After a seven-and-a-half-year run, Greg Baumhauer is pulling the plug on the Squire Lounge's open-mike comedy night. "We've crushed enough dreams," he says. And tonight, you have one last chance to catch Baumhauer and the Wrist Deep crew in action at what was once hailed as the meanest open-mike night in America.
We spoke with Baumhauer about his reasons for ending the night, Colfax crackheads, how the event has changed over the years, and what it's like to have full drinks thrown at you and people charge the stage:
Westword: So, you guys are calling it quits.
Greg Baumhauer: Yeah. Pulling the plug.
I think it's run its course. I think we've done as much as we can with the Squire. Being that big of an asshole is exhausting. We've crushed enough dreams.
How long have you been doing it?
Seven and a half years, which is easily longer than any running comedy show in Denver.
Did you have any idea it would last that long?
Not at all. I thought it was going to last three months. What do you think kept it going and gave it longevity?
Colfax. It was a celebration of Colfax, really. And also, it was mean-spirited, for everybody, especially for the new comedians. Denver loves to hate a little bit. I tried it a few times. The first time was all right, but the second time was excruciating.
Yeah. It sucks. It's humiliating. It's terrible. You can't sleep. You swear to yourself out loud, like in the shower. I know all about it.
A bunch of blank stares.
It's awful. And then this asshole goes up there and makes fun of you in front of your friends and family and shit.
Then you get all the Colfax freaks and that adds to charm of it.
The bar is trying to clean up. They had a lot of crackheads, but there's a doorman, so a lot of that element wasn't being allowed in. So it was turning into hipster scene night instead of a comedy show. It was a fucking Lipgloss of jokes instead of a comedy show. There would be fifty or sixty hipsters in there, and nobody's listening to the comedy at all. The only time anyone would stop and listen was when I was going to go up there and make fun of somebody, but they didn't even get a chance. It had the reputation as the meanest open-mike night in America for a reason. It was rough. We probably ended more careers before they ever got started than any other show around.
That had to be one of the toughest proving grounds for comedians.
It's a place where a lot of veterans were afraid to go. I mean, twenty-year vets were like, "Fuck that!" People who had TV specials were like, "No way."
I would imagine that anyone who could make it there could make it anywhere, or somewhat...
Well, they could make it anywhere in Wyoming. It's a different type of skill set that you develop there. You develop two things at the Squire: one is bad habits, and two is you get crowd work.
What was the goal when you started the night?
I just wanted a place where me and my friends could tell jokes. I was getting enough stage time in the clubs, so I was just like, "All right, I'll just start my own shit for me and my boys." That was pretty much the goal. I wasn't expecting to learn anything. I didn't think it was going to be around for a long time at all.
How would you say the night has changed over the years?
When it started it was just like a normal, shitty kind of open mike. It was just comedians and maybe some poor girlfriend who hadn't figured out that she should probably stay home on these kind of shows. Then it took a turn when I started being mean to the comedians. That's where it clicked, I think. Then it turned out it was great for a comedy room. Then it sort of evolved into a "Hey, dude, I heard that hot girls hang out at the Squire on Tuesdays. Drinks are cheap. Lets go get laid."
What are you going to take away from seven years there?
Man, that's a good question. I hadn't even fucking thought about that at all.
I'd imagine it's given you a place to really hone your chops.
Yeah. Absolutely. For one, comedy is hard. That's one of the things I'll take away from my experience running that show. It's tough. That's kind of the reason I run the room the way I run it. If you're going to start being a comedian, you might as well get ready for a whole bunch of disappointment. No matter how big you get, it's right around the corner. I just think it's a great place to prepare yourself for anything that can happen. It's like comedy boot camp. If I can deal with some cracked-out tranny hooker heckling me, I can deal with some drunk chick from Cherry Creek.
Did things ever get violent at all?
Absolutely. I've had stuff thrown at me. People charge the stage repeatedly. There's always the story about Kronberg and the supposed gun getting pulled out. That actually turned out to not be true, but it's a good story. It turns out there really was no gun, but everyone thought there was. It made it into a book by John Wenzel. I remember one month where three out of the four weeks in one month, someone threw a full drink at my head. One was on election night, when Obama won. But I've had people charge the stage multiple times. Other people threaten me with gun violence. Any other memorable things that have happened over the years?
One that's already been written about was the dude coming in talking on a baby phone, acting like it was a cellphone, this crackhead. That was pretty memorable. We had a guy who was a homeless dude who would hang out in front of the bar. He wasn't allowed in the bar, but his name was Chicago. He would just routinely stick his head in the door and yell, "Yo, yo, it's Chicago!" and he actually became famous. I think there was a little article written about him in the Onion. He wasn't even allowed into the bar. He was just some dude. It's hard to take out one story at a time. Some crackhead going nuts, you know? Adam [Cayton-Holland] got his start there as well.
Adam was a huge part of it. So was Ben Kronberg. Those two -- Adam Cayton-Holland and Ben Kronberg -- were the two biggest contributors to the show, for sure. They were there right from the very beginning. We all worked together very closely. We were in a crew called Wrist Deep Productions, the three of us.
Any other plans in the near future?
Right now I'm taking a little break. I'm probably going to refocus. Relax and let my liver heal up a little bit. Maybe give my conscience the week off. I had a girl come up to me recently and she was like, "You're the comedian, right?" I said, "Yeah, have you been to the Squire?" and she was like, "Yeah." I said, "What did you think?" She said, "I don't know. You told me I was too fat to have AIDS."
Another time I was at the Comedy Works and it was new talent night. There was some black girl there a little on the heavier side. She comes up to me and was like, "You run the Squire, right? Do you remember me?" I was like, "No." She said, "You called me Precious...like the movie." And all I could do was laugh.
Are you guys going to do anything special for your last night?
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Yeah, we probably will. It will be a big celebration. I'm sure all the usual suspects will come out. Hopefully Chuck Roy or Josh Blue or somebody will come on down. Maybe this will be the night I get stabbed.