While big-name comedy acts like Aziz Ansari will draw a large crowd in Boulder, getting a local comedy scene going in Colorado's hippie hamlet has faced some challenges -- whether money, politics or apathy. Now James Gold is hoping to put Boulder's anti-comedy stigma to rest with his Dairy Comedy Showcase, which will offer its second show this Saturday with host Sam Tallent and standups Hippie Man, James Gold, Heather Snow and Steve Vanderploeg.
Gold wasn't sure if the first showcase last March could fill the Dairy Center's eighty-ticket quota, but was pleasantly surprised to see almost double that number show up for local comedy, more than justifying another round and perhaps even a regular series. In advance of this second Dairy event, we caught up with Gold to chat about what the future holds for Boulder comedy.
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Westword: It's so great to hear you're developing a comedy scene up in Boulder. How did this get started?
James Gold: We did the first one back in March, and the Dairy Center told me that if you can get at least eighty people to show up, we'll make it a regular thing. I thought that was ambitious, since there's no scene up here. But 150 people showed up, and it was so awesome we thought we'd try it again. This time we're doing fewer comics, but they're comics that are a little more seasoned.
Why has it been so difficult to get a comedy scene together in Boulder?
I don't know. It's a very serious town -- there's a lot of money here. It's a tech-town, kind of. The popular thing here is to find a fancy little place to sit and drink, you know? And cycling, pretty much anything athletic. So comedy hasn't really been the focus. I think there was a comedy club here once upon a time, and I don't know the back story but it's not here anymore. There are a few open mics here in town, but none of them are comedy-specific. So if you show up to one and do standup, you're just the asshole who's interrupting the music. There isn't a warm vibe to it.
But when our show went so well, I thought: Maybe there is potential for a scene here.
It seems that you have a healthy amount of comedy fans in Boulder, people who are willing to pay money and devote their night out to watching standup.
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Yeah, Aziz Ansari came to town recently at the CU Boulder campus. So there are national acts that come through here. Robin Williams was here recently, too -- he wasn't doing comedy, but it was Robin Williams, I'm sure he was funny. But the tickets were insanely expensive.
There is a potential to get a small group of really dedicated people together and make it happen on a local level. I just want to be a part of it.
It seems like you're bringing a lot of the Denver comedy scene to Boulder. As this gains momentum, do you hope to have more established comics coming out of your town?
Yeah. I'm starting to get e-mails from people telling me they're comics who are based in Boulder, or are moving to Boulder and want to be a part of the comedy scene. And it's like, holy shit, now I'm the guy they're coming to. But I'm just a guy who wants to do comedy, too. It's weird: they think I'm somebody.
Nancy Norton is based here, she does a lot of corporate gigs. And Hippie Man is based here. And there are newbies coming out to open mics and trying their hand at comedy. So something is happening here. Or beginning to happen.
If you're just a comic who wants to do comedy, what was your motivation for starting a scene in Boulder as opposed to just coming to Denver and tagging along with what's happening here?
Right, well, the main thing I guess is that I don't have a car. So that was a motivation. But I like Boulder. It's amazing to me that for such a famous town there's no local standup comedy. So at first I started going around to places and see if they'd let me host an open mic night. I got lead on by a few places, but everyone was too afraid, honestly.
What were they afraid of?
Well, they knew my focus was comedy. At first I told them we could make it an open mic for anything and everything. But the hesitation was there, because they knew all I really wanted was comedy, and they thought comedy couldn't sell here. So I thought maybe I could do a comedy showcase at the Dairy Center, since it's the cultural epicenter here. There really isn't a lot of culture here, so a place like that is extremely valuable to me. I love art and theater, things that are in abundance in most big cities but really aren't that available here. Contacting them was a shot in the dark, just asking what they thought of comedy. But they really liked the idea.
At first they were going to put me in a small theater, but then there was a scheduling conflict and they put me in the 250-seat theater. And I was nervous, but they said they only wanted to see eighty people. They're very supportive; they're in this business for a reason, to support the arts.
Were they aware of how big comedy was getting in Denver, or were they shocked that you got so many people to show up?
I kind of gave them a heads up, but they didn't seem too in-tune with comedy. They have an improv group that puts on a show there every once in a while, but in terms of standup they weren't too familiar. The director's assistant had a friend that runs a club in Texas, and she's younger, so she was kind of with-it in terms of comedy. But I never expected much to come of it, honestly.
Now that you've witnessed a show being a success in Boulder, did that spark some ideas for you about what Boulder comedy could look like in four or five years?
Yeah, man. I think that someone should definitely try a comedy club here again. The power is basically in marketing -- if there was a really good marketing team behind it, I think a comedy club could survive here again. I don't know what it was like back in the day when the old one was here, I don't know what the circumstance was for its closing. But you could put one right smack dab in the middle of Pearl Street, and I think it would survive -- if there was some good marketing behind it. If a strip club can fly on Pearl Street, why not a comedy club?
I don't want to generalize for all of Boulder, but it seems to me that there is a very PC vibe in that town. And a conservative one as well. And even though they're cultural opposites, those two groups often have thin skins about comedians poking fun at sensitive issues. Do you think that has anything to do with the hesitation, or the lack of momentum, when it comes to developing a standup scene?
That is interesting. One of the places I went to try and get a show together was Johnny's Cigar Bar. It was somewhere I regularly stopped into for a drink, and the owner, Johnny, is this tough-as-nails East Coast guy. And he was like, "Yeah, I might be interested, but I had a bad experience trying that once." He had tried to put on a comedy show once upon a time, and the comedian that showed up was a drag queen. I don't know what the circumstances of the booking was, or how he could end up being surprised by this. And at this tiny little upper-class cigar bar, it went over horribly.
But for the most part, when I've done open mics around here and I start to get a blue streak, people love it. You wouldn't expect it, but once you can crack the surface of these wealthy, uptight-looking people, they let down their guard a little bit and start to enjoy themselves. There is a hard shell, though, but you have to crack it.
The Dairy Comedy Showcase begins at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 25 at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder. Tickets are $10 to $12; for more information, visit www.thedairy.org.
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.