In these uncertain times, the programatic cheeriness of the holiday season can become oppressive. Fortunately for local sad sacks, nothing cuts through the happy humbuggery better than standup comedy. In addition to fine selections at clubs and theaters across the state, Coloradans can enjoy a bevy of brewery shows, gut-busting parodies of holiday classics and the Grawlix three 'neath the yuletide tree. Cash-strapped shoppers will be glad to know that one of these events costs less than a good set of Legos, and three of them are free. So give yourself a gift this year and see what Denver comedy has to offer: Here are the ten best shows in Denver in December, in chronological order.
1. Uncalled Four
Saturday, December 3
Misanthropes, unite! Beloved among Denver degenerates, Uncalled Four is a comedy game show that pits four comedians against each other in a contest to win the coveted title of "Denver's Worst Person." The scourge of easily offended Yelp reviewers, the Sexpot-sponsored showcase has been featured in the Bridgetown and High Plains Comedy festivals and created specialized decks that allow fans to play at home, thereby finding out how warped their friends and family truly are. With a fresh new set of cards ready for the 2016 National Deck set to debut, co-producers Jake Browne, Samantha Sandt and Zac Maas are busier than ever, making arrangements for the new game and poring over user-submitted nominations for "Denver's Worst Person," a process that Browne admits has been unexpectedly fraught with pathos. This weekend's show features local comics Stephen Agyei, Rachel Weeks, Zach Reinert and Adam Cayton-Holland, so come see what's lurking in the darkest corners of their minds.
Doors open at 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. showtime. Individual tickets are $5.99 at uncalledfour.com (which also offers four-packs for $19.99) and $10 at the door.
2. Deacon Gray Presents: The Gutcracker
Wednesday, December 7, and Wednesday, December 21
Both Comedy Works locations
Holiday-themed entertainment presents its creators with a challenge. Comedy has to be funny, even when it's all trussed up in red and green. Perhaps that's why riffing on a classic has proved to be such a durable way to eke some laughs out of seasonal tropes. Deacon Gray's The Gutcracker continues this time-honored Yuletide tradition with Denver comedians portraying the characters from the E.T.A. Hoffman short story that was made famous by the Tchaikovsky ballet. The cast includes Rachel Weeks as Clara, Christie Buchele as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Nathan Lund as the Mouse King, Adrian Mesa as a gingerbread soldier, and Gray in the titular role. After eating a medicated gingerbread cookie, the Nutcracker awakes and finds himself on a whimsical comedy showcase populated with holiday icons. Bundle up and go see Gray's weed-fueled fever dream come to life.
Showtimes and locations vary. Admission is $12. Visit the Comedy Works events page to learn more and buy tickets.
3. Comedy Night at Chain Reaction Second Year Anniversary
Friday, December 9
Chain Reaction Brewing Company
After being named the Best New Comedy Show of 2015 at this very site, Comedy Night at Chain Reaction has maintained its distinction for two years, despite dozens of comics and brewers appropriating its basic formula. The show, a collaboration between local comic Steve Vanderploeg and co-owner Chad Christofferson, childhood hockey teammates with a shared love of craft beer, not only continues drawing national headliners and throngs of beery regulars to an unassuming corner of Athmar Park, but has yielded its own signature beverage with the Denver Comedy Pale Ale. To celebrate two years of hops and hahas, Vanderploeg and company have brewed up an unbeatable showcase featuring local standups Rachel Weeks, Aaron Urist, Greg Baumhauer, Ben Bryant Anthony Armstrong and Chicago's Sammy Arechar. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that Steve Vanderploeg is my roommate. )
Showtime is 8 p.m.; admission is free.
4. Jim Gaffigan
Saturday, December 10
Broadmoor World Arena, Colorado Springs
Known for riffs on laziness and shitty food, everyman comic Jim Gaffigan has achieved a level of cultural permeation that most comics can only dream of. Gaffigan is one of those comics whose jokes are referenced in day-to-day exchanges, and whose "inside voice" joke-telling style is instantly recognizable. His first book, Dad Is Fat, was published last year, and he self-released a standup special, Mr. Universe, the year before that. Gaffigan has also appeared on Portlandia and all three Law and Order franchises, as well as in films like Away We Go. Recently, Gaffigan became the executive producer and star of the eponymous Jim Gaffigan Show, which ran for two seasons on TVLand.
Doors open at 7 for an 8 p.m. showtime. Admission prices range from $39.75 to $59.75 via the Broadmoor World Arena events page.
