Adam Cayton-Holland on doubling down for High Plains Comedy Festival's second year
Adam Cayton-Holland is a comedian, podcaster and former Westword scribe who forged his craft in ego-battering Colfax open mics before co-founding The Grawlix with Ben Roy and Andrew Orvedahl, a union that has produced a self-titled parodic web series and Denver's best monthly standup showcase -- which just so happens to be tonight at the Bug Theater at 10:30 p.m. Cayton-Holland has amassed an enviable list of TV credits, delivering strong sets on shows Conan and The Pete Holmes Show, while steadfastly residing in his native Denver, where the outspoken baseball fan recently realized his lifelong dream of throwing out the opening pitch at a Rockies game after a long social media campaign. And Cayton-Holland's brainchild, The High Plains Comedy Festival, continues to thrive under his quiet but determined stewardship, with the second edition set for August 22-23. The unbelievably stacked lineup includes returning champions from last year's fest, like Beth Stelling, Sean Patton, Kate Berlant, Ian Douglas Terry and Cameron Esposito, in addition to Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani and T.J. Miller as well as ringers like Chris Fairbanks, Baron Vaughn and the top-billed Pete Holmes.
Westword recently met up with Cayton-Holland at the favored Baker haunt and High Plains venue Mutiny Information Cafe to discuss his post-surgery Frankenfoot and doubling down for the festival's second year.
Westword: So, how's your foot?
Adam Cayton-Holland: It's all right, it's starting to hurt again. I've been on pain meds, but I've been trying to wean myself off of them, so I've been doing one at morning and one at night. Initially, for the first couple days, I'd pop two every couple of hours.
A combination of things; I went in for a soccer injury but they found all this stuff wrong with my foot that actually caused the soccer injury. They kind of fixed it all. I got titanium and screws; it was no joke. You look at my foot and it's like stitches down the big toe, the second toe was butterflied open and they put a metal rod in there. It looks like Frankenfoot. It's not pretty. I'm eight days into what they're saying will be a six-week recovery. But I'm already up and walking around.
Have you taken the stage with that moon boot on yet?
Not yet. I haven't performed in two weeks. I'm going batshit. Grawlix is Friday, and I think I'm gonna hit 3 Kings -- I've never been to that mic but I just need to run this shit somewhere before I do it at the Grawlix. Two weeks feels like a long time. The last time I performed was at Meltdown in L.A. with Ben Roy. Then I came home and got the surgery and I've just been on my ass watching the World Cup.
So, when did the High Plains lineup come together? Have you just been doing that behind the scenes throughout the summer?
Yeah, me and Andy Juett. You want to get the big dogs, and then they all say no. We've got a pretty good lineup, but it's been piecemeal. We cast a wide net to see who we could get and it's amazing. It's a good catch.
So, who do you think was like the biggest get?
I mean, it's almost kind of funny because T.J. and Kumail said they were down before Silicon Valley exploded. So that's a huge get. I think Pete Holmes is pretty solid. We're pretty psyched about that.
It sucks that his show just ended.
I liked it.
It was something new in late night.
You know, honestly, I think that if they had just made it a Pete Holmes sketch show, it probably would have been better -- new material Seinfeld, which was this sketch they did with a puppet, was always really funny. You should look it up. I like Pete's monologues too, his monologues are insane.
I do, too; they're a just like a TV version of his standup. They weren't topical, though, which may have removed some the incentive to watch it everyday, whereas I watch The Daily Show pretty faithfully because I want to see their take on breaking news.
When I was there, they taped a bunch of them at one time. It was cool to watch Pete do his monologues, because he has writers who are all comics, like Joe DeRosa, Chris Thayer and Jamie Lee, and they're waiting in the wings because they work on the monologue, too. It's more like seeing their standup joke hit rather than a monologue joke hit, so it's more personal. I watched him bang out like three in a row. When I watched it later, I thought, "That's not how it was filmed at all." Keep reading for more on High Plains Comedy, round two.
From an outsider's perspective, last year's festival went swimmingly. Was there anything that you learned from last year's experience that you want to do differently this time around?
We were pretty lucky as first years go. Both Andy and I had been to festivals and talked to people who put them on and asked them, specifically, that question: "What do you wish you knew when you started?" So we kind of pre-emptively trouble-shot.
Having everything in Baker was clutch, it made it easier to see everything you wanted.
