Denver is positively lousy with standup-comedy open mics. In the hierarchy of performing arts, open-mic comedy falls somewhere below magic shows and juggling acts on the scale of public appreciation. However, open mics are a vital training ground for fledgling standups and old pros alike, a unique environment where audiences' low expectations and widespread apathy make it possible for great jokes to emerge in moments of spontaneous inspiration, then slowly take shape over a process of trial and error. Sometimes the shows are an utter slog; sometimes they're blessed or plagued with an air of barely restrained chaos.
Here to help readers navigate the open-mic scene is Open Mic Check, a handy guide to the best and worst stages in the city. The column's second edition spotlights the comedy open mic at the Matchbox on Sunday, May 20. The monthly show returns on Sunday, June 24, at 10 p.m.
Back in 2015, when the comedy open mic at Matchbox was a weekly affair hosted by prodigal Denverite Kevin O'Brien, Westword bestowed a Best of Denver award on the reliably chaotic Sunday night haunt for local comics — mere weeks before a punchy audience member attacked the intractable host, an incident that ultimately led to the mic's cancellation. O'Brien moved to New York City; the mic at Matchbox's sister location, the Squire Lounge, came to a close; and Denver comics branched out into other venues. It seemed like the end of an era, but Pussy Bros. co-founder Christie Buchele convinced Matchbox's owners to revive the open mic on a monthly basis during the summer.
The room: The bar room at Matchbox is small and often crowded, with no dedicated area for a stage. The spacious back patio, however, seems tailor-made for comedic hijinks. Surrounded by colorful street art that adorns the alleys of the River North Art District, the patio offers ample seating at rows of benches and picnic tables, though many comics opt to stand and lurk. Outdoor comedy is always a dicey proposition, but Buchele's revival of the Matchbox mic has been especially plagued by intemperate weather, a tradition that continued last Sunday. Indeed, after a day of moderate showers, most of the benches were still a bit damp and puddles had collected in low-lying corners. As a result, turnout was lower than expected, with roughly fifteen comics signed up to perform and just a small handful of drinkers willing to indulge them.
The host: With nearly eight years behind the mic, Christie Buchele is a seasoned emcee by this point in her career, capable of opening a show with verve and maintaining energy throughout the night. Buchele is unsparing with her post-set roasts of fumbling, hackneyed or otherwise unpleasant comics. Unlike her predecessor, however, Buchele is gracious, even chatty, with audience members, though perhaps that's because their bar tabs go toward her earnings.
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The crowd: Once again, the cold, damp evening most likely put a damper on attendance, but a humble gathering of Matchbox patrons eventually stopped chatting and got into the rhythm of the show — though many comics essentially spent the first minute or so of their sets getting the crowd to refocus. Apart from Buchele, no one assembled on the patio heckled the performers, though one of the hazards of outdoor mics is that the hecklers can come from anywhere, including the alley.
Notable sets: Overall, the attending comedians remained admirably committed to trying out new material and winning over the restive yet responsive audience. Boozy late-night open mics tend to reward standups who stray from their set list, and Sunday night at the Matchbox was no exception. Prodigal Denverite Brett Hiker easily had the most memorable set of the evening, thanks to the interjections of an alleyway heckler. The initially nonplussed Hiker eventually developed a strange anti-rhythm with the mostly unseen interloper, who crushed her exit with a pantomime of walking down stairs. While the rainy weather didn't offer an accurate assessment of how the Matchbox mic goes, spontaneous moments of weirdness like that are just one reason Denver comedy fans should be happy that it's back.
Sign-up for the Matchbox open mic begins at 10 p.m. every last Sunday (except May, when it was rescheduled a week early to avoid Memorial Day Weekend), at 2625 Larimer Street. For more information on Denver open mics, visit 5280Comedy.