We thought 2012 was a banner year for comedy in Denver -- but only three months into the new year, comics like Ben Roy, Adam Cayton-Holland, Sam Tallent and Kristin Rand are setting the stage for this once-intimate scene to be blasted into national recognition. With so many great comedy nights already established -- and so many exciting new ones on the horizon -- assembling this list was like picking a favorite child. And while we've treasured the underground flavor that has for so long been the identity of the Denver comedy scene, the time has come to admit that some of these shows are getting too big for their britches -- which we hope is an omen of some larger comedy venues in the near future and not, God forbid, any of these talented standups leaving town for the bright horizons of the coasts.
10. Open Mic at Lion's Lair Ask any comedians who've been in the scene for more than a few months, and they'll tell you: It all started at Lion's Lair. Troy Baxley's comedy night at this grimy Colfax bar was a platform for many emerging locals, such as the boys from Grawlix and Fine Gentleman's Club. And it's still going strong today. With its soft lighting, low ceiling and laidback, Bukowski-style seediness, the Lair remains the ideal place for both a newcomer to take the stage or a seasoned comic to try out new material. Lion's Lair open mic is free every Monday night at 10 p.m.
9. Altered Schtick Comedy has been a tradition for gay bars and drag queens, but for some reason it's taken a long time for mainstream comedy fans to accept that this community has some of the best talent around. For this, and so many other reasons, we are grateful to have comedian Chuck Roy in our midst, setting up this queer and trans-friendly event at The Bar. Also regularly featuring comics Penny from Heaven, Jordan Wieleba and Mona Lott, the show delivers some biting inside jokes for the queer community, but is also hilarious for anyone wholly unfamiliar with this world. Altered Schtick is $7 on the last Friday of every month at The Bar.
8. Three Course Comedy With so many new comedy nights sprouting up like teenage pimples on the face of Denver, it's exciting when an organizer digs deep and comes up with a thrilling conceptual event. Combining comedy with culinary, Three Course Comedy brings in a trio of standups who prepare either an appetizer, main course or dessert (all vegetarian) for the audience, and deliver some food-themed humor to spice up the meal. Hosted by Adrian Mesa and Eric Henderson, the next event features Devon Davis, Greg Baumhauer and Timmi Lasley. Three Course Comedy is free at 8 p.m. every fourth Thursday at Deer Pile.
7. Delusions of Randeur Last year was a great one for female comedy in Denver, and 2013 is shaping up to be equally strong -- so long as we don't lose local all-star Kristin Rand and her monthly showcase, Delusions of Randeur. Rand is a top-shelf host, she features some of the best local talent, and with her upcoming sketch comedy group, Moxie -- with the newly restored Mara Wiles -- premiering this summer, she makes sure the women of Denver are kicking ass right alongside the boys. Delusions of Randeur is free every third Wednesday at Beauty Bar.
6. Greater Than Social Club With comedy and rock music fans slowly becoming one and the same, The Greater Than Collective is now a leading force in town, providing a double-threat of bands and standups both on its record label and at its monthly event, Greater Than Social Club. With a seated, comedy club-like atmosphere at Lannie's Clocktower, contrasted by rowdy bands like Bad Weather California, this event isn't like anything else in town. Hosted by Andrew Orvedahl, this month's show will see local favorite Ben Roy delivering his neck-bulging comic rants alongside the raucous sounds of Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. Greater Than Social Club is $10 every first Wednesday of the month at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret.
5. Open Mic at The Squire Similar to the Lion's Lair night, The Squire's weekly open mic has an identity of rowdy freedom with Denver comics. The stakes are a little higher at the Squire, though, with heckling and on-stage hazing the norm at the Colfax bar. After you've cut your teeth down the street at the Lair, the Squire is the ideal challenge for any upcoming comic looking to find out if he/she has what it takes to walk through the funny-fire of the standup gauntlet. Open Mic at Squire Lounge is free every Tuesday at 11 p.m.
4. Bad Times Extravaganza Everyone has those nights of horror and humiliation, and while we'd rather not relive those moments, there are few things better than getting a comedic dose of other people's stories of disgrace. Hosted by the Ryan Mattingly and the indomitable Sam Tallent (possibly the hardest-working comic in town) and produced by Ben Overzet, Bad Times features a monthly rotation of storytellers unloading their shame before a roomful of strangers. It's a great way to empathize with the tragedies befallen upon these standups, while shamelessly laughing at their red-faced misery. Bad Times Extravaganza is $5 on the third Friday of every month at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse.
3. Fine Gentleman's Club's Too Much Fun! With its informal panache, cheap drinks and stellar guest comics, Too Much Fun! is one of the most sought-after comedy nights in town. While many local comics scramble to get a monthly show together, TMF is a weekly event with an ambitious rotation of standups, who always provide a strong contrast against one another in style and content. Make sure you show up early for this night, or else you'll be stuck out in the hallway with the dozen other tardy attendees, straining to hear what all the roars and cackles inside are about. Too Much Fun! is free at 10:30 p.m. every Wednesday night at Deer Pile.
2. The Grawlix What can be said about Grawlix that hasn't already been said? If you're even remotely aware of the comedy scene in Denver, then you've surely made it out to The Bug Theatre some Friday night for this trio's carpet-bombing of sketch, standup and self-produced comedy films. Established as the mouthpiece for the comedy team of Andrew Orvedahl, Ben Roy and Adam Cayton-Holland (they recently completed the Amazon-funded pilot Those Who Can't), this is a monthly event that it would be a sin to miss. This month's show features Beth Stelling and Elliot Woolsey. The Grawlix is at $10 at 10 p.m. the last Friday of every month at The Bug Theatre.
1. Arguments and Grievances Funny with a purpose, however absurd, is the new frontier in comedy and improv, and Arguments & Grievances is a perfect example of the trend -- and won our Best Comedy Night 2013 as a result. Kevin O'Brien's Sunday comedy night puts two comics on the podium to argue and point/counterpoint on inconsequential issues, such as Simpsons vs. Family Guy and Poop vs. Pee. Denver's best comedians come out regularly to argue -- and the results, exacerbated by mock outrage on either side, will have you rolling on the floor. Arguments and Grievances is free every third Sunday at Vine Street Pub.
For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.
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