One of the blessings of a career in standup is being part of the small but fiercely loyal community of comics sharing the same journey. When one of our own is down, the shock reverberates through the scene and comedians scramble to help out. So when Deacon Gray, new talent coordinator at Comedy Works and de facto mentor to Denver's fledgling standups, was diagnosed with cancer, comics were eager to give anything back to the man who inspires us to try harder. Shepherding these efforts is Terri Barton Gregg, who organizes countless benefit shows and fundraisers through her company, Hold Please Productions. We caught up with Gregg to discuss Deacon and "Kick Cancer in the Throat," a benefit show on January 9 at Jake's, and in the process learned the meaning of several Yiddish words.
Westword: So, in addition to putting together this benefit show, you've helped Deacon a lot personally. How has that been going?
Deacon is mishpucha, family. Not considered family, he is family. The comedy community, medical professionals, friends and fans have joined together as mishpucha to help one of our own. That's what we do best. Personally, I have dosed him with homemade chicken soup [Jewish penicillin] and liquid Vicodin to keep his wry sense of humor more palatable.
What do the proceeds of the benefit go towards? I'm sure those medical bills are outrageous.
The proceeds garnered by the benefit will be used to pay for Deacon's medical co-pays, transportation and living expenses. Deacon is concurrently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer of the throat. He is experiencing fatigue and is unable to speak for significant periods of time. To some of his pals, this might be considered a blessing. Professional standup comics are primarily private contractors. If a comic is unable to perform, they lose their income. Deacon is fortunate to have Wende Curtis and the Comedy Works crew and fellow comics as his guardian angels.
You've hosted a lot of shows at Jake's Tavern. How did your relationship with them start and what do you think makes them a good venue?
My relationship with Jake's was kismet. The owners of Jake's Food & Spirits, Andrew Feinstein and Marty Chernoff, and I met after my standup comedy set at Jake's. After we played a few robust rounds of "Jewish Geography," the die of our friendship and business relationship was cast. My company, Hold Please Productions, and Jake's became partners in comedy. Andrew, Marty and I respect and admire each other's business acumen and prowess. These two mensches [sweethearts] are philanthropic, easy to communicate with, always open to new ideas and totally support live standup comedy. Jake's has a designated room for comedy, ample parking, fabulous food and delightful libations, making it one of my favorite rooms to produce, perform and promote.
Are you involved with the other benefit show at Comedy Works?
Wende Curtis and I are discussing a possible benefit for Deacon in late February at the Comedy Works downtown.
You've put together a great lineup. Can you talk briefly about the other comics on the show and their connection to Deacon?
Nora Lynch deserves special kudos and bravos for her hard work and dedication to all of the various projects for Deacon. Nora developed and maintains the Giveforward fund for Deacon Gray. The entire comedy family has come together once again to support one of our own. Comics from across the country have banded together to "Help Deacon Kick Cancer in the Throat."
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Deacon Gray is the new talent coordinator at the Comedy Works and has been instrumental in forming the Denver's dynamic supportive comedy community. I am proud to host and emcee this benefit for my BFF. The dream team of comics performing are Steve McGrew, Karen Rontowski, Phil Palisoul, Ben Roy, Vicki Edgar and Adrian Mesa. These nationally touring comics are all close personal friends of Deacon's and perform with him regularly at various venues. All of these amazing comics volunteered to perform without hesitation because of their deep bond with Deacon. The show begins at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 9 at Jake's Food & Spirits. Get tickets, $10, through Jake's website, and 100 percent of the proceeds go towards Gray's recovery. Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.