, it was surreal to find these spaces equally full of bodies, yet completely silent except for one single mouth speaking into a microphone.

Apparently the open mic show at the Hornet as the exception to the rule, and didn't enjoy the same social graces afforded the other venues. I was at Hi Dive watching Troy Walker at the time, but open mic host Brent The Great later informed me that a woman was removed from the Hornet for accusing a neighboring table of two adults and a young teenager of being pedophiles. According to Brent, the woman shouted the accusation at the couple repeatedly, and when the table attempted to leave, she followed them out, turning heads with her bizarre indictment. The police were called, and the woman was restrained while the couple exited with the teenager.

Other than this one incident, any High Plains weirdness on Friday night was mostly contained to the monologues of comedians, with Louis Johnson explaining when it is necessary to decapitate a hooker, Andrew Orvedahl's giving tips for terrorists, and Andy Peters offering geography lesson on Hitler Road and Hitler Pond being actual locations in Circleville, Ohio.

Ryan Brackin
Comedian Amber Tozer
The night took a turn from freaky to geeky during the These Things Matter podcast taping at Mutiny Information Cafe. The theme was "favorite comedy writers' rooms," and guest Sean Patton was taken aback by the standard of nerd-specificity that co-host Kevin O'Brien displayed, at first thinking O'Brien was making a joke with his selection of "Saturday Night Live, 1986-94."

But even at a comedy festival, the TTM crew doesn't make light of their pop passions, getting their dorky hands dirty on topics like Mr. Show, Monty Python, Parks and Recreation and The Simpsons. Matt Braunger was clearly thrilled to show off his comedy-nerd merit badges, while Beth Stelling and Patton expressed feeling a bit intimidated by the varsity level trivia of the show.

Over at 3 Kings, it was wondrously bizarre seeing the stylized misogyny of Bobby Valentino assaulting the crowd of Tegan & Sara sycophants who had come out to see the lesbian-flavored comedy of Cameron Esposito, who went on directly after the insult comic. Esposito delighted her fans with anecdotes about Portland strip clubs (apparently they're less sleazy up there) and why lesbians always make eye contact during sex, "even during doggy style."

Similar to the last time he was in town, David Gborie killed with his bit about the pretense of Facebook stalkers: "If you're a real stalker, you at least have to leave your house. Because there are real stalkers out there. Right now, there's a guy in Luxembourg, in the bushes outside Lady Gaga's hotel. And he's there because it's the 23rd of the month, and he knows that that's when she menstruates. And when the housekeeper takes out the trash, he's gonna rifle through that trash, and he's gonna take that tampon, fly back to Cleveland, melt it down, and shoot it into his fucking veins. Because he knows that's the only way he's gonna have a piece of her with him wherever he goes. That's a real stalker."

There were plenty of local fans, journalists and comedy groupies (or "chuckle-fuckers," as they're sometimes known) out at the festival, and for many of us there was little novelty in the Denver comics who used only their A-material on stage. It made sense for the comics to do this, but after enduring the same routines countless times at Comedy Works and Deer Pile over the last year, I sometimes forget that there are still people in Denver unfamiliar with these jokes.

Though as many times as I've heard it, I have yet to get sick of Jordan Doll's set. There is a real temptation to spend the rest of this review transcribing Doll's monologue in its entirety, but I'll resist -- partly because it will make the wait for his inevitable comedy album all the sweeter. For now, I'll leave you with Jordan Doll's story of cheering on a man riding a penny-farthing bicycle (big wheel in front, little in back), only to receive a smug look of disdain from the cyclist:

"Little did I know he was some crowned-prince of hipsters. Playing a joke on the world by daring to ride such a silly contraption. 'Oh, am I riding a weird bike? I didn't even notice. This is the only bike I could afford with my job at the antique soda factory.' And that's wrong! The only way to ride a penny-farthing bicycle is by first stealing a pie from a windowsill, but oh it's hot and it escapes your grasp. So you jump on the nearest conveyance, which, wouldn't you know it, happens to be a penny-farthing bicycle. And you ride after your pastry while holding your hat on and snapping your suspenders while shouting 'gaaaaadzooks!'"

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