Local comics Andrew Orvedahl and Adam Cayton-Holland are as well-known in the Denver standup scene as you can be without moving to L.A. and starring in a children's movie. After working their way up through the local ranks, Orvedahl and Cayton-Holland (the latter a former Westword scribe) launched Los Comicos Super Hilariosos at Orange Cat Studios back in 2007, later moving over to the Bug Theatre and renaming the show Grawlix. Over the past give years, the two comedians have had a significant impact on the local scene, and are described by Fine Gentleman's Club's Chris Charpentier as "the upperclassmen" of Denver standup. "If they didn't do the Squire open mic, or the Lion's Lair or Los Comicos, we couldn't do our show weekly," he says. "They gave us a blueprint for how to do an alternative show in Denver."
Orvedahl and Cayton-Holland will be appearing at the Bug both this Friday and Saturday nights to record separate live albums. In advance of these shows, we sat down with the comedy duo to discuss open mics, club censorship and why these two comedy albums will be their bronzed baby shoes.
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Westword: You two have been doing a bit of touring in big comedy clubs lately; how does that compare with putting on your own show with Los Comicos at Orange Cat and now Grawlix? Cayton-Holland: Back when Greg [Baumhauer] was doing the Squire, that was the first time a friend was running an event, so we didn't have to respect the host, we could do whatever the fuck we wanted without getting in trouble. And ditto with the Orange Cat -- there was no one to disrespect, no comedy elders to worry about shitting on. It was a blank canvas to do whatever we wanted. And we were listening to more comedy, so we were getting better at comedy. Pretty soon it turned into this sold-out phenomenon. Orvedahl: There was total freedom. Sean [Rice] would give us the keys to the car, and it was like: Just don't burn the place down!
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[Note: Orange Cat Studios closed after a fire.] Orvedahl: And there were several months where I was getting very despondent with comedy, and Los Comicos was like my anchor. I'd wait for those shows and it would swing me back up. I don't think I ever had a show where I wasn't really happy afterward, and it's the same today with Grawlix.
Cayton-Holland: And it was like the Too Much Fun vibe has today. Back then, that neighborhood was very different. There was no Meadowlark, there was no Casselman's. There was nothing up there; it was dangerous. But the space was very cool, so walking into that place you were like, "I feel like I'm in on a secret just being here." It was like a punk show -- there was no bar, it was like a our-parents-are-away/house-party! kind of vibe.
Orvedahl: When there's no one above you, there's no booker or anything, you can kind of just say whatever you want. You would think at Comedy Works the audience are pretty progressive, but I'll do a joke lightly making fun of Jesus, and people have walked out and complained. You would think a city-audience would be cool about that, but a lot of the time they aren't. But at Orange Cat I always felt like I could say anything. That crowd was my peer group.
Do you feel like Denver has comedy fans who are steeped in the craft -- like music fans often are -- and will hold your performances to a high standard?
Orvedahl: I don't want to be presumptuous, but I think that last Los Comicos show at Orange Cat helped make it okay to be a comedy fan in Denver -- the same way you would be a music fan. And it was younger people. I feel like a lot of older people come to Comedy Works and like their comfy seats, but at Los Comicos it was wilder and you could follow comics like you would a band.
Cayton-Holland: I feel like Los Comicos was aligned with a national shift of indie-comedy getting cooler, and the podcast revolution. And we were plugged in to that, and when we started doing it in Denver it was something different for the area.
Do you feel that the rise in popularity of Denver comedy is just reflective of a larger interest in comedy nationally? I mean, you guys are touring all the time, has it gotten any easier to make a living as a comic?
Cayton-Holland: Make a living? It's always hard to make a living as a comic. I do think comedy is cooler now than when we started. Which is fucking great, we're reaping the benefits of it. But when I started doing comedy, there was nothing cool about it. There was no "scene" to speak of.
Orvedahl: It was still all turtlenecks and suit-jackets.
Cayton-Holland: Very '80s, brick wall, cheesy image of standup comedy. Luckily it has shifted in something much cooler.
It seems that the alternative comedy revolution -- with its lower cover price, no two-drink minimums, and being hosted in rock venues instead of comedy clubs -- has made for better comics and better comedy. But if you want to make a living as a comic, you still have to play the corporate gigs, where your material has to fit through such a filter.
Orvedahl: Corporate gigs and college gigs pay the most, but in my opinion are the least fun types of shows. I'll be like "Ugh, this is SO not fun," but I'm making a giant sack of cash. And then the funnest shows are the ones where I'm making like ten dollars -- if that -- and it's freezing cold, everyone has to wear their jackets, and there's free beer in the cooler.
Cayton-Holland: We're gonna sound like old men, considering we've only been doing this eight years. . . . But that said, you have to be able to do both. I'm glad that comedy wasn't cool when I first started, because it instilled in me this work ethic where I'm only doing this because I love it. Now I think a lot of people are attracted to comedy because it's hip and they might get laid off it, because it's like the rock scene.
Orvedahl: I want to go on the record saying I've NEVER gotten laid from comedy.
Orvedahl: I don't want to brag... but yeah. I've never even had the opportunity.
Cayton-Holland: The point is that you have to be able to do both corporate gigs and indie-shows.
But that seems like a bit of a tight-rope walk: If you become financially dependent on those corporate gigs, it could kill the spark in you that creates great material. Cayton-Holland: Indeed. I think the goal is for those two sides of what you're doing to eventually, over time, align into coherent voice and you can be booked for a corporate or an indie show, and it's the same you. But for now I do tons of college gigs and it's like: Hey, here's your meat-and-potatoes, kids; this is not what I'm most excited about but here's what you'll like, I guarantee it. So you have to cater to them but, ideally, you get beyond that.
