Podcasts are in tune with the democratized spirit of Internet media; anyone with a microphone and a computer can offer their listeners unlimited hours of recordings, usually for free. Limited only by their imaginations, podcasters have a freedom of expression unrestricted by commerce, censorship or geography. Several great podcasts have blossomed in Denver's flourishing arts community; here to celebrate them is Podcast Profiles, a series documenting the efforts of local podcasters and spotlighting the peculiar personalities behind them.
Denver-based comedians Adrian Mesa and Eric Henderson just want to feed you. For three years, the duo behind 3 Course Comedy have cultivated food jokes and trivia games, conducted interviews with performing comics and developed a durable showcase format while preparing a three-course meal for a coterie of steadfast Deer Pile loyalists. An ongoing podcast cataloguing the shows of months past is available on iTunes, though the audio version offers only a fraction of the live experience. Despite a brief hiatus, 3 Course Comedy is back in the kitchen and will serve up a tasty event on Wednesday, April 27.
Westword: Give me a quick rundown of the 3 Course Comedy origin story.
Adrian Mesa: Well, you know the guys at Deer Pile; they came up to me and wanted me to do a show, and they were bugging me about it.
Mesa: Yeah, the Johnnies were bugging me, that's how awesome they are. They said "Do something creative in this space, but it's gotta be something different." I had already done a one-off show there; it was just friends doing standup on my birthday, but that whetted my Deer Pile appetite. I thought, "This is a good space. It's fun. It's perfect."
You can do whatever you want in there.
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Mesa: And I'm a food guy, so I thought, "Let's construct a show about food and comedy." Some of my favorite material is about food. I love comics like Jim Gaffigan and John Pinette, who have classic bits about food. A whole bunch of comedians have great food rants.
It's universal. So at what point did you come in, Eric?
Eric Henderson: He came to me with the idea pretty early on.
Mesa: Yeah, I met Hendo early on at the mikes, when I was just getting back into it here.
Henderson: It was right when you moved back from Miami.
Mesa: So I saw him all the time, and one time I just asked, "Dude, do you want to do a show? Can you record things; are you a podcast man?" Because he was doing a different podcast at the time.
So it was conceived as a podcast right away?
Henderson: Yeah, he came to me to co-host and for help with the live recording. He wanted to record a live show, and I had the capabilities to make that happen, so we've been doing it ever since.
Did you have all the segments worked out right away? Like the food trivia?
Henderson: No, everything kind of evolved along the way. We've constantly evolved the show; I think we get better and more creative with each episode. I feel like we've done at least one new thing that had never been on the show before every month. We keep coming up with new ways to make it interesting. Adrian's been coming up with new games — like we recently had a Tarot card reading.
Mesa: Yeah, food Tarot. Tarot cards that are all food- and kitchen-related. I got it at the Metaphysical Fair.
Henderson: You can ask your questions of the food universe. So we've expanded beyond the trivia to include games like that.
Mesa: One of my favorite games was with Jordan Doll. For that episode, we just had a grab bag of unnatural foods, and he pulled out a bag of Doritos Jacked, took a bite and said, "Oh, my God, I think it has a vein in it!" He does great riffs.
Henderson: We had a distance snack-throwing contest with Chris Charpentier once because he's got a hidden talent for being able to catch stuff.
Yeah, he's like a dolphin.
Mesa: He is like a little dolphin!
Henderson: So we've done something different each time, but it always relates back to food.
Do you cut anything out at all for the podcast version?
Mesa: No, it's just a continuous recording. An hour and fifteen minutes is ideal for me. We always try to keep the show under an hour and a half.
Henderson: Even with the live stuff, it still plays pretty well with no cuts.
Do you track your listenership at all? Do you have any weird, far-flung listeners? Like, "Who's downloading us in Canberra?"
Henderson: I don't know where overseas, but I've been made aware that someone, somewhere across the pond has listened to us. So it's got international reach.
I think it makes more sense to listen to it [at the Deer Pile], because if you live in Denver and enjoy the podcast at home without ever seeing the live show, you're blowing it.
Henderson: Yeah, it's really one of the more unique shows in town. Plus we feed you.
Mesa: It's one of my favorite things to do because it's just food and friends, you know? That's the atmosphere we try to create.
Henderson: I have a bias because I run the show, but it really is one of the best nights to come hang out, because it's very friendly and low-key. It's actually a very good date night. It's slightly interactive, it's very much like having a dinner party. I agree; that's the sort of atmosphere we're creating, and I think it's a wonderful time.
The standup usually goes well, but I like that there are lulls in the show during the interviews where you can run out for another bowl of gumbo without missing too much or throwing off the comics.
Henderson: It's got a very unique pace as far as a live show goes.
There's a talk-show vibe when you wave over the comedian.
Henderson: Yeah, kinda. How the setup works is that Adrian and I come in to do an introduction, and every show has a theme. We've had numerous themes, like space foods, sexy foods, we've had a service-industry appreciation night. Lately we've had different styles of food, like Cajun foods, Cuban foods, and our upcoming show is about clean foods. So we'll come out and riff on the theme before we bring up the first comic who also brings in a dish, and then we do an interview with them after their sets. And we tend to talk about their food habits and histories, because everyone eats differently, so it's interesting to see how different the experience can be. Then we'll play a game, and then bring up a different comic to go through essentially the same process. And we like to have the comics try and do material related to food.
I was going to ask if that was still a part of it. It can be kind of a challenge for the comics you book. I definitely remember thinking, "How many one-liners about food do I really have in me?"
Henderson: Yeah, we do kind of make the comics step outside of their comfort zone and work a little harder. But it's a very relatable topic, so things usually go well. Nobody really struggles, because there are so many angles to take. It could be cooking or serving, it could be about some shitty job you had in the service industry, something great or terrible that you've eaten. Most people can come up with something.
Mesa: And I tell people, "Hey, it's a podcast. You don't have to worry about being punchy every couple seconds like you do at a comedy club. Don't worry about being hilarious. Any offering that you have, any anecdote will be received in that podcast spirit."
What are some of the standout dishes that comedians brought in?
Henderson: One of my favorites was the gummi sushi that Steve Vanderploeg brought. That was unique. It was fruit roll-ups and Swedish fish.
Mesa: That was well done once it was fully formed.
Henderson: I don't know if he melted it or put something on it, but it was delightful. Zac Maas made this drink called wassail that was unbelievable.
Mesa: We've had some great hits. Your comics do their thing, but I accept anything on the show. It doesn't even have to edible; it could be a funny gag food.
Henderson: We had three kinds of pizza once. We had pizza from two different places, and then I made pizza salad.
Mesa: Yeah, we got our Ninja Turtle on. Allison Rose brought her own mini-fryer with duck fat and she fried up these little sesame balls that were filled with mushrooms and other fried things. She made a vegetarian noodle dish fried in duck fat. She knocked it out of the park with two dishes that were both bomb.
Henderson: You really get insight into which comics can cook and which ones can't.
You usually make something too, right, Adrian?
Mesa: I usually try to make something, yeah. I made a big ol' pot of gumbo for the Cajun foods episode; got that dark roux, boy! I want to keep learning and keep expanding our knowledge of cuisine.
Henderson: We have had a couple food trucks and chefs work with us. We had Caveman Cafeteria at the first one, and we've worked with Foodie Call.
Have you thought about expanding more into incorporating the food scene into the show?
Mesa: Well, I'd love to get in on video and maybe turn it into a web series.
Henderson: I'd like to do more food-truck reviews.
Mesa: We could add a lot of content and try to have more of an online presence with our page. That'd be the next move. Maybe we could add little tutorial videos for the dishes we make on the show. But that takes a lot more commitment, so it's like, "What's up? Are you gonna go for it or not?" But at the same time, I like the show how it is. I'd like to make it bigger, maybe try and make some money off it. Not that the show's ever been about money. I usually lose money doing this show.
Henderson: We've been doing it for a long time, and we never really expected much other than just to have a good time with good food. We just want to feed people and make them laugh. We ask for donations, but we usually give that money to the comics who are on the show and bring food. We're sponsored by Sexpot Comedy, but it's just for promotion. They advertise for us and we advertise for them. But we're not trying to break the bank. It really is a "do it for the love of the show" kind of mentality.
Who's on the next show?
Henderson: The theme of the next show is clean foods and good healthy livin'.
Mesa: We have Miriam Moreno, William Montgomery and Zach Reinert to round it out.
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How long did you go on hiatus while Adrian was out in L.A.?
Mesa: I think it was about four months.
Henderson: It worked out because the first show back was in January, which would have been our three-year anniversary show.
3 Course Comedy returns to the Deer Pile at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 27; admission is free.