The disappointing news that the Grawlix pilot got the thumbs down from Amazon didn't keep Adam Cayton-Holland down for long. Just days later, he announced the August 23-24 High Plains Comedy Festival, which will raise the bar on previous summer comedy jams like Laugh Track and Too Much Funstival by bringing in such big-name national acts as Kyle Kinane, Rory Scovel and Sean Patton. Although Cayton-Holland says he wants the High Plains festival to be on a level with others like Portland's Bridgetown Festival, he also emphasizes that this event is designed to bring as much attention to Denver comedians as possible. Keep reading for more from Cayton-Holland on the High Plains Comedy Festival.
Westword: I imagine getting together a Denver comedy festival with national draw has been on your mind for a while.
Adam Cayton-Holland: Yeah, I've had this idea for a couple years. I know a comedy festival isn't a new idea, but we're really excited about this. I wanted to do it last year but just didn't have my shit together.
You've toured around a lot to comedy scenes in cities like Portland or Austin. What makes you think Denver is ready for something on the scale of their festivals?
I think any comic who's been around for a while knows that Denver has an amazing scene with a lot of talent. But I think Denver, outside of New York or L.A., hands down has the best comedy scene in the country. So it's time we had a festival that shows that. Austin and Portland are awesome, but Portland gets acclaim through its Bridgetown Comedy Festival. Not that they don't deserve it, but Denver is just as good as those cities, if not better, in terms of the caliber of our comedians. A festival is the perfect way to showcase our scene to a national audience, through bringing in big national acts and having Denver standups perform alongside them.
You know, Fine Gentleman's Club have done a festival, and there's been the Laugh Track Comedy Festival, and those are great, but they didn't bring in a large amount of out-of-town comedians, or any huge names, because they couldn't really afford it. But this one is trying to do that, and it's overdue.
With those festivals, they were showcasing primarily local talent, whereas you want High Plains to be something people will fly in from other cities to check out?
I want it to do both. I want national acts because you need them to draw in an audience, but I want a lot of Denver comedians on there, too. So we're trying to find a healthy balance.
At this point, Denver has reached a stage with summer music festivals where out-of-towners will look forward to events like the Westword Music Showcase or UMS. Is that the model you'd like to see in Denver in four or five years with comedy festivals?
I certainly think we can -- I don't think we'd be doing this if I didn't think we could pull that off. We're hoping this is a banner first year and keeps getting bigger and better until it's a Denver staple -- something that the city is known for. When you talk about Portland comedy, you can't help but talk about the Bridgetown Festival. So we're hoping that when people think about Denver comedy, they'll think of Comedy Works, and hopefully a few years down the road, they'll think of High Plains Comedy Festival. I really want to bring in more national comics and let them see what a great scene we have.
I've been lucky enough to perform at a number of comedy festivals, and I've seen a lot of things that I like and don't like. So I'm excited to try and put on a really good festival in Denver based off of what I've learned and seen. You have the Illegal Pete's Greater Than collective behind you on this festival and so many other projects you've been involved in. It seems that sponsors like them and Sexy Pizza have been a vital force in changing the comedy scene almost as much as the comics themselves.
Yeah, it's invaluable. Sexy Pizza is great, but personally I can only speak about Greater Than and Illegal Pete's, because I've only worked with them. But, yeah, I think these guys get it; they understand what we're doing. They know that comedy is viable and burgeoning and interesting. They recognize what's going on in Denver. Illegal Pete's gives us money each month to fly in a comic. It's ridiculous. If you'd told me two years ago I'd be doing this, it would've blown my mind.
And when we bring in these comics, they think we live in a fantasy land. Every comic that comes here thinks it's ridiculous how amazing the scene is. They think we're putting on airs with these shows; they're like, "It can't be like this all the time." And we're like, "No, it's like this year-round. There are great shows constantly."
So I would assume, then, that a lot of people in other cities are talking about the Denver comedy scene, more than just in the context of Denver comics traveling there and telling them about it.
Yeah, the word's getting out. We're all kind of ambassadors of Denver. The comics that we fly in for Grawlix will be like, "Oh, can I do that Too Much Fun show as well?" And we help put them in touch with those guys. Same with Greater Than Social Club. These comics are aware of what shows are going on here before they fly in. We're getting a good reputation nationally.
For so long, the shows you've done, from Orange Cat to the Bug Theater, have been outside of the mainstream comedy-club industry of places like Comedy Works. Is there enough of an infrastructure to your operation to match that or combine forces?
No. Comedy Works is a giant, one I love. The two are just complementary pieces. I think Denver has always been a good incubator for comics, for whatever reason. And since it's one of the best clubs in the country and you get so much stage time, Comedy Works has birthed a lot of really great local comics. Comedy Works is still king. But it's been mining this city's comics for so many years, and now we're just doing it as well.
It seems to me that they're two different industries. The people who go to your shows learn about them through different mediums, like social media, whereas the people who go to Comedy Works often learn about the shows through advertising.
That's exactly right. And, yeah, we don't want to step on their toes, because we love Wende [Curtis] and we love Comedy Works. We're not in competition.
Do you think you ultimately have two different audiences between Comedy Works and High Plains Comedy Festival?
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I'm sure there will be a lot of overlap. For years, Comedy Works has trained the city of Denver how to be pretty discerning as comedy fans. We benefit from that because it's given us some savvy comedy audiences. But, sure, there will be some comedy nerds who will come out to High Plains who might not go to Comedy Works. But that's just the nature of festivals. High Plains Comedy Festival will run August 23 through 24 at 3 Kings Tavern and Hi-dive. For more information, check out the festival's website. For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.