This weekend Denver's funny business will mark a significant milestone with the High Plains Comedy Festival. While the scene has put together a handful of notable comedy fests over the years with Laugh Track and the Fine Gentleman's Club's Too Much Funstival, High Plains will be the first nationally recognized festival to challenge such comedy gatherings as Portland's Bridgeport Festival and Montreal's Just For Laughs.
While the roster of big-name acts is impressive -- with Comedy Central's Sean Patton and Kyle Kinane, and Comedy Bang Bang's Reggie Watts headlining at The Gothic -- we didn't want the plethora of top-shelf Denver comedians to go unnoticed in all the hullabaloo. So we put together a compendium of some of our favorite Denver humorists that we recommend you check out while bouncing around our city's first major comedy bacchanal.
Comedy open mics can often reek of fear, but as a consistent mic-rat of the Denver scene, Christie Buchele is an endlessly courageous performer. And we're not saying that because she uses her affliction of cerebral palsy for humor, but because she's that rare type of comedian who loves to drive the audience to silent tension -- like with her hilariously awkward fake-laugh therapy bit, which is mostly scream/laughing at the crowd -- only to release them moments later. Few comics take these kinds of risks, and Buchele has developed a real knack for puppeteering a crowd.
Favorite joke: "I was talking to an older couple last week. It was apparent that they had just come from church. They asked me if I'd hurt my foot. I didn't want them to feel bad, so I informed them that I didn't hurt my foot, I was actually born this way. . . . God hurt my foot."
Probably the most underrated comedian in town, Jordan Doll has spent the last couple of years perfecting a razor-sharp set that combines vivid imagery with a literary sophistication -- yet is somehow always accessible to any comedy audience. While the Grawlix and Fine Gentleman's Club are currently sucking up most of the attention with events and releases, there is a serious criminality in Jordan Doll not being celebrated as one of the most unique and cripplingly funny voices to come out of Denver comedy.
Favorite joke: "So I went outside to smoke, and the second I go to light my cigarette some weird little Boulder twig-witch dropped out of a tree, or popped out of an acorn or some shit, and made a disgusted noise at me. Then she says, 'Cigarettes are literally the worst thing a person could put into their lungs.' To which I responded, 'Sounds like somebody forgot about bees. Or spiders. Or soup of any kind. How about a juvenile grizzly bear?'"
"When Troy first started at The Squire, he was terrible; now he's one of the best in town," says Greg Baumhauer, a man who isn't loose with his compliments. Now a regular at Comedy Works, Walker has built up an impressive resume of pop-culture commentary and unique anecdotes about growing up as a black kid in Colorado. Not to mention his vivid take on Prince's 2007 Super Bowl halftime performance (below).
Favorite joke: "It was just pouring rain, and Prince was playing the electric guitar with one hand, while patting his perm with the other. Which was amazing, because if there are two things you're not supposed to get wet, they are perms and electric shit. He should've been dead. But instead, he's dancing on a wet stage in high heels! It was so magical I half expected a unicorn to pick him up and the two of them would fly away on a rainbow. He just plays a guitar riff, and then levitates onto the unicorn's back. 'Goodbye everyone, take us to Minneapolis, Gum Drop.' And they're off. 'Purple Rain' is playing, it's raining Skittles and shit. Everyone watching at home: pregnant -- immediately."
Coming up in the Wrist Deep comedy team with Ben Kronberg, Jim Hickox has learned a thing or two about awkward pauses. One of the most brazenly conceptual performers in town, Hickox will often perform his set staring into the camera lens of his laptop, while his face is video projected on a screen behind him. This disarming yet accessible arrangement is complemented by Hickox's air-tight one liners on pop-culture and personal failure. Though even in the midst of this theatrical setup, the jolly package of self-loathing that is Hickox will never shy from a little audience banter, often delivering some of his most crisp micro-jokes at a heckler's expense.
Favorite joke: "I don't know about you guys, but I am not going to pay back my student loans. And this is because I figure if I haven't used it yet, I can still return it."
A towering figure both literally and figuratively in the Denver comedy scene, Elliot Woolsey is a consistent opener for touring acts at Comedy Works, and the host of the newly minted open mic at Barricuda's each Wednesday night. Always on with an amicable presence and misleading charm (he can get viscious if the spirit moves him), this gentle giant never fails to draw an audience in, then spin them around with some wig-twisting imagery.
Favorite joke: "I was raised in the '90s, so you know what that means, my parents are divorced. I remember there was one kid in my high school whose parents weren't divorced, you know what we called him? FUCK YOU KEVIN, that's what we called him. You're not invited to either of my houses for a sleepover."
The High Plains Comedy Festival runs through Saturday, August 24, at various locations along South Broadway. Tickets range from individual shows to weekend passes. For more information, visit www.highplainscomedyfestival.com
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.