5. Tig Notaro
Sunday, December 11
Despite enduring a lifetime's worth of adversity in a few short months, Tig Notaro has remained indefatigably prolific and unfailingly hilarious throughout her struggles with health, heartbreak and loss. After releasing the instant-classic album Live, Notaro has worked ceaselessly; she was the focus of the heart-wrenching documentary Tig, performed shirtless in a triumph over her mastectomy scars in Boyish Girl Interrupted, and created her own sitcom, called One Mississippi. In addition to her flourishing creative efforts, Notaro and her wife also welcomed twin boys into their family earlier this year, a welcome development that nonetheless makes tours such as this one more difficult to arrange, and therefore increasingly rare. With local treasure Nancy Norton in the feature spot, Notaro promises not only a fearless yet defiantly silly evening of comedy, but also a living testament to hope and persistence. (Check the Arts & Culture page next week for a full interview with Notaro. )
Doors open at 7 for an 8 p.m. showtime. General admission is $35 via the Boulder Theater events page.
6. Myq Kaplan
Both Comedy Works locations
After making waves in the Boston comedy scene while attending grad school, Myq Kaplan rose to prominence for his clever jokes and domination of standup contests. In addition to strong showings on Last Comic Standing and America's Got Talent, Kaplan has performed on late-night staples such as Conan, The Late Show With David Letterman and Comedy Central Presents. A favored guest on the comedy podcast circuit, Kaplan makes regular appearances on Keith and the Girl and hosts Hang Out With Me. Kaplan has also released two albums — Vegan Mind Meld and Please Be Seated — and his latest special, Small, Dork, and Handsome, premiered on Netflix in 2014.
Showtimes and admission prices vary; visit the Comedy Works events page to learn more and buy tickets.
7. Story Time
Friday, December 16
One of the first theme shows to take up residence in El Charrito's Comedy RoomRoom, James Draper's Story Time has a somewhat misleading name. Rather than telling stories (check out We Still Like You or The Narrators for that) Draper's show calls upon every comic on the lineup to either share their best one-liners or generate enough new ones to fill five minutes. Like building a ship in a bottle or composing a haiku, telling a great one-liner joke requires focus, determination and maybe even a little mental illness. Shakespeare may have popularized the axiom "Brevity is the soul of wit," but Story Time pares it down to its very essence. Join Draper along with local comics Mitch Jones, James Hamilton, Cody Spyker, Roger Stafford, Harris Alterman and headliner Curt Fletcher for short jokes and long laughs.
Doors open at 7 p.m. for the 7:30 show. Admission is free, but donations are strongly encouraged.
8. Sunnyside Brew Haha
Friday, December 16
Brewery shows are so plentiful in Denver that it's easy to overlook the really good ones. Each month, the Sunnyside Brew Haha, spearheaded by local comic Kira MagCalen, demonstrates why brewpubs are such popular venues. Combine a beery crowd of loyal patrons with a well-curated standup showcase, hang up some string lights, and you've got everything you need to chortle away a frosty December evening. This month's show features local comics Andrew Bueno and Mina Thorkel along with New Orleans's James Hamilton, Los Angeles's Karl Hess and a return of the prodigal Jordan Doll.
Showtime is 8 p.m. Admission is free, but the room fills quickly.
9. Return of the Grawlix
Friday, December 23
The Bug Theatre
Rather than contentedly settle for a well-managed annual joke jubilee, the brain trust behind the High Plains Comedy Festival has mounted a campaign of aggressive expansion, producing local shows that draw national headliners. As this crew looks toward the future, the High Plains Comedy Presents brand —locally spearheaded by overworked producer Karen Wachtel— stands firmly on the shoulders of the Denver scene's formative successes. It's fitting, then, that this month's show features the prodigal trio of Ben Roy, Andrew Orvedahl and Adam Cayton-Holland reviving their beloved Grawlix showcase at the Bug Theatre. As the second season of Those Who Can't draws to close, seeing the Grawlix three return to the Bug stage is something of an early Christmas gift for Denver comedy fans.
The 8 p.m. showcase has already sold out, so fans would be wise to make haste and get their tickets for the just-added second show at 10:30 p.m. Admission is $12 plus fees from Brown Paper Tickets. All proceeds benefit the Mental Health Center of Denver.
10. CoCoa Brown
The Denver Improv
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Before embarking on her standup career, CoCoa Brown earned a master's degree in education. Given her scholarly authority and fearless honesty, her academic background makes sense. A versatile performer, Brown can pivot from a corporate-clean act to jokes that would make even the saltiest road dog drop his monocle. She's appeared on BET's ComicView and One Mic Stand as well as Comedy Central's Comic Groove. An accomplished character actor, Brown is a central player in Tyler Perry's repertoire, starring in The Single Mom's Club and For Better or Worse, which just entered its ninth season on OWN, and she's turned up in a variety of shows and films, such as Breaking Bad and Ted 2. Brown will be performing at the club all weekend long, but her New Year's Eve extravaganza presents a fine opportunity to start off 2017 with a laugh.
Showtimes and admission prices vary. Visit the Denver Improv events page to learn more and buy tickets.