Arts and Culture

Denver comics remember Lori Callahan

Lori Callahan, a pillar of the local comedy scene for thirty years, passed away last Friday. She was 54. The news has sent reverberations of grief throughout the community she was so instrumental in shaping. A generous spirit, Callahan organized and performed at many benefit shows. She provided many new comics with their first road gigs, along much-needed moral support in their nascent careers. Always a hit with audiences, Callahan won the respect of her peers with her comedic chops, but won their hearts with her motherly guidance.

That's why the most fitting tributes to Lori's life and career have come from the comedians she inspired. Their outpouring of grief on social media only hints at the surface of this devastating loss. Westword asked some comedians to share their memories of Mama Callahan, and we've reprinted excerpts of others' heartfelt Facebook posts.

See also: Colorado comedian Lori Callahan sticks it to the Mormons

Comedian Chuck Roy:

Lori did my first production in Denver. It was called "Bobo and Blue," and she was the first pro who agreed to do it. I had a lineup of real amateurs, like Ben Roy, Adam Cayton-Holland and Josh Blue, who were all total amateurs in 2004, but she agreed to perform with them. To witness Lori work a crowd and to share a stage with her was a special things. She blew Josh away, along with those amateurs. She just ripped the house down. The young, skinny-jeans comics thought they were the most special, that they were the kings of Tuesday night. Then they'd see Lori swing the bat and their eyes would go wide, like "Wow, this is what you can do with comedy?" From that moment, she had always been one of my go-to people to work with because she can deliver and impress. She was requested back time and time again. Those are the things that make a fantastic act, being so memorable that you're requested again, and again, and again. I always did the Children's Hospital benefits she hosted, but what I'll remember most is another benefit she did, for Windsor, Colorado. Lori was coming back from a gig somewhere and it was right after WIndsor flooded, and she called us all. She was so devastated by the news that she felt like she had to do something, so she called everybody. You knew it was important, like that benefit would not have happened if it wasn't for her. That was Lori Callahan. The only thing sweeter than her smile was her laugh.

Comedian Deacon Gray:

I hope that any discussion includes her giving heart. Every Christmas for years, Lori hosted a holiday fundraiser for Children's Hospital, and her work for veterans was tireless. Lori had a sweet soul and a go-getter attitude, so that made her a fun target for phone pranks. She was working at Jokers Comedy Club in Oklahoma City one week, so the owner of the club and I set up a completely fake phone-in radio interview for her. (This was before Caller ID.) At the set time, she called the number the club gave her. I answered the phone as the DJ and took her on the wildest interview she had ever heard. But even though I was asking her ridiculous questions, she never once stopped performing, and never stopped entertaining the fake radio audience. When we called her ten minutes later, she thought it was the funniest thing ever, then turned around and gave a killer phone interview for real. She was a real pro and I will miss her very much.

Comedian and Hold Please Productions co-founder Terri Barton Gregg:

We are all reeling from our loss and grief. Lori relentlessly dedicated her talents and resources to pursue a variety of philanthropic projects. She was always available to produce, promote and perform in a benefit show. Lori donated and raised countless sums for charity. She never turned away anyone in need.

Comedian Rick Bryan:

Lori had such a big heart, unfortunately it was her heart that failed because it was broken when her husband, Mike, passed away. I met Lori about six years ago toward the end when Mike was sick, right before he passed. Lori just needed somebody to listen and not judge her at all and I was one of those people. She would just tell me stories about Mike and her experiences over the years, especially when we were on the road for hours on end. She was always positive even after so many bad things were happening around her. She took me under her wing and asked for nothing in return except that I make the world laugh, enjoy what I do, and take care of my family. I have nothing but love and respect for Lori and she will be missed tremendously.

Comedian Andrew Orvedahl:

When I was first starting out, Lori ran a variety of rooms, some in town and one weekend up in Gillette, Wyoming. As my peers and I began maturing as comics, Lori would pluck us from our nest in Denver and take us up into the wilds of Wyoming for some rough and tough experience. I was waiting for my turn to come around, and finally one night down at the Comedy Works, Lori told me, in a very professional, pleasant way, that I was too gentle for her Gillette room. She didn't say gentle, but I'm paraphrasing whatever she said. Basically a nice way of saying they would eat me alive. And I felt so snubbed, like "Hey, all my friends get this, why not me too?" But what I actually took away from that, over the years (probably eight or nine now) is invaluable. It's the lesson that if you're running a show, and booking it, you have to make those hard calls about who is right and ready for your room. You don't bring some green kid who isn't ready up into Gillette Wyoming, it isn't good for him and it isn't good for your show. And aside from all the shows we did together, that's the memory that has really stuck out, because it was that best sort of advice that people give you through their actions, that you really understand down the road.

Photographer Crystal Allen:

Lori was the first female comic that I ever saw at Comedy Works. Hilarious, sweet, caring, supportive, and the best damn cheerleader this girl could ask for. I always loved our photo days, our talks, and wish that I could have had just a few more. [These photos] spotlight what an amazing, supportive, sweet, giving and crazy funny woman Lori was. She has always loved and been a major supporter of my family. The sweetest, badass woman ever.

Comedian Elliot Woolsey:

She had an awfully big set of wings that she took everyone under, including me. She gave me my first real road work, she personally got me in to my first paid club work, and she never asked for anything in return except that I pay it forward. She showed by example that we can all get a lot further by helping one another. Last show I did with her was in Lamar Colorado. It took four hours to drive there and not a minute was spent in silence. She had stories for days, and I loved to listen to them all as we drove thru the emptiness of the Colorado plains. She held a lot of history of Denver comedy in that mind of hers, and she was generous with sharing it. She loved to share, and I am better for it. I will always remember her as the Mother of Denver Comedy.

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham