"I took a break from standup due to lack of skill and ability," went a typical Michael Carter opener, "but I've decided that I'm not going to let that stop me." While the archetype of the self-deprecating comic is so well-established that it's become something of a ready-made persona, nothing Carter did seemed like an affectation. Even his most whimsical one-liners were deeply felt and freighted with melancholy. Carter's overbearing love of standup was always evident, both in the joyful tears during exceptionally great sets as well as the retreats into seclusion after exceptionally bad ones. Despite these frequent hiatuses, members of the scene — comics and fans alike — were always delighted to welcome him back to the stage. Which is why we were so sad to hear that Carter had passed away on Friday, October 2, at only 31 years of age.
The news arrived as the Denver arts community was already reeling from a series of tragic losses; you can scarcely mourn one friend before another is taken.
Hardly anyone did more to build Denver comedy into a community than Michael Carter. As the organizer of the weekly Denver Comedy Flag Football games in Curtis Park, Carter's efforts helped create a scene fueled by camaraderie rather than competition. The heart-breaking irony of it all is that someone so instrumental in fostering the community could wind up feeling so alone.
Comedy has a tragically high casualty rate for a vocation that involves no physical danger. There are risks involved, of course: Submitting your self-worth for the appraisal of an indifferent barroom is an emotionally grueling process; a struggle Carter knew all too well. Yet he was available to offer guidance to new comics even as his own reserves of hope were running dangerously low.
Carter had a multitude of physical and mental-health struggles, and very few people knew the full extent of the adversity he faced. Rather than drudge up the details of his tragic final days, however, it's better to remember Carter for what he created and everything he meant to the people who knew and loved him.
A family service was held on Thursday, October 9, at the Highlands Baptist Church. Comedians, friends and loved ones of Michael Carter are gathering at Curtis Park from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, October 18, for an honorary game of flag football. Rest in peace, Michael Carter. Touchdowns forever!
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Finally, since there's no greater send-off for a comedian than a strong closer, here are some of Michael Carter's best-loved jokes.
"The liquor store next door only sells PBR in packs of 12 or 30. Because they know: If you want more than 12 PBRs, you want 30."
"In my opinion, wearing a tie is the classiest way of having an arrow pointing at your dick."
"I was hit on by a gay man recently. It made me really uncomfortable. Then I realized, this must be how I make women feel."
"China made the Great Wall of China to keep the Mongolians out —the Mongolians responded with a ladder."
"An optimist sees the glass as half-full. A pessimist sees the glass as half-empty. A pragmatist knows that glass is twice as big as it needs to be."
"When I get home, the decision to have beer or milk is largely based on whether or not I have cake."