Ben Kronberg is among the most successful of Denver comedy expatriates, having amassed an impressive list of credits and accomplishments since moving to New York. With his high-profile appearances on Late Night with Seth Meyers, John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show and the Comedy Central Half Hour, it's a surprise to see Kronberg drop in at ignominious Denver open mics — but he has always made a point of returning to the scene where he developed his outré comedic voice. With his puckish wit and an impermeable poker face onstage, Kronberg is the sort of comic who inspires outlandish stories and admiration from his peers. The video clip of Kronberg's dust-up with fellow prodigal Denverite Roseanne Barr on the most recent season of Last Comic Standing went viral, becoming one of the few things people remember about the show's latest incarnation. We talked with the Prodigal Denverite in advance of his return to the Oriental Theater on June 12.
Westword: So, your recent appearance on Last Comic Standing went pretty viral, arguably becoming the only noteworthy moment of its latest incarnation. What has the aftermath of that appearance been like?
Ben Kronberg: I've been getting a lot more people casually telling me to go fuck myself. So I do. And then they watch me. I think people hardly ever mean what they say, but that doesn't stop us from saying things. It's maybe why comedy or how comedy exists. Because we just want to have fun with words and don't necessarily always have to mean what we say.
Are you still doing the Footsie web series? How did that come together? What have the highlights of the production been so far? When you google it, the Joanna Angel interview is the first result, by the way.
I'm not. We did three episodes and it was fun. Even tentatively got Lena Dunham on board, but she was too busy being a Girl. It was an idea I had and found some people to make it happen with. I really just wanted free foot massages. Joanna is cool and funny and nice and fucks for her job. Comedians and porn stars have cracked the code with their interesting jobs. I mean, I'm sure it sucks to always be sucking — but I imagine it's not as bad as washing dishes in a cafeteria, no offense to "those" people. I'm just trying to be funny and missing the mark.
What is your history with the Oriental Theater? Did you perform there when you were starting out in Denver, or has it been mostly a post-Sexpot phenomenon?
Greg Baumhauer and I started doing a gong show there when the Oriental still had all theater seats. The ghosts were still children who had been freshly murdered. None of us knew what we were doing, so we just did the best we could smoking non-legal weed. I think I had bleached hair at one point. I was going through a break-up or something. Anyhow, Sexpot and Scott LaBarbera have really helped champion the indie comedy scene in Denver and helped expats like me get shows when I'm in town.
As a prodigal Denverite who returns frequently, how do you think the scene has changed since you were starting out? Do you think it's better or worse?
Can you put 'Prodigal Denverite' in the title of this interview? Just to ruffle any feathers that it might ruffle? The scene has gotten way better and bigger and each time I come back, I'm blown away by how many funny people there are in Denver and how I hope they never move to a different scene so I can steal all of their jokes. But seriously, the Denver scene is more than on the map of comedy — it's an integral part of what is currently happening in the zeitgeist of dick and poop.
I could be wrong, but it seems like very few comedians with resumes as impressive as yours would deign to drop in at open mics, but you'll often come by the Squire when you're in town. Do you visit out of nostalgia, or do you still find the unforgiving atmosphere of mics helpful as a performer?
Well, thanks for making me feel good about my resume, but I think it's important to practice the kung fu that got into kung fu. If I'm gonna keep kicking, better if I keep stretching. And I must keep kicking. Performing when you don't want to is more important than performing when you do want to. I learned that early on. Also, open mics are still the funniest and scariest places to do comedy. It's in a pure state without any sort of business or money thing about it. There are still politics, but it's like caveman politics with the elements. Fire. Water. Food. It's like survival of ideas and ego. It makes you feel where you are weak or stale or perhaps just taps you in to that original self-conciliatory mode that one must respect blah blah blah blah blah.
Silence is particularly unnerving for a comic, but you seem to thrive on those moments of discomfort. Was that something you had to hone, or does it come naturally to you?
One of the most captivating things a piano player can do is sit in silence at the piano. It is building curiosity and expectation and tension so that whatever else comes is a welcome (not always but sometimes) release of those things. A victory over the silence. Something prevailing. I'm always interested to see the cracking point of an audience. Not the laughter cracking, but when silence produces hecklers cracking. When there is someone that is so not okay with silence that they have to speak on behalf of everyone. In fact, many people are wanting to speak out and say something but it's usually just one person who feels it the most, who has to say something. That is interesting to me, that phenomenon, because even if they think I am a professional who knows what he is doing they begin to have doubts when I don't say anything or pull out a notebook — but those expectations and conventions are interesting for me to play with. And speaking of this magic might render it less potent but no one reads anymore so it doesn't matter what I say.
Speaking of unsettling people, you've made some memorable appearances on morning talk shows. What is it about the rigidity of that format that makes it so rife for comedic fuckery?
They have to be polite and always bring it around to these forced smiles. I think juxtaposing that with a bit of the real is nice to do, as them asking their mundane questions will not produce real funny. On those situations, funny has to be usurped at all costs. It's not like you can get fired from being a guest, plus the more memorable you are, the better. I used to want to be the funniest comedian, but then I figured out being the most memorable is better. At least for me.
In a previous interview, you mentioned that you might be working on a book. Has anything come of that? What does a Ben Kronberg book look like?
It's like Finnegan's Wake meets Infinite Jest minus all of the confusing bullshit. It's actually a book of illustrated poop puns and stories. It should come out sometime next year. But nothing constipates creativity more than business, so I'm just trying to keep busy doing everything I can to be out in the mix so when things like the book or the documentary I shot with Nick Thune and Kate Berlant in February come out, they splash into a sea of active, curious fans.
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Ben Kronberg will be at the Oriental Theater at 9 p.m. Friday, June 12. Doors open at 8 p.m.; Bobby Valentino and Jim Hickox are also on the bill. Tickets are $10; find more information here.
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.