Over the last year Denver comedians have shown they're not the selfish bastards they sometimes claim to be, organizing several charity benefits for people like Mara Wiles and Mike Marchant. And tonight Timmi Lasley will keep that communal comedy spirit alive, hosting a benefit for the Denver Voice at El Charrito that features such top-shelf local talent as Jordan Doll, Eliot Woolsey and Ben Roy. A former member of Ladyface, the now-defunct female comedy group, Lasley has been on the scene for a few years, and when we caught up with her to chat about this benefit, she offered some interesting opinions on theater vs. standup, and whether comedy is a "boys' club."
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Westword: What originally drew you toward fundraising for the Denver Voice?
I wanted to work with them because I know that their program helps people help themselves. You have to be clean and sober to sell the Denver Voice. They won't sell them to you if you're high on something. I think that's a really important part of it. So these are people who are showing that they want to change their situation and improve their lives. Once you start selling the papers, they also provide you with all these resources of other homeless programs in Denver, helping people connect with job training and addiction counseling programs. And the Denver Voice is a great reference when they go into other forms of employment, because employers will know they're sober and ready to work.
I don't want to get too political on you, but it seems like this is a not a welfare program in that it doesn't give money or aid to anyone. It's very different from other homelessness programs.
Absolutely, that's a huge part of it. This gives people the confidence to get back on their feet once they really want to. A lot of other programs will give things away; it's the give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish kind of thing. And there are money-management skills learned here: They have to buy the papers for fifty cents, and then ask for a suggested donation of two dollars. When I give them money, I know they're on the right track -- they aren't just going to turn around and buy cigarettes with it. They have to manage money.
They also have to be wearing a badge when they sell the papers. If you see someone selling them without a badge, they probably stole them. So there are safeguards there.
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A lot of comedians like to be self-deprecating on stage, calling themselves selfish and isolated and bitter toward others. But lately there has been a strong feeling of community and charity coming from Denver comedians, with events like this one and benefits for Mara Wiles and Mike Marchant.
Yeah, I think you have to have a big heart and a huge amount of compassion to be a comedian. Talking about your flaws and your selfishness when on stage seems like more of a defense mechanism. You're kind of saying: I know I'm a good person, but look at all these horrible things I do -- and the irony of that creates humor.
The Denver comedy scene really does seem to look out for one another with a kind of familial attachment -- yet at the same time, aren't you somewhat in competition with one another?
Well, sure, you want to bury the person after you so they don't appear funnier than you. You want to be the funniest and get the best reaction. I've only been doing this for three years, so I feel like I'm just now getting to the point where I'm part of the club. I go out a lot and eat shit all the time. It's a club where you have to earn your stripes and, once you do, you're in the fold. The other day someone asked me if comedy was a "boys' club," and I don't think so. It is a club, and right now it just happens to be mostly boys, but these are the people who bombed and got back up. And that earns you respect. We all know what each other is going through; we're all on the same journey.
What was has your journey been? How did you get into doing standup?
Oh, gosh...I'd just got out of a five-year relationship, and [co-host of These Things Matter podcast] Taylor Gonda had sent out a mass e-mail saying she was going to try standup comedy at the Squire. She and I had gone to college together. So I took the bus down to the Squire at 11:30 at night, and I was like, "Oh, my god, this is standup comedy?"
It had never even crossed my mind. You see people on HBO and you think to yourself, "Oh, you sign up to be a standup comic and then you get your own HBO special." I didn't even think about what went into crafting the art of standup. So I walk into the Squire and there's Greg Baumhauer and Adam Cayton-Holland and Ben Roy. It was packed and sweaty. Greg had walked up to Taylor and was like, "seriously, only two minutes." So she had to cut a bunch of stuff and then people left and no one listened to her -- it was the worst thing ever!
But then you see someone like Adam Cayton-Holland get up there and just own the room, and as soon as you see that it's like, "Ooooh, that's what this is. It's amazing!" It really grabbed me. I went back every week for six months straight.
Then I started going to more open mics and showcases, seeing all these great comics but still thinking, "I could do it better." And then I did my first night at Lion's Lair and realized it was way harder than I thought. I had a lot of work to do.
I knew I wasn't going to be an Adam Cayton-Holland straight out the gate, but there was this really bad female comic with a brain injury, and she was the face of lady comedy in Denver, and that could not stand. I also just wanted to see if I could do it. I had my degree in theater, and as an actor you have to work really hard to get opportunities to practice your craft -- whereas with comedy there are open mics where anyone can perform. So there are opportunities every night of the week. It was exciting.
I definitely don't want to get into the "are women funny?" debate in any way, but there are a lot more female comics in Denver today than a few years ago -- despite the numbers favoring men. What was that like when you first started?
There's way more female representation today than when I started, for sure. Michelle Miracle was wonderful, but she moved to L.A. And I think that's what happened to a lot of the female talent in Denver: They got good at something and then were like, "Okay, see you later."
I saw you perform the other night at the gay comedy show Capitol Hilarity. Yet you're a straight female. Do you think that gay audiences are more accepting of a female comedian than the clubs and bars of the comedy scene?
I think gay audiences tend to be more open to everyone and everything. When you have an audience that's made up of people that are somewhat on the fringe of society, they're generally more accepting of what's happening on stage. So yeah, they're more accepting of me as a female comic. The audience I tend not to do so well with is forty-year-old women. And I think that comes down to the way women are socialized in society, and that's a much bigger discussion. If I talk about my vagina, they get upset; they think it's shameful. Whereas I can do that at open mics and it doesn't bother the men I'm with.
I suppose that crowd grew up in a different time.
Exactly. They were socialized differently. But a male comic will go up there and talk about his dicks with jokes that are just as clever, or not even as clever, as a vagina joke, but the women are accepting of it because dick jokes have been around longer and are more socially acceptable. But that is changing. The Big Stage Show Benefit for the Denver Voice starts at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 19 at El Charrito, 2100 Larimer Street. Suggested donation of $5; visit the event Facebook page for more information.
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.