In these uncertain times, the programatic cheeriness of the holiday season can become oppressive. Fortunately for local sad sacks, nothing cuts through the happy humbuggery better than standup comedy. In addition to fine selections at clubs and theaters across the state, Coloradans can enjoy a bevy of brewery shows, gut-busting parodies of holiday classics and the Grawlix three 'neath the yuletide tree. Cash-strapped shoppers will be glad to know that one of these events costs less than a good set of Legos, and three of them are free. So give yourself a gift this year and see what Denver comedy has to offer: Here are the ten best shows in Denver in December, in chronological order.
Misanthropes, unite! Beloved among Denver degenerates, Uncalled Four is a comedy game show that pits four comedians against each other in a contest to win the coveted title of "Denver's Worst Person." The scourge of easily offended Yelp reviewers, the Sexpot-sponsored showcase has been featured in the Bridgetown and High Plains Comedy festivals and created specialized decks that allow fans to play at home, thereby finding out how warped their friends and family truly are. With a fresh new set of cards ready for the 2016 National Deck set to debut, co-producers Jake Browne, Samantha Sandt and Zac Maas are busier than ever, making arrangements for the new game and poring over user-submitted nominations for "Denver's Worst Person," a process that Browne admits has been unexpectedly fraught with pathos. This weekend's show features local comics Stephen Agyei, Rachel Weeks, Zach Reinert and Adam Cayton-Holland, so come see what's lurking in the darkest corners of their minds.
Doors open at 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. showtime. Individual tickets are $5.99 at uncalledfour.com (which also offers four-packs for $19.99) and $10 at the door.
Holiday-themed entertainment presents its creators with a challenge. Comedy has to be funny, even when it's all trussed up in red and green. Perhaps that's why riffing on a classic has proved to be such a durable way to eke some laughs out of seasonal tropes. Deacon Gray's The Gutcracker continues this time-honored Yuletide tradition with Denver comedians portraying the characters from the E.T.A. Hoffman short story that was made famous by the Tchaikovsky ballet. The cast includes Rachel Weeks as Clara, Christie Buchele as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Nathan Lund as the Mouse King, Adrian Mesa as a gingerbread soldier, and Gray in the titular role. After eating a medicated gingerbread cookie, the Nutcracker awakes and finds himself on a whimsical comedy showcase populated with holiday icons. Bundle up and go see Gray's weed-fueled fever dream come to life.
Showtimes and locations vary. Admission is $12. Visit the Comedy Works events page to learn more and buy tickets.
After being named the Best New Comedy Show of 2015 at this very site, Comedy Night at Chain Reaction has maintained its distinction for two years, despite dozens of comics and brewers appropriating its basic formula. The show, a collaboration between local comic Steve Vanderploeg and co-owner Chad Christofferson, childhood hockey teammates with a shared love of craft beer, not only continues drawing national headliners and throngs of beery regulars to an unassuming corner of Athmar Park, but has yielded its own signature beverage with the Denver Comedy Pale Ale. To celebrate two years of hops and hahas, Vanderploeg and company have brewed up an unbeatable showcase featuring local standups Rachel Weeks, Aaron Urist, Greg Baumhauer, Ben Bryant Anthony Armstrong and Chicago's Sammy Arechar. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that Steve Vanderploeg is my roommate. )
Known for riffs on laziness and shitty food, everyman comic Jim Gaffigan has achieved a level of cultural permeation that most comics can only dream of. Gaffigan is one of those comics whose jokes are referenced in day-to-day exchanges, and whose "inside voice" joke-telling style is instantly recognizable. His first book, Dad Is Fat, was published last year, and he self-released a standup special, Mr. Universe, the year before that. Gaffigan has also appeared on Portlandia and all three Law and Order franchises, as well as in films like Away We Go. Recently, Gaffigan became the executive producer and star of the eponymous Jim Gaffigan Show, which ran for two seasons on TVLand.
Despite enduring a lifetime's worth of adversity in a few short months, Tig Notaro has remained indefatigably prolific and unfailingly hilarious throughout her struggles with health, heartbreak and loss. After releasing the instant-classic album Live, Notaro has worked ceaselessly; she was the focus of the heart-wrenching documentary Tig, performed shirtless in a triumph over her mastectomy scars in Boyish Girl Interrupted, and created her own sitcom, called One Mississippi. In addition to her flourishing creative efforts, Notaro and her wife also welcomed twin boys into their family earlier this year, a welcome development that nonetheless makes tours such as this one more difficult to arrange, and therefore increasingly rare. With local treasure Nancy Norton in the feature spot, Notaro promises not only a fearless yet defiantly silly evening of comedy, but also a living testament to hope and persistence. (Check the Arts & Culture page next week for a full interview with Notaro. )
Doors open at 7 for an 8 p.m. showtime. General admission is $35 via the Boulder Theater events page.
Keep reading for five more comedy events.
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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.