Arts and Culture

Open Mic Check: Study Up on Comedy at Mutiny Information Cafe

Mutiny Information Cafe open-mic host Jose Macall.
Mutiny Information Cafe open-mic host Jose Macall. Andrew Bray
Traditional bookstores are havens of quietude, destinations where whispering readers can linger among the stacks, leafing through undiscovered novels and wafting through the unmistakable aroma of brewing coffee and dusty pages. Mutiny Information Cafe is decidedly untraditional; the place leads a double life as a haven for Denver creatives that maintains a robust performing arts calendar, and a retail outlet for books, comics and records. In addition to the concerts, magic shows, poetry slams, live readings and author Q & A sessions that have found a home on Mutiny's stage, the weekly Tuesday night comedy open mic has become a steadfast outlet for local standups to flail and flourish with their newest material.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I co-host a podcast on the Mutiny Transmissions network.

The room:
Mutiny Information Cafe may sell comics, vinyl, used books, coffee, CBD-infused kombucha and bodega staples like Hostess snack cakes, rolling papers and Topo Chico, but one thing they don't have is alcohol. Accordingly, Mutiny's open mic is generally spared from the outbursts of drunken anarchy that tend to plague, or enliven (depending upon one's personal appetite for schadenfreude), the other mics around town. Compared to an environment like the Lion's Lair — where just this past Monday a new comic face-planted onto the stage before railing against the "hacks" of the Denver scene and a former Marine tried to fight the entire crowd — the Mutiny mic can seem every bit as bookish as its surroundings. Though the absence of a full bar tends to prohibit the sort of Dionysian chaos that open-mic hounds know and love, Mutiny provides a vital resource for comics who are either under the age of 21 or trying to get sober. And perhaps most important, they allow dogs.

The host:
Mutiny mic host Jose Macall is a perpetual fixture on the lineups of all the best local shows in the city, yet he remains one of the most underrated comedians in Denver. After taking over emcee duties from the mic's founding comedian (and Mutiny Information Cafe employee) Cory Helie, Macall weathered an onslaught of competition from fellow mics like the ones at Black Buzzard and Scruffy Murphy's — both located within a short walking distance from Comedy Works Downtown, where essentially the entire comedy scene flocks each Tuesday night — and forged ahead with his stewardship over a low-key laboratory for jokes to take shape. Though Macall is a typically soft-spoken and droll performer with an overriding penchant for brief and absurd but unfailingly clean material, he brought a level of energy to the evening's proceedings that would make a carnival barker proud.

The crowd:

Absent of the social lubrication traditionally furnished by the demon drink, the Mutiny mic crowd is often expectedly subdued. Mostly comprising amateur standups and curious shoppers who venture through the book stacks and toward the stage, the audience generally waits patiently and politely to be impressed; audible expressions of approval are scarce and hard-earned. For the most part, Mutiny's crowd is well-behaved yet unresponsive. "There have been multiple occasions of homeless people wandering [into the store] and undressing," Macall says, but hecklers and on-stage meltdowns are rare. Though the low-energy atmosphere might seem discouraging, success at Mutiny may well be the greatest test of a new joke's worthiness. 

Memorable sets:
As we mentioned before, the Mutiny Information Cafe comedy open mic is an indispensable resource for comics under the age of 21. Summarily excluded from the overwhelming majority of Denver's dive bar- and brewery-based comedy shows by dint of liquor laws, burgeoning comedy prodigies are compelled to seize each and every minute of available stage time an accommodating venue has to offer. Fittingly, one of the best recent sets belonged to seventeen-year-old Lily Ostberg, whose mordant jokes about the unique despair of the post-9/11 and concurrent school-shooting generation pierced through the default apathy of an audience made up solely of jaded comics; uniting the room in the midst of circumstances so dire that laughter is the best possible palliative.

The Mutiny Information Cafe Comedy Open Mic returns each Tuesday evening to 2 South Broadway; comic sign-ups start at 9:30 p.m. and the show starts at 10. Visit 5280 Comedy for further details.
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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