The Erotic Fan Fiction competition will bring its twisted competition to Denver this Thursday. Led by Bryan Cook, comedy writer for Joan Rivers's Fashion Police, the contest tasks professional comics to arrive with their own piece of erotic fan fiction on anything from Facts of Life to Of Mice and Mine, perform it, then quickly scribble and perform another story of the audience's choosing. A national hit on the comedy-festival circuit, the show has found a home in L.A.'s Nerdist Theater and will soon be releasing episodes on the Nerdist Podcast Network. Phoning in from the road, Bryan Cook chatted with us about Denver's all-star EFF performer Ben Roy, comedy literature and why sex is always funny.
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Westword: This show has been such a success at the Nerdist theater and different comedy festivals -- what made you want to bring it to Denver?
Bryan Cook: Well, I did it a year ago in Denver, but that was just taking over the Fine Gentleman's Club for a night, so it was their crowd. I love the Denver comedy scene; I come out every six months or so and have done standup at Grawlix. And for this show I needed a talent pool to pull from, and Denver has enough really great comics that I can do it there.
Is this a one-off show, or would you like to regularly stop in and host this at the Bug?
For now this is a one-off, but I'm going to try and do it at least three to four times a year in Denver. I like to get out there, anyway, so this is a good excuse to come do comedy in Denver. I do it in Portland and New York City every three months, so I'm hoping to put Denver into that routine.
What first got you plugged in to the Denver comedy scene?
There's a comedy festival in Portland called Bridgetown, and just over two years ago I met Andrew Orvedahl and Adam Cayton-Holland there. We hit it off, and they made the offer to do Grawlix if I was ever in town the last Friday of the month. And I just happened to be there two months later for a wedding. So I did the show and met Ben Roy, and then did Fine Gentleman's Club and met all those guys.
Did the idea for this show spring from you being into fan fiction?
No, not even a little bit. I had a standup friend in Seattle who wrote a piece of erotic fan fiction for the movie Cars. And he read it as a joke at a regular standup show and it bombed -- it was hilarious how little the crowd gave a shit. I was doing an annual Valentine's Day comedy show at the time, and we decided to incorporate an erotic fan fiction competition into that. And then it became its own thing, because it was so popular.
So it's been a huge success in New York, Portland, New Orleans, Boston, L.A. -- everywhere except Seattle, for some reason. It's hard to get people to come out to a show in Seattle unless you've got a big headliner.
Standup comedy isn't always known as the most intellectual medium -- and even though it's a strange premise, you are introducing a literary style to standup with this. Is that hard for some audiences?
That's a good question. There are definitely people who have gotten the wrong idea about what it's going to be, but still had a good time. The last time I did it in San Francisco it was a midnight show at Punchline, just a regular old standup comedy club with a very standard comedy-club crowd. There was even a bachelorette party there, which is usually the biggest nightmare for any comedy show. But it was great, they loved it; it was actually a perfect fit for that crowd. The show is both highbrow and lowbrow, and I think it appeals to a lot of different people for that reason.
Do you get a lot of fan fiction crowds showing up who might not often go to comedy shows?
I get that vibe in Los Angeles, for sure. I don't know what the makeup of the crowd is in other cities. I tend to do it in a pretty wide variety of venues, from comedy clubs to improv theaters to rock venues. But in L.A. it's at the Nerdist Theater, which is in the back of a comic-book shop -- so I think we do get more of a comic-book crowd who might actually think fan fiction is interesting.
You're also so engrossed in the mainstream comedy world, writing for Joan Rivers's Fashion Police show and opening up for people like Dana Gould and Aziz Ansari -- what's the reaction from the more seasoned comics?
Bobcat Goldthwait did the show a while ago, he was great. Robin Williams came out to one and loved it. I told Joan about it and she thought it was hilarious -- but I haven't asked her to take time out of her incredibly busy schedule to do it. But the writers of Fashion Police are on strike right now, so that shit's all crazy.
What was the cause of the strike?
They were only paying us for eight hours a week regardless of how much we worked on an episode, which was usually at the thirty-hour range. It was bananas. It's been going on for a month now.
What are some of the more memorable entries you've had to the erotic fan fiction show?
A Portland comic named Ian Karmel has done some amazing ones. He came down to L.A. and did a Jeopardy story, and he did a Chris Angel Mindfreak one that was amazing. Ben Roy is kind of the reigning Denver champ, he's also won in Seattle, Portland and L.A. We just did the Bridgetown Comedy Festival again last April -- we had a crowd of around 400 people. It was insane. Ben Roy won with Of Mice and Men, which was right in his wheelhouse. He's also done the children's book Everyone Poops and Life Goes On, the TV show with Corky, the guy with Down's syndrome. He had Corky fucking his sister; it was amazing.
Ben sure goes to some dark places.
He sure does. Ben is amazing at it. The comics have to write something in advance and write something on the spot that the audience chooses, and Ben's great at it both ways. He's incredible. He's not a one-liner comic; he's long-winded, so he's good for the show. Although there's also people like Myq Kaplan in New York City who's known as a short-form comic, but he's amazing on the show.
All the Denver guys are great at it. All three of The Grawlix members have done it. We've lined up shows in other cities specifically to have them in Seattle and L.A. Kyle Kinane is a regular and he's incredible at it. He did Rent the musical, and Facts of Life -- I think he won with both of those. He also did Smokey and the Bandit, which was a little more in his wheelhouse than some of the ones he's been stuck with.
I'm doing the first all-champions edition in June, so that should be a ridiculous lineup. It's all comics who have won the L.A. show. I'm hoping Ben Roy will be there, he's the only champion from Denver that's won in L.A. It's on his birthday and he said he's planning on coming.
What is it about sex that works so well in comedy?
I think it's just a good subject to make an audience uncomfortable. If you can build up a good tension and then release with a punchline . . . that sounds sexual itself. The thing about the show is there are a lot of shortcuts you can take that don't always work. Especially if you're playing for people who have seen the show before.
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Sure, it's easy to get a crowd to laugh at people fucking -- but since this whole show is people fucking, there has to be something else to it. The really good writers know that and will pull something else into it, like clever references to the topic. Or one time Ben Roy had to do erotic fan fiction on porn, so it canceled itself out and there was no sex whatsoever, but he still made it disgusting. It was two porn actors, and the girl was helping the guy put together a business plan for a landscaping company. It makes no sense until you hear it -- he wrote it like a sex scene, but there was no sex involved. The Erotic Fan Fiction Competition features all three members of Grawlix, as well as Troy Walker, Mara Wiles, Jordan Doll, Jim Hickox, Kristin Rand and Chris Charpentier; it starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 30 at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street. Tickets are $10; for more information, visit www.bugtheatre.org. For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.