How Denver Native Troy Walker Went From Law School to Stand-Up to Jimmy Kimmel | Westword
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How Denver Native Troy Walker Went From Law School to Standup to Jimmy Kimmel

Troy Walker and other "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" writers show their chops at Comedy Works South this weekend!
Jimmy Kimmel and Troy Walker pose together at the 2023 Academy Awards.
Jimmy Kimmel and Troy Walker pose together at the 2023 Academy Awards.

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More than 11,000 screenwriters have been on the picket line since May 2, causing production to stop on sets all over Hollywood and the nation. Some of the first casualties of the writers' strike were live, late-night programming, such as Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night With Seth Meyers and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.

While Jimmy Kimmel's nightly monologue and witty interviews with famous guests are no longer available live, the Denver area will get to see the folks behind the show's humor when several members of the writing staff come to Comedy Works South in Greenwood Village. Jesse Joyce, Devin Fields and Troy Walker will be there for live performances from Thursday, June 22, through Sunday, June 25.

Walker is a Denver native who began his standup career in the city and also holds a law degree from the University of Denver's Sturm College. We caught up with the comedian about his professional path, how his time in Denver affected his style, and his favorite jokes he created for Jimmy Kimmel Live!.
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Troy Walker has been doing standup since college.
Courtesy of Matt Misisco

Westword: How did you make the switch from practicing law to comedy?

Troy Walker: Actually, it was kind of the reverse. I started doing standup when I was going to [Metropolitan State University of Denver] as an undergrad and just doing open-mics. I kept doing it while I was getting a political science degree, which is one of those degrees where you are sort of like, "What do I even do with this?" But I took a bunch of legal classes at Metro as part of that degree, and I always really liked them. I had professors tell me I should consider law school. I didn't really know what to do with this degree, and I also figured it'll be easier to keep doing standup in school than out of it. I decided to take the LSAT, and I got a decent score, so I applied to CU Boulder, the University of Denver and the University of Arkansas, because I had a cousin who was going to undergrad down there. Even if I knew I didn’t want to live in Arkansas, I felt like I should keep my options open. I got into all of them, but DU gave me a scholarship. That was my first choice, because I got to stay in Denver and focus on law school while trying to do shows and stuff at night to continue to pursue comedy.

Where does your love of comedy come from, and what are some of your inspirations?

I like to think that I have a really broad comedic sensibility. I probably first started with cartoons, like everybody else. I watched so much TV as a kid, like the Nickelodeon stuff, and then when it would flip over to Nick at Nite, I was watching Bewitched, the original Get Smart, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Golden Girls and The Cosby Show — obviously pre-nightmarish stuff, or at least before we all knew. I used to watch Letterman with my dad, and I really liked the Top Ten List as a kid. And I would watch hours of The Simpsons. ... My voice comes from all these different things that I enjoyed as a child, so when I started watching standup, I was already comedic-minded. I remember watching the original Def Comedy Jam when I was young, and I would just watch any special I could. I remember when Comedy Central came out and they were doing all that premium stuff, and that was a game-changer. My influences as a kid came from Jerry Seinfeld, Mitch Hedberg, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, George Carlin, Damon Wayans, Martin Lawrence and all these different people. I love Eddie Izzard. Dress to Kill is kind of slept on, but I think it's one of the greatest specials ever. John Leguizamo had those one-man shows on HBO, like Freak, that were influential. I also just adore Living in Color. I was just soaking up all this different stuff, and when I would run out of stuff, I would go search out even older stuff and find old Bob Newhart records, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family and just all these things. I was just steeping myself in comedy — not intentionally, necessarily, but because I enjoyed it.
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Troy Walker on stage at Comedy Works.
Courtesy of Kendall Chapman
How has your comedic voice evolved as you've done more standup and written for larger projects?

The more standup and comedy you absorb, the more you realize there's a sort of music to it. It's like you have your own ways of doing things and your own voice, but you learn how to write the music from observing all these different comedic troupes in action. For instance, the rule of three in comedy is something you end up picking up through osmosis from all of these different sources because you’re always seeing comedians do things in sequences of threes. You're always seeing misdirects — the ways you hide certain information in storytelling until the perfect moment — and all these little technical things came from observing others perform and studying it. And then, once you start doing it yourself, you're figuring out how to do your own version of these universal comedic principles. What you discuss in your standup set gets to be pretty unique to you. You’re basically taking your worldview and what you think is funny and trying to figure out how to make it funny for people from disparate backgrounds.

Did your upbringing in Denver influence your comedic style?


Denver is one of the best places to start doing standup. I honestly believe that because there's a ton of stage time, and nothing helps you get better more than just being on stage all the time. Denver is in this unique situation where you've got all these different elements in one place. It's right in the middle of the country in a state that's a rectangle, but it looks like a square, and there’s not much around it. You’re kind of isolated, and I think that's helpful, especially because you're going to stumble and try out a bunch of things that aren't really you, but they're all things that help you figure out your voice. Denver also has all kinds of audiences: Comedy Works Downtown is the yuppie crowd; Comedy Works South is a little bit older and more family-oriented; the Denver Improv has a little more Black and Hispanic audiences; and then you’ve got the mountain shows with rural audiences out in Sterling, Fort Morgan and the eastern plains. At the end of the day, a lot of what standup is to me is being able to look at a room full of bikers and be like, “I’ll be fine. I’ve got material for this.” I think that it helps what I do now, because Jimmy Kimmel’s show is for a national audience, and being able to write stuff that works for everyone was essential. ... For the first six years I was doing this, I never thought I’d turn it into some kind of real career. Like, if you had told me at 21, when I started, that I’d be living in Los Angeles, it would have blown me away.
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Troy Walker poses with Brett Saxon, Guillermo Rodriguez, Todd Jean Pierre and Steve Garrett, his Kimmel "comedy family," at the 2022 Academy Awards.
Courtesy of Brett Saxon
How did you end up securing your current gig as a staff writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live!?