Yeah, and well, to that end, I think that the Gothic was too far away. It's a great venue, but it was too far away. It's Englewood. Then between the Grawlix show and the Reggie Watts show, we had to flush out the whole crowd who had to line up around the block to get back in. Lesson learned. So, day two is going to be at the McNichols Building. Do you know that one?
Did the Nuggets use to play there?
Well, that was McNichols sports arena. Now, in Civic Center Park, there's a building called McNichols at the north end of the park. There's a building that Denver owns and has been using as an events space for over a year now, but I don't think they've done anything this big. They want to, they've reached out to cool stuff, so we're doing it there. It's really fucking cool. I think it's unique because you look out one window to the courthouse and another window to the Capitol building. It's the dead center of Denver, and on Saturday we have the building until like seven in the morning. We're going to party hard there.
We're going to do a soft opening Thursday night, have a pre-pass party at Illegal Pete's where you can come and pick them up, and then we're probably going to have Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction and this drunken storytelling show for pass-holders. On Friday, Hi-Dive, 3 Kings and Mutiny will all have shows. I don't know where the open mic will be yet. Saturday, we'll have live podcast recordings during the day, and then everything's at McNichols that night. McNichols is cool, but it's not a comedy venue, so we'll have to make it one. I think people are going to like being in that space. The performers and the crowd.
Anything else different from last year?
One thing that I did want to say is that last year, I felt like the very little bit of live podcasting we did was big and people liked them. So we've stepped up our game big time. We're going to have Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction, You Made it Weird, The Indoor Kids, my podcast My Dining Room Table, and I think that's it. I also want to do a These Things Matter, but I haven't asked them yet.
It would hard to imagine them saying no.
They did one here at Mutiny last year that went pretty well. Hi-Dive was good for podcasting purposes as well. I'm psyched for a live You Made it Weird, because I love that podcast.
I listened to that podcast a lot when I was working up the nerve to try comedy. It was like a free comedy university for me. He talks to his guests a lot about how they got started.
That's a pretty common theme for comedy interviews. I wish I'd had podcasts when I was getting started. I feel like some old man for saying this, but podcasts weren't really around until 2009-2010, and I was already pretty into it by then. I'm trying to think of other things I need to tell you about the fest, I'm not doing a good job pimping it. I need to shout out to Pete Turner and Virgil Dickerson. It was killer last year, it's going to be killer this year. We're really excited because last year we probably had seventeen out-of-town guests, this year it's like thirty. And they're all people that knock me over with how funny they are.
Honestly, pound for pound, comic for comic, I think this lineup is funnier than last year. So many national headliners and heavy-hitters. It's harder to get those national ducks in a row, which is why we announced them, but now we're excited to put out a list of locals as well. I worry that people think we're not focusing on that enough, which we've always wanted to, so it's more just like rolling with your big aces first.
Well, locals aren't as likely to people excited about buying tickets because people can see them for free whenever.
Totally. The locals will be coming soon, along with all the political bullshit. Really looking forward to the shit-talking I will inevitably receive at open mics.
I never understood that. I mean sure, I get resentful, but saying something about, or god forbid post an angry missive to social media? Just find a resentment buddy to be your sounding board. Anyway, it seems like High Plains is becoming a crucial stop on the summer comedy festival circuit.
I'm excited that a lot of people are flocking to Denver just because. People who are movers and shakers in the comedy world. Everybody wants to come here and smoke pot. They're high on the Denver scene, and I feel like this year, more than ever, there's going to be a lot of cool comedy folks coming just to hang. I hope that industry will be coming, too. Denver's just so fertile. I just went to Atlanta, where they have a cool scene that's often compared to ours, and it was very good, but I still contend that we're way better. This city's always got something to prove, and the comics are just the same way. I'm doing pretty well in comedy, and I want to show people: "See, see how good this is? This is where I came from."
So, do you have anything big coming up standup-wise?
You know, I'm going to be on the Meltdown TV show on Comedy Central on July 23.
Is that the premiere?
Yeah. I'm not positive, but I think I might be the first comedian in the whole thing.
Is it basically a televised version of their showcase?
Yeah, but it's cool, they go behind-the-scenes and onstage. It's filmed by Lance Bangs, who's a comedy director extraordinaire. He's done everything, plus a bunch of Nirvana videos. He's a cool guy. But yeah, it's the Meltdown show, at the comic-book store.
There needs to be more standup on TV, I think.
Yeah, especially a cool, live showcase. I was at my filming, and then I went and watched another one and It looks like they're capturing the spirit of that place really well. So I've got that coming up, and then I'll just drift off into obscurity.
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.