Denverites have no shortage of places where they can drink drink beer and watch local comics, but for the uninitiated, there's little sense of quality control. Denver also has plenty of spaces where the efforts of skilled comedians and passionate venue owners dovetail in giggly harmony, but most shows are either noble failures or doomed partnerships between comics who haven't yet written a decent five minutes and well-meaning brewers. So we've prepared this handy guide to the best standup venues in town, focusing exclusively on places that feature weekly showcases and highlighting hands-on management that provides comedic dividends for comics and crowds alike. Check out 5280 Comedy for a complete list of every local showcase (many very worthy), and keep reading for our five favorite venues. Remember, the yuk stops here:
5. El Charrito
2100 Larimer Street
The Comedy Room Room at El Charrito shouldn't work — and for a while, it didn't. The longtime Ballpark dive bar is a lot of things — a weekend karaoke staple, a gamer-friendly nerd haven and an unexpectedly great spot for brunch — but it took years of persistence and experimentation to make comedy shows thrive here. First, the weekly open mike evolved from a dreaded widowmaker for jokes into one of the city's best places to work out new material under the stewardship of owner Matt Orrin and local comic Timmi Lasley. Then, after a series of remodels and reconfigurations, the newly dubbed "Comedy Room Room" repurposed an adjoining dining area — often used for storage — into an intimate performance space and started experimenting with weekly standup showcases. While the first outings were sparsely attended, the Room Room always managed to foster a sense of outré community, uniting its crowds of lurking comics and morbidly curious early spectators in peals of surprised laughter. And over the past few months, El Charrito has become home to some of Denver's most inventive comedy nights, including Amuse Booze and the Nerd Roast, which enjoy steadily growing crowds. It's heartening proof that persistence can indeed pay off.
4. Ratio Beerworks
2920 Larimer Street
While we're tempted to institute a moratorium against new breweries lest Denver become an even bigger parody of itself, we're happy to acknowledge the tap rooms that defy the sameness by focusing on quality entertainment. Thanks to a partnership with Ian Douglas Terry, creator and co-producer of the Crom Comedy Festival, the Wednesday-night comedy shows at Ratio Beerworks were a swift and resounding success. Week after week, Terry and co-host Andrew Bueno curate brawny local lineups and book headliners like Dave Stone (The Late Late Show) and Allen Strickland Williams (Conan). The show room itself has taken great strides forward; a gauntlet of brewery equipment used to instill the feeling that maybe people weren't supposed to hang out there, but now the room is festooned with tea lights and welcomingly arranged for the hordes of comedy fans (and their friendly dogs) that pack the house nearly every Wednesday. In addition to its free weekly showcases, Ratio will also host bi-monthly Lucha Libre & Laughs shows and serve as a hub for the Crom West comedy festival.
3. The Deer Pile
206 East 13th Avenue
More than just a great venue for a surprising variety of performances, Deer Pile is a community resource, encouraging local creatives to experiment on the stage and fostering a sense of DIY bonhomie unencumbered by profit motive. Between music and a staggering variety of performance arts, there's something weird going down at the Deer Pile nearly every night, but it's always been a particularly welcoming home for standups. In addition to the Westword-lauded Too Much Fun showcase, Deer Pile is also home Cartoons & Comedy, Two Truths & a Lie and the newly resurrected live podcast and moveable feast 3 Course Comedy. Admission is almost always free, and beers are $2.
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2. The Denver Improv
8246 East 49th Avenue
For a city its size, Denver is spoiled by range of full-time standup venues. The Denver Improv's northeastern setting is ideal for Stapletonians who want to enjoy the classic comedy-club experience without the attendant inconveniences of a sojourn into LoDo. The club offers unique counter-programming for Denver by bringing veteran headliners like Tommy Davidson and John Witherspoon, as well as hosting groundbreaking newer comics like Sean Patton on its stage. While it's not physically dissimilar from other suburban outposts of the nationwide Improv club franchise, the Denver branch has taken strides to incorporate the thriving local standup scene into its programming, including offering the Standup Showdown competitions, experimenting with local headliners and nurturing many comics through their first emcee and feature spots.
1. Comedy Works
Downtown at 1226 15th Street
South at 345 Landmark Place, Greenwood Village
Westword has been singing the praises of Comedy Works for years. We've highlighted its role as a setting for classic standup album recordings and interviewed local standups on the eve of their first headlining engagements there, a career milestone for a Denver comedian. We've regaled our readers with descriptions of its "laugh-swaddling acoustics" and called it "the platonic ideal of a comedy club" — without a hint of hyperbole. While the original downtown club is the clear favorite among Denverites and touring comics alike (and winner of Best Comedy Club in the Best of Denver 2016), the same exclusive programming and eye for design make the south club a world-class comedy destination in its own right. And the green room is nicer.
Note: In the interest of full disclosure/self-aggrandizement, I've told jokes in every one of the venues listed above, and I fully intend to do so again.