I hear the holidays are a particularly difficult time of the year for comedians with outrageous material -- there are plenty gigs to do, but they all have to be clean.
Orvedahl: At Comedy Works you have to be clean for the entire month of December. That sounds depressing. Orvedahl: That's their policy. I'm not even that dirty of a comic, but that is the way I talk sometimes when I'm having fun, and there will be customers in the audience who don't want to hear it. And so to have that in the back of your head, it takes the joy out of it.
What would be the ramifications of just being like "fuck it, I'm gonna lay the filthiest shit I can think of on this corporate audience"?
Orvedahl: Bad reputation in the area. And the booker won'T be able to trust you for the next show. Sometimes people will ask if I have any comics that would work for their gig, but they have to be clean. And I have friends where I'm like, this person's funny, but I can't trust them to be clean.
But that's why our show at The Bug is so great, because it straddles those two things. It's a cool, nice venue with a bar, but we still have fun. It's a sweet spot between legitimacy and good comedy. It's not a cold, concrete floor Rhinoceropolis-type place, but it's not a comedy club.
So how long have you two known each other?
Andrew Orvedahl: As long as we've been in comedy.
Adam Cayton-Holland: I'd say about eight and a half years. I met him at the Lion's Lair, which was where I got started at the open mic.
Orvedahl: It was the best sort of open mic, because it was never that good. But Troy Baxley did a great job hosting and he was so supportive -- it was just good practice, telling jokes in front of drunks who didn't care. It was good place to cut your teeth.
Cayton-Holland: It was my first night there. I saw Andrew on stage and I was like, "Oh, he's good." But he'd only been doing it maybe six months longer than I had.
Since you were both Denver natives, did that give you a leg-up in the local comedy scene?
Cayton-Holland: There are no legs-up in standup comedy, in my opinion.
Orvedahl: Everyone starts out humbled, on their knees, in front of everyone. I've never seen anyone who's started with an advantage. If you had something going in your home-town comedy scene, and then you move to a new town, those credits don't transfer. It's all about what are you doing right now.
Cayton-Holland: It may have helped initially because we had friends who could come to our shows. But you tax that crowd real quick. Especially if you're not getting any better.
Orvedahl: When I first started there was that T-Rex Highway construction project, and all my jokes were about that--
Cayton-Holland: Local flavor!
Orvedahl: --And it crushed because everyone hated that construction project. So I had an advantage knowing about that.
Cayton-Holland: Yeah, Andy started pandering from day one.
Orvedahl: [Laughs]. I was throwing out Broncos jerseys, handing out frosty Coors Lights.
The comedy scene has grown so much in the last five years, but when you two first got started was there even the opportunity to perform regularly, even at open mics?
Cayton-Holland: Not really. There was the Lion's Lair on Monday night, and then Greg [Baumhauer] started the Squire on Tuesday. But there weren't as many mics as there are now.
Orvedahl: But there were a lot. I remember there being somewhere to play most nights.
Cayton-Holland: That's the thing, there's always some sports bar on Havana that's having an open mic. But no one would've been aware of it then because [comedy] wasn't as cool as it is now.
In the music scene, an open mic is typically some earnest college freshman playing Bob Marley and Pink Floyd covers. Do you think there's as much cynicism about open mics in comedy?
Orvedahl: Open mics can be a pretty terrible experience. Because you're given a very small amount of time, and you don't have much material. But then the MC will be like "Yeah, keep going." And it's like, yeah, keep eating shit.
Cayton-Holland: They're a necessary thing. It's where you learn. But it's always a nice point as a comedian when you realize: I don't have to do open mics any more. Unless I want to because it seems like fun.
And I assume it's a good place to try out new material.
Orvedahl: And that's what they're supposed to be for. They're a place to test-drive material, just to say it out loud. It doesn't matter if people laugh or not.
Was the turning point when you began doing Los Comicos at Orange Cat?
Cayton-Holland: We originally started Los Comicos at Old Curtis Street Bar. For about five people. That was back in 2005. There were noble attempts at something cool -- it was half good, half awful.
Orvedahl: We put a lot of effort into it. We dressed up. We were in the back of a dive-bar putting on suits, about to do a news segment. We had a theme song. We were all in.
Cayton-Holland: So we were doing that at Old Curtis, it was stupid, and fun, and the crowd was getting bigger. And then I became friends with this guy who was running the Orange Cat, and he wanted us to do the show at his space. And when we took it there, that's when it started getting cool.
With the physical medium of recordings now morphing into digital formats, what place does the comedy album have in 2012? Not to mention that attention spans aren't what they were when Richard Pryor was releasing albums.
Adam Cayton-Holland: Well, the album goes online, too. You can get it on iTunes. Honestly, it's something to sell while you're on the road, make some extra money. And as you probably know, most comics view an album as the definitive version of the material; it's a time when you can put it to rest and move on to something new. It's a good time to check yourself creatively. And we've never done an album before, so these will be our baby shoes, our little bronzed baby shoes.
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Adam Cayton-Holland and Andrew Orvedahl will be recording separate live albums during shows at the Bug at 8 p.m. Friday, December 7 and again at 8 p.m. Saturday, December 8. The Bug is located at 3654 Navajo Street; tickets are $5. Click here for more information.