Ben Kronberg on his new Comedy Central special, and why he left Denver
Ben Kronberg could be the most successful comic to come out of the Denver comedy scene recently. Crafting Mitch Hedberg- style micro-jokes, delivered with a creepy dead-pan stare, Kronberg has developed a style all his own that's gaining some national recognition. After showcasing on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham series, as well as being picked up by John Oliver's New York Stand Up Show, he recently landed his very own Comedy Central half-hour special. The performance will be recorded March 1 at Boston's Royal Theater and will air sometime this summer. Chatting with Kronberg via phone on Super Bowl Sunday, we talked with the Colorado native about how sports ruin comedy shows, why regional comedy scenes are banding together, and why some Denver comedians may want to consider moving away.
Westword: How you been, man? Are you out on the road?
Ben Kronberg: No, at I'm home in Brooklyn. I'm about to go to this open mic I host every Sunday, but I don't know if anyone's going to show up.
Because of the Super Bowl?
Yeah. This isn't San Francisco or Baltimore -- those cities will close down for the Super Bowl. Comedy always gets bullied around by sports. Or at least competing with it. Every comedy show I've ever done there's always a sports event in the same town.
That's something that musicians don't typically have to deal with.
There's definitely an overlap between comedy fans and sports fans. Even comedians themselves are usually big sports fans. I'm not much of a sports guy myself. I wanted to play volleyball in high school but there were no guys teams.
Very exciting news about the Comedy Central special. What does this mean to you, both personally and professionally?
I've been trying to get on Comedy Central's radar for about five years now. I lived in L.A. for a couple years before I moved to New York, and that was when I was exposed to Comedy Central. I showcased for their series Live at Gotham, and I felt like I had a good set at the time, I had a good manager, I'd been on Jimmy Kimmel, I'd done festivals, so I thought this showcase was just a formality, then I'll get a special.
But that didn't happen. More time passed, multiple showcases, a few other Comedy Central things, and after being in New York for two years, I get this John Oliver thing, and that was the first real notice I got from Comedy Central. So then I heard through the grapevine that they were looking at tapes for half-hour specials, so I shot one and submitted it. It was the first time I submitted for a half hour, so I wasn't expecting anything, but then my agent called me and said, "Guess what?"
Coming up in the early days of the Denver comedy scene, how much did those years doing shows here help you develop the style and material you have today?
The scene where you start, those first shows that you do, those habits that you build, generally are the foundation that's going to propel you forward. Even if your style changes. Having Denver to perform in was the thing, it was what changed comedy from this theoretical idea-land to actual, physical, real-world. Whatever that means.
The Squire and Comedy Works were big for me. Open mics gave me the opportunity to do whatever I wanted, and Comedy Works was the tangible thing that told me, "You could do this for a living. This doesn't have to be a hobby, this can be a thing." And all the comedians I got to see there -- Troy Baxley, Rick Kerns -- without them there would be no Denver comedy scene. It was from them that all the other scenes developed.
Since you've left Denver, you've been engrossed in both the East and West Coast comedy scenes. With this perspective, do you think there is a characteristic style to Denver comedy?
In the five years of doing comedy in Denver, I saw a lot of different styles. Because of that influence, everyone developed together. Going to different comedy scenes like Austin, Seattle or Boston, I really got to see, like, "Wow, this is happening everywhere." There was a simultaneous evolution of the comedy scenes, because we're all connected by Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Mitch Hedberg, George Carlin... .And now we're beginning to cross-pollinate, like Grawlix doing stuff in San Francisco.
More of the comedy scenes are starting to recognize each other, and letting that work to their advantage. They don't have to play comedy clubs, and then we can afford to fly them here and put them up, and have them make money at this cool, independent show.
Denver as been one of the best for really trying to grow out of it's own scene. People from Denver who are now being seen are really putting themselves out there. That's not happening in any other scenes that I know of.
But some of those guys who live in Denver should, in my opinion, have already moved to L.A. or New York. They're flying out and exposing themselves to the major markets, though. Otherwise Denver would be just like the Austin comedy scene, which gets some cool festivals, but the comedians happening in Austin aren't doing anything to get out of Austin. They're in their comfortable, cool environment, and letting that be enough. Denver comedy scene isn't limiting itself to just Denver.
But there's something to be said for cultivating a breeding ground for young comics, and I certainly wouldn't say that leaving Denver should be the ultimate goal of any comedian.
I'm not saying they shouldn't stay, but the thing is I've seen so many funny people settle for the day job that they have because it's secure and comfortable. And all they ever do is a little local show on the weekend, and that's a shame. They're staying in their comfort zone, instead of going to these other places where they might not be the bigger fish.
What's happening with Grawlix isn't necessarily representative of what's going to happen with every local comedian. Because they're setting this example that is more rooted in hard work and tenacity than it is sticking around and being a Denver comic. Being a Denver comic is great, but you're not going to make that great of a living -- unless you're Josh Blue. But even he makes his money elsewhere.
Look at someone like Troy Baxley, who is as funny as I've ever seen anyone be on stage, he didn't move away and never got his big break in Colorado. But had he moved to L.A. or New York, I guarantee you he would be bigger than he is right now.
If you're a comedian, and you want to make good money, people have to know who you are. You can make frequent money, but if you never do any shows that really get you out there, you're going to top off.
Do you think there's any national buzz about Denver? Do you ever hear anyone use the phrase "Denver comedy scene?"
Oh, absolutely. And that's because Denver has been welcoming to all these comedians outside Colorado. That helps spread the word.
It's being talked about by other comedians, but it's not being talked about by the general public.
But is the general public talking about any comedy scene? What we consider the general public, I don't think they'd even use the term "comedy scene"
No, but the general public are consuming and buying into the things that are made on the coasts. That's what they're talking about. They're talking about Chelsea Handler and Workaholics; and the ability to tap into that general public is what makes you bookable and get you a lot of shows. Being a part of a cool scene will only make cool things happen within that scene.
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