Comedy and craft beer flow with uncommon abundance through the ears and gullets of Queen City citizens; indeed, only lawn games and food trucks rival standup shows' ancillary benefit to the brewpubs that host them. However, not every IPA is worth your six dollars, nor is every show worth your time.
Steve Vanderploeg — host of the multiple Best of Denver award-winning comedy night at Chain Reaction as well as (full disclosure) my good friend and former roommate — is dedicated to offering crowds excellence both on draft and on stage with Rotating Tap Comedy, a pop-up show appearing at some of the city's finest beer halls throughout the summer. The next round will be June 6 at FlyteCo Brewing.
In advance of that show, Westword caught up with Vanderploeg to discuss bringing his long-simmering idea to life, the lessons he's learned from the success of Chain Reaction, and why comics needn't bother sending him booking requests.
Westword: You've been kicking the idea for Rotating Tap Comedy around for a couple of years now; how did the shows finally come together?
Steve Vanderploeg: I finally had the time and energy to make it happen. I had been working a full-time job that was physically demanding and mentally exhausting. I decided to step down from that position, and once I was free of the nine-to-five work week, I was able to go day-drink at a bunch of breweries and see who was interested. I started looking to just start one show, but it became apparent pretty quickly that other breweries were into this idea, especially because they get to work together. Getting multiple breweries to collaborate with each other was a lot of work, and I don’t think I could have done it if I was still working full-time.
Who are the participating breweries, and when does the series begin?
As of now, we’ve already had a couple of shows at FlyteCo Brewing. They’ve been great so far, and the staff is super into it! The shows there take place the first Wednesday of every month. Starting in June, third Wednesdays are right by FlyteCo at the even newer Empourium Brewing Company. Fourth Wednesdays are at Zuni Street Brewing Company. For now, second Wednesdays are still open, but a few breweries have shown interest, so I’m hoping to have that locked down soon. There are a lot of cool breweries out there looking to draw a crowd, so I don’t think it will be too long before I get to announce that.
How has your experience running Comedy Night at Chain Reaction informed your approach to this new endeavor?
Luckily, the ability to put together incredible lineups came naturally to me right out of the gate. Beyond that, I'd say I learned 50 percent of how to be a good emcee from hosting Chain Reaction and I learned 90 percent of everything I’ve learned about producing a show there, too. So everything I’ve learned is coming with me. Comedy Night at Chain Reaction is consistently Chain Reaction’s busiest night of the month, and I know I can build that following at other breweries.
Why do you think breweries have been particularly receptive to hosting comedy shows?
I think they have a lot to gain from it. In terms of basic business, it draws new people to their brewery, and if the comedy show is good, it keeps people in there for longer than just a quick beer or flight. Plus breweries are a lot like comedians in that even though they’re usually super supportive of each other, they’re still competing, and if one brewery is having a successful comedy night, the others will want to match that.
What distinguishes a good brewery show from a mediocre one? Denver is beset with mediocre ones.
This is a great thing to point out. First and foremost, booking matters. I see some shows booking based off of friendships more than talent. I have a decently tedious vetting process for booking both locals and nationally touring acts. I also book diverse acts, which is something every comedy show — even outside of breweries — should be doing. Beyond that, the more supportive the staff is, the better the show will be. Brewery shows typically have to combat high ceilings, bright lights and an especially drunk crowd, so when the staff seems to think it’s just another night of work, that can be the straw that breaks the camel's back, because it’s just another night of work. If the staff is excited for comedy, all the other things that would typically be a detriment to a comedy show kind of disappear.
I’ll also say that for the most part, I think the better brewery shows in Denver seem to happen on Friday or Saturday nights, and also have a layout that’s conducive to substituting the setup of a comedy club. Hopefully down the road, Rotating Tap will be moving to Friday, but first the breweries want to make sure that I can do for them what I did at Chain Reaction. FlyteCo’s staff has been extremely supportive, in the same sense that Chain Reaction’s staff was when I started that show, and it’s already helped the shows be incredible. A lot of the staff at Zuni Street Brewing seem excited to see what we can turn this into.
I think it’s important to also mention that good beer has a major role in this. Nobody wants to watch a mediocre comedian, and nobody wants to pay $6 for a mediocre beer. Those two factors alone will create a subpar event. This is about collaboration of the best of the best.
Who are some of the headliners you're most excited about?
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We’ve got some great ones! Hometown hero Adam Cayton-Holland is headlining FlyteCo this Wednesday. I’m also excited to be bringing veterans like Al Jackson to our stages. We also have comedians who are headliner caliber, such as Ramon Rivas II, who has a Comedy Central half-hour, but are happy to just hop on for a guest set. Ramon will be performing at Empourium with John Novosad, Christie Buchele and Anthony Desamito, and each one of those comedians is capable of headlining. Basically, if I’m booking somebody, I’m excited to show Denver how talented they are.
Anything else you want to mention before we wrap up?
Anybody looking for more information can like Rotating Tap Comedy on Facebook, and that will have information for every show. Rotating Tap is going to grow! I’m hoping to build a summer-long comedy series in 2020 that takes place at even more breweries across Denver, with incentives for people to check out multiple shows while enjoying new beers at breweries through the city. If any breweries are interested in becoming part of Rotating Tap, they’re welcome to e-mail RotatingTapComedy@gmail.com for more information. Comedians don’t need to let me know that they want to perform. That’s literally every comedian and should go without saying. But one of the most exciting aspects of this endeavor is that I will have many more opportunities to showcase the incredibly talented local scene. Also, since I am the self-proclaimed Brewery King of Denver, I should also mention that beginning in June, I will also be running a show separate from Rotating Tap the fourth Friday of each month at Oasis Brewing Company.
The next edition of Rotating Tap Comedy froths up at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, at FlyteCo Brewing, 4499 West 38th Avenue, #101. Admission is free.