It just got easier to laugh in Denver. Kayvan Khalatbari, local ganjaprenuer, owner of three Sexy Pizza spots and godfather of the Sexpot series of comedy shows, just launched a new website that ties together many of the various strands that make up Denver's burgeoning comedy scene. The site, SexpotComedy.com, is a hub of information that includes a calendar of area comedy shows and an audio archive of past shows, as well as podcasts and videos, mostly produced by Denver comedians.
The idea for consolidating the various aspects of Denver's comedy scene came in July 2012 when Khalatbari, searching for new ways to best maximize marketing dollars, decided to stage a comedy show at one of his Sexy Pizza restaurants. "We were thinking of ways to engage differently and take a different approach to see what kind of return we could get," he says. "We did it after hours and closed the curtain and had this cannabis-friendly show. It went really well."
At that time, Khalatbari was fully immersed in the medical marijuana industry as the owner of a local dispensary called Denver Relief, and also acting as a consultant for cannabis-based start-ups. His consulting partner, Jake Browne, moonlighted as a comedian at various open mic rooms across town, which gave Khalatbari the inspiration to look at comedy as a viable means of drawing customers. After the success of the first comedy show, a powerful triangle of comedy, pizza and cannabis began to form.
Khalatbari estimates that there were about forty or fifty people at that very first show. "Everybody had a good time," he says. After the first month, local comedians Nathan Lund and Sam Tallent approached Khalatbari and asked him to sponsor their comedy show, Too Much Fun. The next day, comedian Matt Monroe showed up, asking for support for his show called Propaganda! Sexy Pizza began to host comedy shows every month.
"I just thought that it was worth pursuing," Khalatbari says. "We started putting money into these shows. I thought it was a unique idea to put marketing dollars toward them and maybe find some way to promote us and the venue."
He started handing out coupons for free slices of pizza at the shows, which were quickly becoming a hit. "It seemed to really build," he says. "It seemed to build excitement and gain visibility on social media." More shows were added. More of those marketing dollars were spent on comedy shows. The triangle had power.
"Having the cannabis, the pizza and the comedy were obviously very synergistic," Khalatbari says. "They all just seemed to kind of feed off of each other and it just kept growing."
By early 2014, it made sense to set up a website to organize and promote the various shows that Sexpot Comedy -- as the brand would be called -- was now sponsoring around Denver.
Khalatbari teamed up on Sexpot Comedy with local comedian Andy Juett last year, after meeting him at those first Sexy Pizza shows. Juett brought to the brand not only his contacts within the comedy scene, but also fourteen years of broadcast media experience. Juett immediately saw the value of a web presence for Sexpot, and got the website design underway.
"Andy does a lot of the production," Khalatbari says. "He's the connection to all of these talented people that we've had on our shows. I understood his value and I saw that he was the piece that I don't have. The intention of creating the collective and having that one hub for this scene was always in my head -- but I don't know that I could have realized it without Andy."
Juett still performs comedy regularly, but is also a co-owner of Sexpot Comedy with Khalatbari. "Kayvan is the most creative business partner I've ever had," Juett says. "We're very similar in that way. He thrives on finding ways to do things as an entrepreneur that make total sense to me, but might be more of a stretch for traditional stuffy business owners.
"We decided to not let our egos take over and be too ambitious in the website build-out," Juett adds. "We decided to keep it organized and let the content speak for itself. That's why the site is super-clean and has plenty of labels to keep people on task with what they're looking for."
The pair brought on Isaac Miller, content manager at 103.1 FM, a comedy radio station, to help with the construction of the website. "He was really the impetus for getting that content onto the website," Khalatbari says, "because we have all these podcasts, all these shows, all these pictures that we needed to wrangle and organize."
The backbone of the site is an interactive calendar of local comedy shows. Positioning a cursor over a particular date brings up a menu of every Sexpot Comedy show for that day, with links to more information about them. There's a wide variety of shows to choose from, and currently there's comedy almost every night of the month. On a recent Thursday night, Khalatbari says, there were ten comedy shows -- and with that much entertainment available, a website like SexpotComedy.com could funnel laugh-seekers into venues every night of the week.
strong>Keep reading for more on the website, and what it means for Denver's comedy scene...
"Outside the video and audio content, there's like a bazillion pictures of each of our shows you can check out." Juett says. "These albums tell the story of just how many great comics there are in this town." But Sexpot also hosts comics from other cities; comics such as Dave Chapelle, Andy Kindler and Nikki Glaser have done stand-up here. "They're just blown away by these smart, hungry audiences and cool venues" Juett says. "It's pretty damn amazing."
Khalatbari and Juett recognize that comedy is getting so big, there are many options for how to enjoy it. "I can go to a comedy show at eight o'clock," Khalatbari explains. "I have a waiter or waitress. I can sit down the whole time. I don't have to wait to do any of those things. I leave at ten o'clock and I go home and go to bed. It's kind of turning into the more mature, more sedate option."
Sexpot Comedy now sponsors over twenty shows in Denver (all are listed on the website) including Cartoons and Comedy, Comics Against Civility, Doom Room, Lucha Libre and Laughs, Werewolf Radar Picture Show and Too Much Fun. "They're not just stand-up comedy shows," Khalatbari says. "That's the unique thing about Denver."
Through the website and the sponsorship of comedy shows, Sexpot Comedy hopes to not only raise awareness of the quality of local comics, but also make Denver's comedy scene so vibrant and self-sustaining that those comics won't leave for bigger cites.
"A lot of people feel they can't break through in Denver, which is why comedians like T.J. Miller or Ben Kronberg moved to L.A.," Khalatbari says. "Nobody blames them for that -- they're looking for that opportunity. But it would be nice if people could stay here." If they can have the same opportunities here that they can get in L.A. or Chicago or New York, he reasons, then Sexpot will have succeeded by helping that to become a reality.
"I think we can do that," he adds, "especially with the rise of social media. Other local performers are putting out videos and podcasts and doing stand-up that holds up to the levels of quality in other major American cities. There's no reason we can't do it here."
Once SexpotComedy.com is established in Denver, Sexpot Comedy plans to launch the site in other markets where comedy is prominent. "That's something that's been on our minds since day one," Khalatbari says. "I'm doing so much cannabis work in Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, Boston and soon L.A. and New York. All of these places are synonymous with comedy and are places where I just happen to be doing cannabis work. It seems like a natural fit."
"We don't want SexpotComedy to be just a Denver brand," he adds. "We see it as being based here. Ultimately, we want it to be a national comedy brand."
And it all starts here. "The ultimate goal is to show the nation and the world that Denver has just as good a scene -- I think it's the best scene outside of markets like L.A. or Chicago or New York," Juett says. "We just might not have those media outlets yet, that promotional tool to really get people above that."
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Sexpot Comedy celebrates its one-year anniversary at the Oriental Theater on December 19, featuring live comedy from Todd Barry, Karl Hess, Shayna Ferm, Elliot Woolsey, Jordan Doll and Andy Juett, inlcluding an interactive pre-show performance by Jim Hicox and a video from Matty O'Connor. Find more information at SexpotComedy.com.