Between his tireless work on the comedy scene and as co-host of pop-culture podcast These Things Matter, Kevin O’Brien has collaborated with a lot of creative folks in the city. For his latest live show endeavor, Service Stories, O’Brien wanted to tap into this collection of interesting people and curate a monthly night of unique storytelling. At 8 p.m. Saturday, March 28, his show based on common experiences in the world of service will start its second month in the Phoenix Room in the basement of 3 Kings Tavern, with a lineup of comedians, singer-songwriters, journalists, radio hosts and more.
Although the show hinges on service, O’Brien says he didn’t want to focus just on nightmare tales taking place in restaurants and bars. He wanted a wide range of customer-related situations and volunteer efforts — the funny, the serious and the universally relatable. “The service industry aspect is a pretty predominant one, or at least that's where people's minds go immediately, especially with storytelling shows,” says O’Brien. “But it seemed a little too narrow — if every month every story was like, ‘Oh yeah, and then this asshole came into the restaurant or whatever and I told him what was up’ — that wasn't really what I wanted. I wanted a little bit of diversity in storytellers, topic and tone. I thought if I kept it more about the idea of service and less about the superficial stuff, my hope is that I could get storytellers to give more insight and contemplate the concept of service.”
O’Brien acknowledges that there are already plenty of narration-based shows and open-mike story hours happening around Denver, but he had a slightly different approach: Instead of hosting polished storytellers or amateur talkers, the comic was looking for something between. He envisioned a place where creative-types — who may perform in different artistic arenas — could come and share experiences, even if they had never told a story in front of a crowd before.
“I wanted the show to be accessible; I think right now, with storytelling becoming such a legitimate form, some of these shows are starting to get a little bit up their own ass,” says O’Brien. “There’s good intention, but then a storyteller will start with ‘I met a man in Edinburgh…’ and It will end with the some real one-man, showy tagline and it’s obvious that they have taken a storytelling workshop. I try to avoid that, while bringing stories to the stage that sound a little more natural.”
The cross-pollination of Colorado creative scenes was also a priority for the comedian. This weekend’s edition of Service Stories features people like comedian Timmi Lasley, writer Kathleen St. John, radio host Jessi Whitten and more — people O’Brien has worked with before or friends who have the potential to bring something great to the audience. O'Brien's podcast, These Things Matter, which he co-hosts with Taylor Gonda, has brought the host in contact with dozens of people outside of his comedy domain, and Service Stories was a way for O'Brien to collaborate with many of his favorite guests again. “I'm someone who grew up loving Henry Rollins — it seems very natural to me to try to have these worlds overlap. Rollins was doing prose writing, spoken word and, of course, being a musician — he just made it seem so obvious and so easy to be a part of it all.
"A lot of musicians I know are on tour or playing shows and can't come to comedy shows," he continues, "so if they can be a part of this, they get a chance to stretch other creative muscles. My hope is that it will bring a freshness to the show.” The idea is also to facilitate audiences colliding – music and comedy supporters joining readers and radio listeners in one room for a night of great tales.
The first edition of Service Stories last month put theater actors, fine art experts and performance artists into the spotlight to talk about everything from museum customer-service mishaps to barista nightmares. O’Brien himself joins the lineup each show, setting the tone with his amusement-park employee misadventures and tales from his Catholic upbringing. No subject is off-limits: The idea of service and serving others is a pliable theme.
A final, important component to Service Stories being a success for O'Brien was to find the right room for the show; it needed to be intimate. The Phoenix Room — which is in the basement at Three Kings — is modest but perfect, with a few dozen folding chairs set up in the dimly lit space facing a single microphone. He saw it as a place where audiences and performers could come together in a low-stress, low-pressure environment. “When you pack a crowd in, there's this subconscious familiarity that sort comes with people being in close quarters,” says O'Brien. “It’s just forty people in a basement and a spotlight on someone telling a story.”
Kevin O'Brien's Service Stories goes down this Saturday, March 28 at 8 p.m. in the Phoenix Room at Three Kings; the event is free and open to anyone 21 and up. Drinks are available for purchase at the upstairs bar. For more information on the evening and its performers, visit the show’s facebook page.
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