What makes a joke funny or a song sound good is subjective; in that respect, comedy and music are aligned. But what happens when comedians and musicians come together on the same bill to perform on the same stage?
“A lot of times when it does happen, it doesn’t go off right,” notes comedian Timmi Lasley. “It requires the crowd to engage in a different way, which is sort of a gear shift — but the best shows are when you can make that gear shift smoothly.” Lasley is a staple in Denver’s bright comedy scene, a standup comedian who hosts the popular monthly show Epilogue Comedy at Mutiny Information Cafe and books and runs the Comedy RoomRoom at El Charrito. She’s also a seasoned comedy-show curator whose broad outlook and years of experience have led her to both good and bad experiences with bands and comedians sharing a bill.
“Comedy needs a special little block; it’s much harder for us to just go up in between the bands,” Lasley says. “I don’t know why it doesn’t work. When and why that moment is created where comedy could really be watched and appreciated — it’s like an endless fascination of mine.” Lasley says the creation of “that moment” has a lot to do with authority and whether comedians are given any when it comes to the mic in the room. She says that comics are often treated as second-string players whose inclusion seems like an afterthought. An audience that isn’t expecting comedy at a rock show or music festival doesn’t necessarily know how to respond.
“I’ll give you an example,” Lasley says. “I did a benefit a while back where there was a burlesque dancer right before me and I was the only comedian. I got up on stage, and a drunk guy came up and ripped the microphone from my hand. It was because I had zero authority.” She adds that in her experience, the best plan by far is to have three or four comedians perform and then bring the music into the equation.
Comedian and musician Ben Kronberg has a slightly different outlook when it comes to a show’s potential vibe. “I think it all has to do with your mental approach to it. If you go into thinking that it might not be ideal, it probably won’t be. But if you go into the situation embracing it, you can figure out a way to make it work.” Kronberg is a Denver comic who has gone on to crush the national stage, appearing on Comedy Central, Late Night With Seth Meyers and Last Comic Standing, among other standup outlets. As a musician, he sees open mics as a model for how comedians and musicians can work together.
“Incidental discovery happens all the time at music open mics, or just open mics in general,” says Kronberg. “People at music open mics are used to singer-songwriter after singer-songwriter, so they actually appreciate that there’s a comedian going up.”
Musician Emily Frembgen agrees. “I kind of like the break in the vibe. I like the changing; it makes it interesting. I think a lot of musicians would be doing comedy and a lot of comedians would be doing music; there’s a common thread.”
Frembgen grew up in Denver and, like Kronberg, eventually moved to New York City, where the two met for the first time a few years ago. Together they run a comedy-and-music show called Folk Night. Since Frembgen and Kronberg were planning to visit their home town this month, they decided to bring Folk Night to Denver, collaborating with friends Lasley and musician and onetime sketch comedian Chella Negro.
Being immersed in both scenes, Negro says she sees the advantages and disadvantages of combining them. “The communities are so similar, but often when we do shows together, it doesn’t really hit.... Then we don’t do it for a while and we forget — we’re like goldfish,” she says with a laugh. Negro also says that one of the biggest factors in the success of a blended night is the venue.
DIY spaces and more non-traditional venues — rooms that aren’t specifically dedicated to either comedy shows or concerts — tend to be the best kinds of places for such an event to unfold. When a venue is known for mixing it up and offering an array of performers and performances, there’s less pressure from the audience to deliver a certain kind of product. Like Brooklyn’s Dun-Well Donuts, where Kronberg and Frembgen’s Folk Night usually takes place, Denver’s Mutiny Information Cafe — and Deer Pile, where they will also perform during their visit — offers that kind of environment.
“Spaces [like] Deer Pile and Mutiny are very inclusive; they are both ideal environments [with] small, speakeasy vibes,” says Kronberg. “It’s not about being in a bar or a venue where people are having to spend a lot of money buying drinks and stuff.” Personal connections to people who work with the venues is also key to getting a show booked, which is where Lasley came into the picture. Hosting a monthly comedy show at Mutiny made it easy for her to set up Folk Night there, which will take place on June 27 and feature performances by Negro and Lasley. Frembgen and Negro are both singer-songwriters as well as friends; the two had been talking about playing together for a long time, and this trip presented an opportunity to do that.
For the Mutiny show, the foursome strategically left some room on the bill for surprise guests. Kronberg anticipates that friends — many of whom will inevitably be comedians and musicians — will be in the audience, and he wants to make sure that they get some stage time, too. Another benefit of a non-traditional venue: Nothing has to be set in stone, and the show can flow in any direction.
“I’m nervous, because I always feel like musicians are so much cooler than comedians,” says Lasley. “Bands get to be cool, and I’m like, ‘Can everyone shut up and listen now?’ Everyone’s partying, and then Timmi Lasley gets up and tells the crowd to shhhh.”
“When I play without my band [Chella and the Charm], the only difference between me and a comedian is that I have a guitar,” says Negro. “Still, I’m up there like, ‘Okay, I’m going to sing some songs about broken hearts now; sorry you just laughed at fifty dick jokes.’”
“My friend Chelsea [Taylor] is a comedian, and she says that comedy and music is a great combination because we’re all so sad,” Frembgen says, pausing for a moment to let the joke set in. Frembgen is known for her muted guitar playing, gentle voice and deeply personal lyrics, but not so secretly, she’s also one hell of a comedian.
When it comes down to it, whether it’s music or comedy or everything in between, it’s only as good as the people performing. And if comedy and music can make it together, this is the group of performers to make it happen. With an established act like Kronberg, the dedication of Lasley and the years of experience that Frembgen and Negro have singing on stages alone with their guitars, the night will deliver. And if you don’t like comedy and music together? “You’re still getting entertainment,” says Kronberg. “You can always change the channel if you don’t like what you’re listening to, or you can get up and go do a trivia night instead.”
“Or you can write something on the Facebook page,” interjects Frembgen.
“Or write a Yelp review on the Facebook page about what you didn’t get and what you wanted,” says Kronberg.
“Bring it,” says Frembgen.
Folk Night with Ben Kronberg, Emily Frembgen, Malkah Duprix and Johnny Morehouse
8 p.m. Thursday, June 16, Deer Pile, 206 East 13th Avenue, free, donations welcome.
See Kronberg and Frembgen with Timmy Lasley, Chella Negro and surprise guests performing Monday, June 27, at 8 p.m. at Mutiny Information Café, 2 South Broadway. This show is also donation-based. For more information, find these shows on Facebook.