High Plains Comedy Festival: Behind the scenes with Andy Juett
Denver will get serious about comedy this weekend, when the homegrown High Plains Comedy Festival presents a rogue's gallery of jokesters -- everyone from national headliners like Reggie Watts, Cameron Esposito and Kyle Kinane to the best local comedians Denver has to offer -- and throws a few great parties. In advance of the big event, we checked in with co-organizer Andy Juett to see what goes into planning this city's first big comedy festival.
Westword: How did you get involved with planning the HPCF?
Andy Juett: I own and operate the festival with Adam Cayton-Holland and Pete Turner and Virgil Dickerson of Illegal Pete's. Adam and I aren't the first people to discuss a festival like this together, but we started talking about it in combination with some others over a year ago. We'd both been to some pretty amazing comedy festival setups -- ranging from Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, Oregon to the now defunct HBO US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen -- and we both agreed that Denver deserved a truly sustainable festival that would be uniquely "Denver." We thought by joining forces with creative fire-stokers like Pete and Virgil Dickerson that we could make something special. Between our collective backgrounds and interests, it just ended up being a pretty great team. It's like Sesame Street. Cooperation is a real fucking thing.
What were some of the biggest challenges in putting everything together?
I think making everyone's schedules work with the weekend was a bit of a challenge. Orchestrating forty to fifty comics in one space in one city is a bit of a tough putt at times. We had a couple great buddies have to drop out due to some pretty cool potentially breakout television and movie roles filming the same weekend, but we were able to replace those guys with other great folks that we respect and/or have relationships with. It's a great problem to have. Also, it's August so there aren't enough party busses for weed soda-sponsored swimming trips, so that can be a real Rwanda level disaster for everyone.
Reggie Watts is headlining at 10 p.m. August 24 at the Gothic.
Can you describe what it's like behind the scenes organizing the festival?
The last couple weeks have truly been a mad dash. Organizing airport pickups, food, booze and (oh yeah) comedy shows and parties just ends up taking a lot of time, but ultimately feels really good when you have a hand in it and you know that most of it will run smoothly because you added a lot of safety valves like extra volunteers, friends, bands and DJs to help out. We will definitely have a much easier road map next year, but I feel like we did fairly well given that some of these great other young festivals have made some pitfalls we tried to avoid. Financially, the biggest thing for us was making something on this big of a scale and making it really sustainable every year. We'll go into this festival in pretty decent shape financially and obviously when it goes moderately well to well, we'll have achieved that goal in spades.
Dr. Phil says that means I'm growing up and that feels fucking good. Luckily we have a lot of ways to buy tickets now, like single show tickets at highplainscomedyfestival.com to go along with the best values like Full Festival passes and single-day passes. The response has been great.
Do you know what's going on with the Maron show? How is that affiliated with High Plains?
Marc Maron was on our short list of headliners at the beginning of all of this. Adam and I love his standup and podcast and respect him greatly as a comic. Comedy Works was booking him somewhat simultaneously with our fest, so in a fairly recent development we decided to team up and co-present his show. Folks from the club will come our way and it gives a chance for those who love Maron to see him as part of the festival in the Comedy Works setting. One note: you will have to buy Maron tickets separately from Comedy Works; the festival and day passes get you into everything else. We're hoping Marc will drop in on Adam's podcast, My Dining Room Table or another show, but we're not sure what's going to happen quite yet. Tease. This is a comedy festival! Anything can happen!
What are you most excited about?
I'm excited to hang out with about a hundred Denver and non-Denver friends (most of whom are comics) and our sponsors and party like it's the end of American Pie. I'm not talking about substance abuse, Byron. I'm talking about friendship. Seriously, this environment will be like comedy summer camp (a la Bridgetown Comedy Festival) if we do this right. We have some fun things lined up for the comics and I'm also excited to show these guys how Denver brings it. Comics like Jordan Doll, Sam Tallent, Chris Charpentier, Kristin Rand and Mara Wiles -- and I could name thirty more comics -- deserve recognition and fans and an awareness from national comics about what they bring to the table. This is a love letter to Denver in comedy-festival form, and I honestly can't wait. Oh, also: There will be a party bus. So relax, everybody. There'll be a bus with stripper poles and Playstation and karaoke. This isn't a travesty. This is us.
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.
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