"When I started doing comedy in Denver, there were about two open mikes a week and one alt show a month," says Bobby Crane, a member of the Fine Gentleman's Club. "And now there's more than one open mike every night of the week and three or four alt shows a month that are really good. I'd say in the last four years, the Denver comedy scene has tripled in size."
Crane and his three compadres in FGC -- local comics Chris Charpentier, Sam Tallent and Nathan Lund -- will celebrate that scene with the four-day Too Much Funstival, which starts Thursday. Combining music and comedy, the festival is a monument to Denver's ever-growing standup-comedy community, which has come a long way in the past decade -- and has recently found a friend in underground music.
"When they started bringing in music and comedy, it really brought a special sort of we're-all-members-of-the-creative-art-scene vibe," says Denver comedian (and former Westword staffer) Adam Cayton-Holland, who started the monthly Los Comicos Super Hilariosos back in 2005, a show that was a pioneer in this city's alternative-comedy movement. "When I started doing comedy in 2004, there were a handful of shitty open mikes -- and Comedy Works, which was hard to get into. So we started our own thing."
Gradually drifting away from the established world of comedy clubs (with their steep cover prices and two-drink minimums), over the past decade, standup has embraced more relaxed, alternative venues, as evidenced by Patton Oswalt's 2005 The Comedians of Comedy tour documentary, in which comics bypassed comedy clubs in favor of indie rock clubs, where most of their audiences were hanging out anyway. This wave reached Denver around the same time, with comics like Cayton-Holland, Ben Roy, Greg Baumhauer and Ben Kronberg putting on their own shows at the DIY Orange Cat Studios, where the audiences came from that same blend of bicycling urbanites who regularly attend rock shows.
Los Comicos Super Hilariosos -- along with a few other new open mikes -- was a major success for a city with no signature comedy scene. Yet with national attention drawing many of these comics away from Denver for stretches at a time -- along with a devastating fire that put Orange Cat temporarily out of commission -- Denver's blossoming comedy community was at times a ship without a captain.
"If this were high school, they'd be the seniors and we're the juniors," says FGC's Chris Charpentier. "If they didn't do the Squire open mike, or the Lion's Lair or Los Comicos, we couldn't do our show weekly. They gave us a blueprint for how to do an alternative show in Denver."
Longtime friends, the four comics who make up the Fine Gentleman's Club had been playing random shows around town before deciding two years ago to form their own collective. They kicked off their Too Much Fun weekly comedy show in January 2011 at the now-defunct Rockaway, but the night didn't take off until it was moved to the more centrally located Deer Pile, above City, O' City. With crowds typically filling the venue to capacity -- often spilling out into the hallway and sometimes requiring the doorman to turn people away -- the night has quickly become a Denver institution, and FGC has developed a reputation for presenting the best comedy talent the city has to offer.
"I'll be the first to say it: nobody in Denver has done this good of a weekly show," says Tallent. "And anyone who knows anything about comedy in Denver will back that up. I see new people every week at our show, and there's also people who show up week after week who never miss it."
"There are a lot of shows in town now, and you can go to one of these upstart shows and there's not as loyal or as large an audience as we have," says Crane.
"And we're doing it for free!" interjects Tallent. "Theirs are monthly, ours are weekly, and we're doing it for fucking free. We have donation beer, and our headliners are tits!"
Obviously, humility is not on the menu with these fine gentlemen -- but then again, they do have plenty of cause to boast. Building on the audience and the blueprint of Los Comicos, the idea of combining the music scene and the comedy scene -- and then making it a success -- was fairly unprecedented in Denver. Not only does this tactic considerably swell the size of your audience, but it adds to the challenge, since the music crowd is often accustomed to talking, coming in and out at any time and becoming bark-at-the-moon drunk -- as opposed to the somewhat sober attentiveness you get in a comedy club. "It's a skill," says Charpentier, "but we've got a lot of practice playing in loud bars like the Squire. You have to go out there and grab an audience by the neck."
"It's safer and easier in comedy clubs," says Crane. "We've gotten tougher by playing Deer Pile. When the some of the audience is the same people every week, you have to come up with new material all the time. Our audience is really young and smart and creative; they usually don't go to Comedy Works because they can't afford it."
"And they're working their asses off at weird service jobs or nannying with odd hours and can't make it to their shows," says Tallent. "And they're comedy nerds. When comics come through Denver from L.A. who only work clubs, they get eaten alive by our crowds. Our crowds can smell shit, and they'll call you out on it."
The union between FGC and Denver's music community has led to a record deal between the group and Hot Congress Records, which will be sponsoring this weekend's Funstival event and will include many of the label's bands in the lineup. This will be Hot Congress's first foray into distributing comedy albums, and it may prove to be one more pioneering event in Denver's ever-lengthening human centipede of bands and comedians.
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Too Much Funstival begins this Thursday, August 23, at 9 p.m. at the Meadowlark, 2701 Larimer Street. The fun continues throughout the weekend, with shows in the City, O' City parking lot, Mouth House, Curtis Park and the Marquis Theater. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/toomuchfunstival.