#44: Ron Doyle
For a guy who’s built a freelance business at home, Ron Doyle still spreads himself around town, whether he’s co-hosting and producing the Denver wing of The Narrators, a live show and podcast for which local creatives weave personal stories around a monthly theme, or pulling strings behind the scenes at the High Plains Comedy Festival. A member of the team who focused on civic and cultural issues for the now-defunct Denver Diatribe podcasts, Doyle is a talker and a community-builder who’s always looking for new ways to engage the public. Learn more about how he does that via the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Ron Doyle: I get to collaborate with incredible folks all the time, so it feels selfish to ask for more. I couldn’t be happier in this department. But if I had a time machine and could book a super all-ghost edition of The Narrators, the lineup would probably include a broad mix of folks — Corky Gonzales, James Baldwin, Mark Twain, Nina Simone, Akira Kurosawa, Eazy-E, Richard Pryor, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sly Stone, Søren Kierkegaard, Miriam Makeba. History is a big place, so I could keep going like this all day. All of these folks leveraged the power of narrative in their respective fields and had fascinating lives beyond their work. I’ve deified most of them in my mind, so I’d love to hear their personal stories firsthand, without the filter of history or my own biases.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Everyone is interesting to me, but at the moment I’m a little obsessed with and terrified by fake-news creators. What’s their endgame? Just advertising revenue? Or are some of these folks true nihilists, trying to shatter reality? After interviewing so many folks for magazine articles and hearing so many stories over the years at The Narrators, I feel like my B.S. detector is a fine-tuned precision instrument; I’m pretty good at noticing when folks are being dishonest. But honesty and truth aren’t necessarily the same thing. I think a lot about this, about perception versus reality and whether or not universal truths exist — how much of what we know on the individual and collective level is the product of our own construction. Fiction and satire and the scientific method all have this way of tugging at the edges of the truth, exposing its seams, uncovering things that we didn’t understand before, and sometimes ripping things open and changing what is true.
I don’t see this as a liberal versus conservative or educated versus uneducated issue; we’re all affected by it. Our personal worldview changes ever so slightly with every story we hear, every person we meet, every book we finish, every article we read online, for better or worse. Maybe the truth doesn’t matter, because it’s actually an unattainable ideal and constantly changing. But honesty is important; it’s the gateway to trust and empathy, something that we’re struggling to maintain as a society, so it worries me that there are folks out there consciously fighting against it.
A less ridiculous answer: My wife, Lisa, and my two daughters, Madeleine and Lila, are truly the most interesting to me, because I already know them so well and get to watch them each transform slowly over time. It’s like a serialized novel that I experience in real time. That is endlessly fascinating to me, and fortunately they’re not totally boring people. I’m super-lucky to spend my life around them. Cheesy? Maybe. Don’t care. It’s still the truth. My truth. Oh, you know what I mean.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
What's your day job?
I was an at-risk high -chool teacher for many years and loved it, but I quit that job in 2008 to become a stay-at-home dad. I’ve been self-employed ever since — freelance magazine writing, editing, web design and development, audio production, social-media management and marketing, etc. For the last few years, my primary client has been a Swedish bank; I edit stock investment reports about Scandinavian companies like H&M, Volvo and Nokia. I tell folks that it’s the most boring gig I’ve ever had, but I totally love it. I get to play with words all day, I can pay my bills on time, and my co-workers in Sweden, the U.K. and Chicago are a brilliant, pun-loving bunch.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
I’ve been reading this column for a long time, and this question always makes me laugh. Honestly, if some shadowy figure offered me "unlimited funds" for life, I'd probably run away screaming "It's a trap!" like Admiral Ackbar.
But, sure, let’s go with it: First, I'd set aside enough that my family could live comfortably for several generations. Maybe clear the personal debts of every living person in the world? Pay off world governments so they enact climate-change measures more rapidly and provide financial and educational support for the folks whose livelihoods are disrupted by the changes? End homelessness and world hunger? Buy Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, institute regularly scheduled blackouts of those websites, eliminate ads and change the algorithms that encourage digital segregation? You know, real lofty stuff. I’d like to believe that I'd give most of my wealth to the world, to help make it a better place. But the truth is that I’d probably die within three weeks on some wild hedonistic binge of chiles rellenos and powder skiing. Absolute power and all that jazz.
Assuming a more realistic amount of funding, there are a few local things I'd love to do:
I’d make The Narrators my day job. I love the show enough that I could spend most of my time working on it. I’d make sure that the other folks involved with the show — Erin Rollman, Robert Rutherford, Mary Robertson and our intern, Sydney Crain — were all handsomely compensated for their hard work, to whatever extent they want to be involved. I’d keep room in my schedule for High Plains Comedy Festival and podcasting, and make time for other creative projects that currently exist only in my dreams.
