Vatos Locos Is Denver's First Bilingual Comedy Festival | Westword

Vatos Locos Is Denver's First Bilingual Comedy Festival

Ricky Ramos went from the streets to standup, and he's uplifting other local comedians with Vatos Locos, which will take place in Denver, Longmont and Greeley during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Ricky Ramos with fellow comedians and fans at Raíces Brewing Company.
Ricky Ramos with fellow comedians and fans at Raíces Brewing Company. Brie Ruiz-Ramos
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Ricky Ramos came up in the streets, but luckily for the Front Range comedy scene, he realized his creativity had the potential to take him further than hustling ever could.

"I was born and raised in Denver, before all the gentrification happened," he says. "I grew up off of 38th and Federal when it was still the Northside and not the Highlands. I grew up gang-related. Going to school I was getting good grades and stuff, [but] I was still running the streets with my friends."

But after a long series of life events — incarceration, his family's move to Longmont, the Boulder court system candidly telling him, "You need to figure out something to do with your time" — his perspective shifted toward new horizons. The final push was when a friend graduating from college with a creative writing degree told him they were headed for a career in standup.

"It kind of brewed with me for a little bit," Ramos remembers. "I'd watched my dad watch George Carlin and Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy and all these guys. My dad was a big fan of standup. And so I was like, 'Well, how do I get into something like that?'" Ramos's friend told him to write five minutes of funny material and come to an open mic.

"I did my set. I failed miserably...but I took it as a challenge," he recalls. "I took a step back, like, 'What the fuck else do I have going on? I come from the streets. What am I going to do — go back to selling crack? Go back to selling drugs? Go back to the hood? I don't have anything, let me try something different here.'

And I did, and I stuck with it, and I started grinding it out."
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Vatos Locos Comedy Festival
Side Splitting Entertainment
Ten years later, he's not only running half a dozen or so open-mic rooms throughout the area, but his comedy brand Side Splitting Entertainment is giving his (and Denver's) Mexican-American heritage some much-needed visibility with the area's first-ever bilingual comedy festival. The Vatos Locos Comedy Festival will stretch from Weld County to Denver from Wednesday, September 27, through Saturday, September 30, with four nights showcasing comics from around the country speaking both Spanish and English, buoyed by headliners Javi Luna and Mark Christopher Lawrence. There will be shows in Denver (Adobo, Bar 38 and Raíces Brewing Company), Longmont (The Speakeasy) and Greeley (the Moxi Theater), with an early and a late show on each date.

The festival's genesis is closely intertwined with Ramos's own comedy development over the last decade. He credits local comedy elder John "Hippieman" Novosad with giving him a crucial stylistic push early on.

"He said, 'You're there, you've got stage presence, you've got a persona, but you ain't talking about shit,'" recalls Ramos. "'None of your jokes mean shit, you're not saying anything. Next time I see you I wanna know: What separates you from the pack? Why should people listen to you? Why should people follow you? Why should people buy tickets from you?'" Taking the advice to heart, Ramos leaned into material that was rougher and rawer, but also much more personal.

"I started talking about growing up in Denver, being gentrified, being pushed out of my neighborhood, being addicted to drugs, going to prison, coming home from prison, trying to restart," he says.

It was a winning formula: "As I soon as I did that, dude, it skyrocketed to something I never believed possible."

As his style evolved, Ramos's emerging brand of Latin comedy received positive receptions from fans, including Tamil Maldonado Vega and José D. Beteta, the founders of Raíces Brewing Company. In late 2019, they wanted to bring a comedic element to Raíces, but they also wanted to honor their shared heritage by offering material in both Spanish and English. Despite his pride in his Northside roots, Ramos was initially a bit skeptical of the idea.
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Vatos Locos headliners Mark Christopher Lawrence and Javi Luna.
Side Splitting Entertainment
"I don't know if this is going to work, man," he remembers thinking. "I was walking through the halls of Comedy Works and I was like, 'There's no Mexicans here.'" But the entrepreneurs had faith in Ramos, and it wasn't long after the first successful bilingual night that the comedian was happily surprised to see others following suit. He estimates there are now a dozen bilingual comics working in the area, including Rick Bryan, Israel Avila, Philip Cono and Raymond Ace.

"It makes my heart filled with joy," Ramos says. What's even more impressive is that "we were the first to do it," he adds.

After a couple years of building momentum with regular bilingual nights at Raíces, and with mentorship from Joey Medina (of the Original Latin Kings of Comedy) in ’21 and ’22, this year Ramos is ready to celebrate his peers near and far in a big way with the Vatos Locos festival, which also lands smack dab in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month. He adds that honoring the culture of his gente in Denver will always be front and center.

"I always wanted to preserve my neighborhood, I always wanted to preserve our heritage," he says. "If you take a look into the annals of history of Denver...Chicanos were the ones that built Denver, like, we built the city itself. ... The last thing I wanted was to have the gentrification come through and knock down murals that will forever be lost and my heritage just pushed to the side. So I wanted the bilingual festival to highlight the fact that Denver is a very, very heavily Mexican-American populated city still."

The Vatos Locos Comedy Festival, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 27, Raíces Brewing Company, 2060 West Colfax Avenue; 10 p.m. Wednesday, September 27, Adobo, 3109 Federal Boulevard; 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday, September 28, Bar 38, 3550 West 38th Street, #98; 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, September 29, The Speakeasy, 301 Main Street, Longmont; 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, September 30, the Moxi Theater, 802 9th Street, Greeley. Tickets are $10-$15 on eventbrite.
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