Can a Mid-Sized City's Thriving Comedy Scene Survive the LA Exodus?

AdamCayton-HollandGrawlix's Adam Cayton-Holland (Photo by Ryan Brackin)

If you’re a mid-level comic with a few credits under your belt, at some point you’ve probably been asked the question: “So, when are you moving to LA?” The person asking was likely from Los Angeles, and didn’t ask in the neutral tone of a guidance counselor “have you thought about moving to LA?” It’s always when are you moving. For many in this business, your hometown comedy scene is viewed as the high school of your career, with road-gigs and festivals as your bachelors degree — followed by the inevitable move to Hollywood to begin your masters.

And just as every comic has to decide when (and if) they want to take the big leap to Hollywood, their hometown comedy scene of Austin, Portland, Boston, Denver, or wherever, has to restructure itself in their absence, either dealing with a flood of talented performers clamoring to fill the newly open gigs, or shutting down clubs and canceling mics because because half the people moved away and the other half are jaded.

“I think it can be a healthy thing,” Denver comedian Adam Cayton-Holland says of the fact that several local comics are currently migrating to LA. “It’s like a minor league baseball team, with the talent moving upward… I keep hearing in Denver that currently the same ten or twelve people are getting all the great shows. So if half of those people move, then there’s six more spots for the on-deck young guys.”

Cayton-Holland’s sketch and standup group, The Grawlix, recently landed a ten episode deal for their sitcom, Those Who Can’t, with the network truTV in LA. This is one of a few factors that have helped fuel the embers of exodus that have been simmering under the Denver comedy scene for the last year or two. READ MORE


The New Airplane Food: Why This Denver Comedy Journalist Is Sick of Pot Jokes

growhouse“So, yeah, Colorado, way to legalize it! Do we have any pot smokers here tonight? . . . Alright.”

With some variation, this has been the introductory line or segue of almost every touring comedian I’ve seen in Denver over the last year. Sometimes this leads them into a hilarious bit filled with wisdom and color and authentic misdirection — but most of the time it’s just an I-was-so-stoned-when-I-shouldn’t-have-been yarn involving junk-food and a cop. Maybe this is just the case in Colorado, but it feels to me like marijuana jokes are slowly becoming the airplane-food humor of today’s comedy: We’ve heard a lot of these jokes, so this one better be good.

I’m not sure if the fact that I smoke a lot of pot makes me more or less likely to be annoyed with cannabis comedy. When it’s good, there’s nothing better. Whether it’s Bill Hicks theorizing that “to make marijuana against the law is to believe God made a mistake,” or Bill Cosby walking us through coughing/laughing/paranoia misery of being high, the subject is a fertile landscape of punchlines and characters. But with those two examples, the comics took very well-tread subjects (legalization; mocking stoned behavior) and moved them somewhere fresh. Unfortunately, this is rare in today’s comedy. READ MORE


Should All Standup Comics Write Their Own Jokes?

patton_oswalt_specialI was thirteen when I first saw a comic glance at his notes on stage, and I remember wondering why I was surprised to see this. Did you think he was making all this up on the spot? I asked myself. Well, I guess I did. Years later, when I began regularly attending comedy shows and would end up seeing the same set a dozen times a year, I began to have a similar feeling. What, I again asked myself, did you think comedians come up with a new routine for every show? Well, I guess I did. After all, isn’t that the rouse that so many standups employ in their act, that this is all a spontaneous, one-sided conversation?

Young fans of standup inevitably go through these revelations. At some point, we develop the moxie to learn that the character a comedian is on stage isn’t necessarily who they are off-stage (though sometimes they can be, for good or ill). Even though I’m a child of the indie-comedy generation, I still have no problem accepting a certain amount of theater and artifice in someone’s set.

Though if that’s the case, why do we get so punk-rock preachy at the idea of a standup comedian not writing their own jokes? READ MORE


How the Legal Marijuana Industry Is Helping Grow Denver's Comedy Scene

sexpot-comedyComedians like Doug Benson and Stephen Colbert have been getting a lot of joke-mileage out of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana last January. Though after Maureen Dowd wrote about being “curled up in a hallucinatory state for eight hours” in a Denver hotel room after carelessly ingesting too much edible cannabis, Bill Maher editorialized that Colorado “must realize that they are the Jackie Robinson of marijuana legislation,” and that residents “have to get this right, or else you’ll ruin it for everybody.”

The definition of what “getting this right” means is being played out in the Denver comedy scene, where marijuana has become more than just a cultural glue between comics and comedy fans, but an economic steroid that has propelled the burgeoning standup community to new levels of ambition and national attention. READ MORE


Rik Mayall of 'The Young Ones' and 'Drop Dead Fred' Is Dead at 56

rickmayallBeloved pioneer of British alt comedy, Rik Mayall, has died today at the age of 56. Known primarily for his role as Rick the anarchist poet on the BBC2 sitcom The Young Ones, and later as a spastic imaginary friend in the American comedy film Drop Dead Fred, Mayall's boundless energy and kinetic facial expressions influenced generations of comedians who came up watching him on TV, and earned him praise from the English humor aristocracy that came before him.