After I went to Montreal’s New Faces in August 2014, my agents told me to move to L.A. So in January 2015, I moved out for the pilot season. I hit the city and was auditioning pretty much right away. I did commercials and classes, and I was just trying to meet people. Every once in a while, people get really lucky and instantly take off as soon as they get to town. For me, it was a lot of ups and downs. Times were hard for six years or so; I just couldn’t seem to figure out how to make stuff catch fire for me. ... My first three years, I didn't really have a day job, and I was just kind of piecing it together from a variety of different sources, and then I couldn't really do that anymore. I had to go back to having a day job, and I was working at a bank, which is what I was doing in Denver before I left, and that was a hard transition. I don't come from money or any kind of thing like that. My mom is a principal; she helps me as much as she can, but I had to work.

One of the things that helped convince me to stay in L.A. was advice I got from my agent, who said, "If you feel like you need to go back, that's okay. We’ll figure that out, but I think you should bet on yourself." And she was right. The pandemic hit while I was working at this bank. I was lucky to be working at the bank because we were essential, so I was employed during the whole pandemic. As the pandemic started to let up, they started to send out writing packets again. One of my friends, Bryan Cook, who's another writer at the show, sends me a text one day while I'm at the bank and he's like, "Oh, are you writing the Kimmel packet?" I didn't even know there was a Kimmel packet, but he told me more about it, and I submitted my clips that week. I never thought I was going to get it. And then the next week, they asked for my credits, and I sent those. Then they asked for my references, and I sent those. I started hearing from the references that they had contacted them. Finally, they asked me to do an interview, and the next thing I knew, I received a call from the Kimmel team with some of the best news of my life.

What has your experience been like writing for Jimmy Kimmel Live!?

Working at Jimmy Kimmel Live! is easily, without question, one of the absolute best things that has ever happened. I love it. I love everyone there. It's like one of those things you hear about that makes you feel kind of crazy. My job doesn't feel like work; it kind of feels like every day I'm going to hang out with my friends. We're a pretty tight-knit little comedy family.
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Troy Walker stands in costume as the Kwanzaroo in between Joe Tracy, Gary Greenberg as the Chanucorn and Jimmy Kimmel for a sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Courtesy of Danny Ricker

What is your favorite joke you’ve written for the show?

Individual jokes are hard for me to say because you write so many that it's kind of like sending them off and letting them go, you know? I think. My favorite bit that I got to co-write and be a part of was the Kwanzaroo. We do this bit every year called the Chanucorn, which one of the head writers, Gary Greenberg, created a long time ago. It's basically this mystical Hanukkah unicorn, and then the gag is basically that he interrupts Jimmy in the monologue at some point during Hanukkah every year and Jimmy's like, ‘The Chanucorn is not real; Gary made up this dumb thing.’ For my first Hanukkah in 2021, I pitched the idea of the Kwanzaroo interrupting the Chanucorn’s yearly appeal to Jimmy with another, totally real holiday character based around Kwanzaa. Gary and I worked together on that, and I had a lot of fun performing in that one. ... The coolest thing, among many, that I’ve gotten to be a part of since I started working at the show was, of course, getting to write for the Oscars. I’ve been a movie fan my entire life, so getting to be a small part of Hollywood’s biggest night is, of course, an incredibly surreal, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I only got to have because I’m lucky enough to work at Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

What can audiences expect from the show that you and your fellow Jimmy Kimmel Live! writers will be performing at Comedy Works South?

There are a few standups on the show who are writers on the show: me, Jesse Joyce, Devin Fields, Rory Albanese and my friend Bryan Cook, whom I mentioned earlier. Before I got there, they were talking about doing this standup show together at Jimmy's Comedy Club in Vegas. Obviously, those plans were derailed by the pandemic, but when I got there, the staff started loosely talking about doing it again. We did a test run of it at a local L.A. show, and we had such a good time that we started thinking about it again. I thought, "Well, maybe I should ask Wende [Curtis] at Comedy Works about dates." Wende is the awesome owner of Comedy Works, and she’s always up for some kind of new idea. We set up some dates; Bryan and Rory unfortunately couldn’t do it with us this time, but me, Devin and Jesse will be at Comedy Works trying to give people a great show. I wish I could tell you it was a little deeper than that, but we have a good crew of funny, experienced guys, and I honestly think our show’s tremendous, so I hope people come out ready to laugh.

Writers of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, June 22-25, Comedy Works South, 5345 Landmark Place, Greenwood Village. Find tickets ($16 for Thursday, June 22, $24 for all other dates), times and more information at comedyworks.com.
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