Colorado native Montez first tried standup in 2007, as a response to the stress and trauma of his job. In part, this led to his 2018 induction into the group Humanizing the Badge, which seeks to forge stronger ties between officers and the communities they serve. His comedy is understandably and inextricably tied to his work as a commander for the sheriff's office and his real-life experiences as a law enforcement officer — perhaps shaky ground these days, when the role of serving and protecting is being re-examined.
We caught up with Montez in advance of his show to talk about his take on the job behind the badge, and how comedy can — and maybe needs to — rise from it.
Westword: How tough is it to be a policeman these days? There's so much going on — the high stress of the job in normal times must be magnified significantly right now.
Vinnie Montez: It’s complex and challenging. Things are definitely in a state of change, but the need for law enforcement to respond to calls from citizens in need of help has not stopped, nor will it ever. We have to focus on the mission at hand, keeping in mind we have to strive to do the right thing, no matter how tough things might be right now for those in our profession.
What are the daily challenges in your line of work?
Many. Keeping morale up in the department, given the negative press police officers are getting. Having enough people to cover the streets when people do leave. A lack of interest among people wanting to enter policing as a career, given all the challenges we face. Maintaining trust with the community. I seek therapy to deal with the accumulation of what I’ve seen and experienced over the past 22 years being a police officer. But comedy is an outlet for my stress, too. I get to interact with people and share a laugh. It’s very cathartic.
So how did you make the transition to comedy? Being a police officer takes one kind of bravery; standup comedy is a whole other matter.
I dabbled in comedy in 2007 to see how it worked and if it was something I could do. In 2008 I had a particularly difficult situation with a dying kid — he was having a medical issue, and I tried desperately to save this life but was not successful. I realized then that I had reached my breaking point and I needed to do something.
So I take what I see and experience and twist it into something funny. The funniest thing that ever happened to me I turned into one of my funniest jokes about a bear in someone’s house. It’s a long story, but basically a bear trapped me and my partner in the house with just a beanbag shotgun and our small sidearms. We only got out because the bear fled; otherwise, we’d have been in big trouble.
Cops have something of a reputation of not having the best sense of humor. Do you find that to be unfair?
One hundred percent yes. You can’t take yourself too seriously. You have to keep perspective, even during the darkest moments. Humor, even dark humor, is what gets most cops through some of the most difficult times.
Cops have a great sense of humor. People see cops when things are going wrong, and oftentimes that’s perceived as not having a sense of humor. No one calls 911 when things are going well, only when there is a crisis. If you were a fly on the wall during our shift briefings, you would see that we’re all hilarious.
What inspired you to become a cop in the first place?
I used to watch CHiPS as a kid, and fell in love with Ponch and John. There was always a moral to the story in the episodes, and they emphasized the power of talking to people. As a people person, that really stuck with me and was something I wanted to emulate. When I joined the Law Enforcement Exploring program at fourteen, working in law enforcement was everything I thought it would be, and I loved the job from day one.
Law enforcement is the guardian of the public at large to protect against criminal conduct. But we also help people when they are lost hiking, sick, home alone and scared, or just need someone to talk to.
Is working for the Boulder County Sheriff's Office different than most other jurisdictions? How has that department supported you specifically and uniquely?
I like where I work. I can’t speak for other jurisdictions because I haven’t worked there, but our organization is a character-first organization. The three pillars are character, competency and open communication. We have a lot of values, but first and foremost we value human life. The sheriff’s office has provided me with a plethora of training, including Crisis Intervention Training, of which I am a coach. Not only that, but the expectation is for all deputies to be CIT-certified. CIT is utilized on a daily basis by officers who engage with citizens experiencing a mental crisis. Our organizational structure is predicated on doing the right thing.
So how do you personally see the "defund the police" movement as a response to, among other things, Black Lives Matter? You have so many facets — as a police commander, as a comedian, as a Hispanic man, as a Coloradan. What's your take? What's your hope?
There will always have to be people who are trained to be able to handle situations that start out as conversations but escalate to violence. There has to be someone who will protect people and run toward the danger while everyone else scatters. There are other solutions, but reducing the number of officers on the street is not the answer. We are already short-staffed as it is. My hope is that law enforcement focuses on professionalism, training and transparency.
If you could say one thing to your fellow police officers on a national level, what would it be?
There are no absolutes. We need to be open to other people’s perspectives, just as we want them to be open to ours. To move forward, there has to be a mutual effort to understand all perspectives in order to formulate the new face of law enforcement that is supported by our communities and keeps us all safe.
And what would you say to the people out protesting the police right now?
Based on what I saw in Minneapolis, it’s unacceptable how those officers acted. I understand how that has incited fear and anger. Please don’t judge us for the misconduct of a few rogue officers. Believe me when I say that we don’t want them in our profession, either; they need to be held accountable, as any criminal should be. But they are the exceptions.
I ask you: Get to know the men and the women who make up your local law enforcement agency before condemning us based on the actions of a few.
Vinnie Montez brings his standup to Comedy Works South at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 25; for tickets (in-person or streamed) and more information, see the Comedy Works website.