"Very sad to hear of the passing of Rik Mayall," Monty Python's Eric Idle tweeted this morning. "Far too young. A very funny and talented man."

Mayall and his Young Ones co-creators modeled their groundbreaking comedy in part around Monty Python's Flying Circus, creating a surreal comedy landscape that frequently trampled the laws of physics, time and British etiquette. Centered around the four part ensemble of a depressed hippie, sadistic punk-rocker, shrewd capitalist, and Mayall's Thatcher-hating, clueless revolutionary all living as roommates while attending “Scumbag College,” the show found a devoted audience in London's burgeoning alternative comedy scene.

Only running for two short, six-episode seasons from 1982-84, The Young Ones was later picked up by MTV in 1985, presumably due to the live music performances from bands like Motorhead, Madness, The Damned or Dexys Midnight Runners contained in each episode.

The Young Ones cast originally met and gained a following performing at The Comedy Store (London), where Mayall and Adrian Edmondson (who would go onto play Young Ones' violent, skull pierced Vyvyan) first developed their comedy duo, The Dangerous Brothers, who would go on to be banned from Saturday Live — the UK's version of SNL — for being “too violent, too sexy,” only to stage a protest in the studio parking lot where they blew up a car. READ MORE


Why Does Every "Conservative 'Daily Show'" Fail?

Few would disagree that we're in living in a golden age of political comedy — or at least that politics are more important to comedy today than ever before. When historians write about humor in the early twenty-first century, the names of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher will definitely be key players. And just as noteworthy will be the fact that a large majority of this humor has come at the expense of conservatives, and often to the benefit of liberals.

No matter if you’re on the left or right, pretty much everyone agrees that liberals dominate political satire and humorous commentary (at least in popularity), but few have answers about why this is. It’s certainly not that conservatives haven’t tried. From Fox News’ short-lived The Half-Hour News Hour, to “liberal media watchdog” series News Busted, or the recently launched The Flipside, attempts to roll out a conservative version of The Daily Show or Weekend Update have never been in short supply, but without fail every single one has been an unpopular disaster. READ MORE


Sarah Silverman's 'We Are Miracles': A Proudly Filthy Comic at the Top of Her Game

While fans of her 2005 special, Jesus Is Magic, will not be disappointed with the material in Sarah Silverman's highly anticipated new release, there is no denying that this pot and poop loving comic has grown up a bit. There's still plenty here to offend the wince-ready audiences with no patience for AIDS jokes and religious irreverence, but when placed next to her smash-hit special from eight years ago, with We Are Miracles Silverman has taken her format of childish prodding and wrapped it in a provocative message of therapy and social commentary.

“At the Largo? That's, like, barely 300 seats!” a tattooed Mexican laughs with his car-full of friends during the cold-open of the film, after Silverman explained to them she's about to shoot an HBO special at the club. “Well, I'm actually doing it in the littler room,” she clarifies, admitting that she'll be performing for only 39 people, which inspires laughs and suggestions that she get a new agent from the vatos outside the club.

Yet it's hardly groundbreaking that Silverman would choose to place her special inside the intimate, cafe-like walls of The Largo's smallest room. Just last month, Marc Maron's Thinky Pain brought fans inside the close quarters of Greenwhich Village's Le Poisson Rouge, which was practically the Hollywood Bowl compared to last year's The Special Special Special!, where Maria Bamford was filmed before an audience of only her mother and father. Whether it's standup becoming comfortable as a respected institution that doesn't need to prove itself with massive audiences, or that provocative material works best with miniature crowds, there seems to be a trend with the hippest comedians preferring clubs that resemble a city council meeting in Buford, Wyoming. READ MORE


Anthony Jeselnik, Louis CK, and the Shifting Definition of "Offensive" Comedy

Just as the news broke on Monday that sociopathic dreamboat Anthony Jeselnik’s Comedy Central show The Jeselnik Offensive was canceled (to no small amount of glee from certain New Zealanders), Huffington Post Live released a video interview with Artie Lange, where the recently sober comic addresses his past use of the word “faggot” and other offensive slurs. “Times have changed, comedy has changed,” Lange says. “We live in a more enlightened time where you should think twice before you speak, because we’re talking about people.” While Lange was only referring to himself, it was a very timely comment for Jeselnik, who has built a career out of manufacturing public outrage. But this ultimately begs the question: was Jeselnik canceled for being too much of a button pusher? Or, perhaps more importantly, should he really be considered offensive if he’s doing it on purpose? READ MORE