After twelve debauched years, last call for the legendary open mic at Squire Lounge was June 28. A rogue's gallery of Squire favorites took the stage that night for a boozy, profane farewell to the "meanest mic in America," topped off by a performance by Denver comedy supergroup Big City Drugs. The sweaty, carousing hordes mingling with such classic Squire-lings as Christie Buchele, Chuck Roy, Bobby Crane and Kevin O'Brien gave Denver comedy fans one final taste of the old Squire.
During its heyday, this wasn't just an open mic; it was a cultural event for Denver's nascent comedy community. Scores of PBR-quaffing hipsters would descend every week to watch as future big-leaguers like Troy Walker, Ben Kronberg and The Grawlix developed into the performers they are today; fledgling comics lived in fear of host Greg Baumhauer.
"I didn't go to the Squire regularly until 2011 because I thought it was for posers and scenesters, and that the host was a prick," says Sam Tallent — who would inherit Baumhauer's spot at the mic. "When Greg killed it to focus on nineteen-year-old pussy, he called me down to the bar late one night a week after it ended... They got me very shitty on Kentucky Deluxe and asked me to run the show. It was the coolest I ever felt up to that moment. That weekly Squire cash literally kept me off the streets. I'm forever grateful to Sud." (That's Sudhir Kudva, the owner of the Squire.)
Over the past two years, however, attendance dwindled to the point where the mic simply couldn't survive the departure of Tallent, who's due to relocate to Las Vegas in a few short weeks. "I tried to kill it years ago, but the abortion didn't take," Baumhauer remarks with characteristic darkness. "It just left a lightning-shaped scar on its forehead. It was the show that lived."
Even at its worst, the old Squire evoked a sense of deviant mystique. Passing through its crusty threshold meant forgoing the propriety that governed everyone else; comics brought their most depraved material to the stage, and crowds responded with their most incoherent heckles. Fights broke out, drinks were thrown, the stage rushed by innumerable drunks. "It was an autonomous zone run by trustworthy scumbags," Tallent reminisces.
While a remodel a few years ago added a few nice touches to the Colfax mainstay, creating non-repugnant bathrooms and uncovering a historic mural, it also moved the stage and sanitized the chaotic energy that used to reign over the proceedings. An aesthetically unwelcoming haven for degenerates evolved into a tastefully appointed establishment, indistinguishable from dozens of others. While the changes were probably better for business, the place lost something intangible during its beautification.
But the renovation can't take all the blame for the diminished open mic; it had been a shadow of its former self for years. Part of what led to the Squire's heyday was a dearth of opportunities to see local comedy, but as the scene grew, dozens of new standup open mics offered friendly crowds and regular showtimes. What was once a trial by fire had become a chilly echo chamber, and comics stopped signing up for the Squire.
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I'm admittedly complicit in this decline; before the past couple of weeks, I hadn't been to the Squire in at least six months. The Squire was the second open mic I ever tried. Tallent was the new host by then, but Baumhauer filled in for him the very next week, when I could still barely stammer out a punchline, let alone deflect his roasts with grace.
Since then, the Squire stage has been the crucible that has warped and shaped me as a comic. It's done the same for many others; few places have managed to kill and revive dreams with such spectacular gore. While I'm sad to see it go, I'm more beset by gratitude than grief. I'm grateful for the countless times I've bombed on the Squire stage, grateful for every laugh I managed to browbeat out of that crowd. I'm grateful for the feedback of Tallent and Baumhauer (though I hated them for it at the time), and for their eventual hard-earned praise.
I'm grateful to be one of the last Squire comics, because now Denver won't be making them anymore.