Surviving six years in Colorado's fickle and unforgiving comedy scene is a notable achievement in its own right, but very few local shows have remained as consistently packed and stacked as the Boulder Comedy Show at the Bohemian Biergarten. Scarcely missing a step after erstwhile host and show-runner Brent Gill relocated to Hollywood to seek his fortune, the show continues to be a Sunday night staple for comedy-loving Boulderites.
Remarkably industrious for a perpetually cash-eyed stoner, Gill parlayed an inauspicious weekly show in the back room of a fledgling venue into a Best of Denver award-winning juggernaut. While Gill has delegated week-to-week hosting duties to Comedy Works regular and poster designer extraordinaire Geoff Tice, Gill tends to his baby from afar, sometimes even FaceTime-ing into the showroom to ensure that the sound is just right.
In advance of a May 26 anniversary show, Westword caught up with Gill to talk about six years of success, how his experience running the Boulder Comedy Show has influenced his Los Angeles endeavors, and why the final season of Game of Thrones presents such a formidable counter-programming challenge.
Westword: Tell us about the shows you're running in L.A. What are the challenges of producing a show there as opposed to a comparatively smaller market like Boulder?
Brent Gill: It's such a pain in the dick. It really is. I started the Arroyo Comedy Show based off of what I'd learned in Boulder. It's just far enough outside of the city that people who live nearby don't want to go into town, yet close enough that comics will absolutely go there. So it has a great location, and the producers I'm working with are helping me book good talent. But one thing I had overlooked was the power of foot traffic. There is no foot traffic by the Arroyo Seco Golf Course. People who come out love the show, but we're getting small crowds of like ten people for these phenomenal lineups.
I mean, nobody just walks into a golf course. They go there specifically with specific equipment.
That's what sucks. It's in such a cool spot, and every comic who does the show can see its potential. But, yeah, it's an eighteen-hole, par 3 course, with a nine-hole putt-putt and a big driving range. And a bar! It's a great spot, but people just don't know about it.
Yeah, it's not like Pearl Street, where they might stroll by and get enticed by a sandwich board.
I can put on a fantastic show that makes everyone there want to come back, but I can't bring people to a venue they've never heard of. People go to Arroyo for a very specific thing: to hit the range. To play gold. They don't really go there just to fuckin' hang out.
The Boulder show got off to a bit of a slow start, though, didn't it?
Yeah, but it's got an ideal location, right off the mall. And the other thing was that our show started basically six weeks after the Biergarten first opened. So as they grew in popularity, we grew with them. And from the beginning, I made a point of capitalizing on the people who were already regulars there before trying to bring in other people. Honestly, it was never my original intention for the show to become what it is: a weekly show that sells out almost every Sunday. But now that I know what's possible, I want to bring that to L.A.; I want to turn Arroyo into a comedy club.
What are some of the other lessons you think you can apply from Boulder? Most comedy shows don't last a year, and yours is thriving into its sixth.
Most comedy shows fucking suck. I think the reason most comedy shows don't make it is because comedians are just thinking about creating their own stage time instead of the experience of the audience members. You should run your show like a comedy club. I am concerned about the customer experience from the moment they walk in the door until the moment they leave the building. I think most comics don't pay attention to that. They think, "Well, I'm doing this for me, and you're just here to appreciate my art. They're just going to love my art." And you know, they're not! They're not always going to be what you want them to be, but if you can put them in an environment that is conducive to enjoying comedy, they might come back. In Boulder, I've tried to groom people not to heckle. Because the Bohemian Biergarten has a whole fucking room up front if you don't want to watch the show. Go elsewhere! That might be the biggest thing.
Yeah, people can just go in and have a drink or watch the game while comedy thrives in a completely separate space.
That's why ambush comedy never works. It's really hard to just start a comedy show when everybody's in the same room. I'm surprised Kibitz fucking works. That show is definitely ambush comedy.
It's my show in West Hollywood at Canter's Deli. I run three weekly shows in two states. It's stupid.
You come back and forth a lot, but even when you're in L.A., you're running the Boulder Comedy Show remotely; you're booking the lineups, paying comics and making sure everything runs smoothly. What are the issues that arise with managing things from afar?
One of the issues it's brought up is that I chose to start another show on the same day, at the same time, in a different state. I find that all my Sunday nights have become super-hectic. I have to get reports from Boulder while I'm running a show in L.A. ... What was your question again?