I’d establish a crisis fund for artists, performers and other creative professionals who are self-employed and can’t afford to pay for better health care or save for emergencies. It breaks/warms my heart to see my poor artist friends emptying their bank accounts to support other folks in a time of crisis. They shouldn’t have to bear that burden. Wealthy patrons of the arts in Colorado, take heed: This is something that could and should exist now. There’s no need to give me the money first.
I’d also love to act like a Bizarro Ted Turner and bring television to Colorado and send bison to California. I’d fund the development of infrastructure for large-scale television, film and music production — sound stages and trailers and props and lighting equipment and cranes and casting agencies and voice coaches and costume designers — all the stuff that Colorado lacks now. I’d create private subsidies for the entertainment and performance industry. If New Mexico and Georgia can draw folks away from L.A. and NYC without totally sacrificing the identity of their states, Colorado should be able to do the same. We’ve lost too many fantastic people to the coasts.
Other wild ideas: I’d love to produce small, low-key Denver festivals for podcasts and storytelling. Ever since the election, I’ve been talking about assembling a modern version of the Freedom Riders, with well-trained storytellers and educators from a variety of backgrounds, to visit rural schools in Colorado and beyond, because I believe exposure builds empathy. And my father’s family raised cattle, so my wife and I sometimes daydream about an experiential dude ranch for kids with all miniature farm animals —miniature cows, Shetland ponies, pot-bellied pigs, pygmy goats, dwarf rabbits, etc.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I have been in Colorado for twenty years, more than half my life. I like to joke that I’m a naturalized citizen now. Twelve of those years have been in Denver. I love it here.
Denver’s experiencing some serious growing pains, but the pains aren’t new. I sometimes like to scroll through old episodes of the Denver Diatribe, a podcast I produced and co-hosted a while back with Joel Warner, Jared Maher, Josh Johnson and Vanessa Martinez. All the topics we covered over five years ago are still issues today — homelessness, housing costs, city infrastructure, public art and transportation, corruption, gentrification, the craft-beer and cannabis industries, police violence, the food at Casa Bonita, the migratory habits of Canada geese, you name it. None of that has really changed; it’s all just amplified with the population and price increases.
Ditto for all the things that make the city fantastic. Do you know what’s really different from five years ago? Almost no one refers to Denver as a cowtown, even in jest. People treat Denver like a full-blown city in a way that they didn’t seem to before — we can’t claim underdog status anymore — and I think we’re feeling the consequences of that shift, both good and bad.
Is the change enough to drive me away? I hope not. Denver still feels like home.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Colorado could pass an independent contractors’ bill of rights — legislation that would allow artists and other self-employed individuals to bargain collectively for benefits like health insurance, RTD passes, office space; provide legal support when negotiating and collecting from clients; develop programs that assist with tax preparation and financial planning; adjust income thresholds for government assistance to better reflect the financial realities of self-employed folks who have higher gross income but lower net income, etc.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
This question stresses me out. Can I just say everyone is my favorite?
If I have to pick only one person, it’s Chris Getzan from Warm Cookies of the Revolution. Ever since we collaborated during the Stompin’ Ground Games last year, he has been my secret role model, the sort of behind-the-scenes Colorado creative I want to be — imaginative but pragmatic, compassionate, consistent, organized, well-read, civic-minded, hardworking, hubris-free and just plain fun. He’s a good guy who gets things done. The secret is out, Chris. You’re awesome.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Trying to be less ambitious — longevity is the name of the game. The Narrators will be announcing its 2017 schedule in mid-December, both in Denver and San Diego. The show will be seven years old in March. We’re planning a few special events, collaborating with some amazing individuals and organizations around town, but I don’t want to jinx anything by mentioning it here. Just know that some really great stuff is coming down the pipe. Maybe our first-ever run of T-shirts, if our audience shows interest. Our stories from the live shows are still published via our podcast, syndication with Rooftop Audible and Denver Open Media’s 104.7 FM. A forthcoming Birdy podcast will also occasionally include featured stories from the show.
High Plains Comedy Festival will be back for its fifth year in August 2017, but I’m still kind of recovering from the last festival and haven’t put too much thought into plans for next year. But I’ll definitely be there, running around like a maniac, cursing at projectors and wifi routers. I'm also tentatively slated to serve as tech manager for the Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo (DINK) in April.
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And there’s always talk of bringing the Denver Diatribe back to life. Will 2017 be the year of its triumphant return? Probably not, but it’s fun to dream.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
My long-ime friend George Lacson, whom I first met twenty years ago at the University of Colorado Boulder. He’s a music producer, band eader and an incredible bass player. After a decade in the Bay Area and a few years at the Berklee College of Music campus in Valencia, Spain, he’s just moved back to Colorado. It won’t be long before he’s digging himself into the local music scene. I look forward to seeing what he’ll create here.
The Narrators presents "Parents Just Don’t Understand" at 8 p.m. Wednesday, December 21, at Buntport Theater. Monthly programs continue on the third Wednesday of every month; admission is free. Learn more about Ron Doyle online.