Cole and Michael Huling are the rare couple who really did run away with the circus. Together they created Handsome Little Devils, a carnivalesque street-performance troupe with a sideshow twist known for its slightly weird pop-up appearances, traveling down the road on stilts and rolling contraptions — in the Art District on Santa Fe, at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival and at buskerfests far and wide.
Now, they’re giving back to the medical community on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic by launching Project Joy Bomb and showing up unannounced, masks in place, to deliver PPE, art kits, food donations and a whimsical respite to hospital workers and patients.
Learn more about the Hulings and their mission to deliver joy to those who need it most as they answer the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Cole Huling: There are so many: Big Nazo, Les Machines and Michel Gondry are a few. As a husband-and-wife team, we are also each other's muses. We riff off each other constantly. Our days are filled with positing, "What if...?"
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Cole Huling: Vincent Price — he and his wife were known for their epic dinner parties. I adore Vincent Price and would have loved to meet him.
Tom Waits — I mean, come on, that would be awesome.
Dolly Parton — She is such an amazing, curious, generous spirit. I feel like some of her sparkle would just rub off on all the people in the party and make for an excellent night.
What originally drew you to the world of circus and street performance?
Michael Huling: I got into street performance because my brother started juggling when I was still in high school, and it's how we kept our bond after he moved to Fort Collins for college. We started out doing street shows in Old Town, and eventually we got into international busker festivals all over the world. With circus, I'd have to say the biggest influence was the group Circus Contraption, out of Seattle. We even have a kinetic sculpture named in their honor, called the Circus Contraption.
Cole Huling: I was drawn to circus because of Circus Contraption, too — although we each discovered them independently before we knew each other. We bonded over our love of them. Their co-founder, David Crellin, directed our off-Broadway show and and eventually became our wedding officiant! I was writing a thesis musical about Coney Island at the time, too, so I was totally immersed in the world of sideshow/carnival/new circus. I started street performing with Mike and his brother Dan.
What’s your dream project?
Cole Huling: We were actually in development on an immersive show when the virus hit. We are working on a new experiential format that would be super fun for the audience. We would love to build out a show that could stay running year-round in Denver and become a destination.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Cole Huling: Learn, learn, learn! We utilize so many different skills every day to make this company run. It's so important to pick up information everywhere you go. And learn what you're good at — you will excel when your skills align with your mission. Sometimes that mission has to change; allow yourself to be flexible and ride the wave of creativity. Try not to listen to gossip. Don't engage in clique-y behavior. Help each other out. It is already so difficult to be a creative, there's absolutely no room to bring people down. And, this is our big rule: Don’t work with jerks. It's just not worth it.
If you died tomorrow, what or whom would you come back as?
Cole Huling: I just want to be a dog.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Michael Huling: Love it.
Cole Huling: I think Colorado is a great place to be a creative. It's getting a little expensive to be right in the city, but I think we are experiencing a surge of creativity. It's amazing to have a city government that actually cares about the arts, and a governor who does, too. We are really lucky in this state.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Michael Huling: I really respect the work that Ravi Zupa is doing. He's an unparalleled talent.
Cole Huling: We have a lot of amazing creatives — I can't decide! We collaborate with a lot of incredible artists — Rainbow Militia, Lonnie Hanzon, Jackson Ellis and Annie Phillips — but I have to give a special shout-out to Tara Brickell from Cherry Arts. She has been a mentor to us and has been essential to helping us envision a path forward. She, too, has had to reimagine what the future will be.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
Cole Huling: While we can't predict what's going to happen in the next year, we are currently undertaking an amazing new endeavor: Project Joy Bomb. This was a project that we started conceptualizing last year, focusing on the discussion around mental health in Colorado. We were working with a few mental health awareness groups who were asking how we could lighten up the discussion around mental health. We were supposed to start these in June, but everything got derailed.
Then we realized that Project Joy Bomb was probably more necessary than ever.
Project Joy Bomb is a series of socially distanced, art-based activations throughout Colorado, with the goal to boost morale, encourage social mask-wearing and help make staying at home a little more enjoyable. We are working with community leaders, neighborhood associations and city officials to bring responsible, safe and joyful celebrations to people in need. We are also partnering with multiple organizations to pair Joy Bomb events with PPE delivery, food donation pick-up and mental health breaks for first responders and health-care workers.
We are just launching a new set of Joy Bombs that will be heading to rural CO hospitals, where the staff needs our support more than ever.
We are currently fundraising to bring these activations to communities in need!
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Cole Huling: Us! Just kidding. I think we'll be hearing a lot about street artists, outdoor performers and people who are truly innovating what comes next in the art scene. Doug Kacena, Jonathan Saiz, Rainbow Militia, Majestic Collaborations — these are some of the people we've been discussing the future with.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.