What are the challenges of running the show remotely?
Oh, right, right, right. For the most part, it's pretty straightforward, almost as if I was there in person. When there is an issue, it's because like, a comic missed a flight, or they need a ride, or there's weather. Or whatever; I have to stop what I'm doing and deal with it from a different state. If there's a technical issue, [guest host] Geoff Tice will just FaceTime me and I'll have to walk him through a solution over the phone...just having me tell them like, "Here, push this button and adjust this knob." And occasionally, I'll have a drop-out or a double booking, and that fucking sucks to deal with. I've had headliners cancel on a Thursday, and then I'll forget and be scrambling to put on a show. Luckily, we're blessed with a bunch of good local comics, so somebody like Hippieman can step in. But mostly, I can handle it all through emails. Although I gotta say, I miss so many emails! I'd say that I book unknown comics based 90 percent on personal reference and 10 percent off of tapes. I barely watch tapes; I'll watch them, but I just have a hard time telling what people will find funny. Which probably sounds hilarious coming out of a comedian's mouth.
Tapes don't always give you a good idea.
Some people don't translate well on film. I've seen Netflix specials of comics who typically hammer, but on film they just seem like they're not doing well. One of the advantages of running shows in L.A., though, is that when I see someone absolutely crush, I tell them, "I can put together a hell of a run for you in Colorado." Because a lot of comics are desperate to get out of L.A. So seeing a whole new variety of comics is a perk to living out there. Plus, it's pretty cheap to fly back and forth.
What special plans do you have for your sixth-anniversary month?
I have some big headliners coming up, but I'm not sure if I can mention all of them. The actual anniversary is on May 19, but that's the fucking series finale of Game of Thrones.
Why is Game of Thrones — but not football — such a deterrent?
Because Boulder doesn't give a fuck about sports! But every Sunday night comedy show in the country is getting ruined by goddamn Game of Thrones! It's fucking brutal! We normally cap online presales at 100, and I'll typically let about 135 people in the room, but on the night of the season premiere, I had 75 people at the first show. That's a sixty-person drop! That's brutal!
That's a half a Red Wedding, for sure.
The second week it bumped back up to 105, but it's still been tough.
Premieres and finales will get you every time — even though most people who live in Boulder can probably afford a goddamn DVR.
Yeah, that's why we're going to do the official anniversary show on the 26th even though it's Memorial Day weekend. Mitch Fatel will be headlining.
It's a tough month for your six-year anniversary. It's also going to be nice outside now.
It's weird! Because you're totally right: Sports never bother me, even when the Broncos are doing well. The only time sports really fuck with me is during the World Cup or on Super Bowl Sunday, because people just want to party.
Sure. They've been getting day-drunk.
Yeah. I won't even do a show on Super Bowl Sunday. And I did a show on Christmas Eve! That's how dedicated I am to this show! My parents were like, "What!?" I don't care; I'll do anything. I'll buy a ticket and fly home if I have to. And, to go back to your earlier question, I think that's why the show works. Other people aren't as committed as I am. I'll spend my entire profit on flights, because it's worth it. Look where I'm at!
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Anything else you want to mention? Power Hour?
That'll be really fun. It's on Thursday, May 16. It's Adam Cayton-Holland versus Caleb Synan. I'm pumped about that; Caleb is also going to be on the May 19 show. I am genuinely super-appreciative of the people who come every week and tell their friends about the show. It really validates all the time I've spent doing this. And also, big thanks to Geoff Tice; I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have him or John Tole, who's also been stepping in there. He runs business well. It's a lot of work. I also want to give big thanks to our sponsors Big Top Studios — when Sexpot Comedy ended, they hopped right in and they've been super-helpful — and also Terrapin Care Station, and my favorite: Pearl Street Dental. This dude comes to every other comedy show; he loves it and supports it. That's the kind of sponsor I'm looking for. Tommyknocker Brewing and Pilsner Urquell have been there from early on, and so has Zdenk, the owner of the Bohemian Biergarten. He gave us a shot early on and has wholeheartedly supported us ever since. It's been fucking great.
So, yeah, we're there every week for two shows. And I can't wait until our tenth fucking anniversary.
The Boulder Comedy Show returns to the Bohemian Biergarten, 2017 13th Street in Boulder, every Sunday at 7 and 9:15 p.m. Buy tickets, $7, and find out more about the sixth-anniversary party on May 26 on the Boulder Comedy Show's Eventbrite page.