Back in 2005 my friend Nicole Simpson hit me up about doing a show at the Old Curtis Street Bar, a great old dive in Denver that has since been gutted and cleaned up and farmed-to-tabled like everything else in the city. She was bartending there and they were trying to get some new programming going so she asked her boss about maybe doing comedy and he agreed to try it.
“Okay, I’ll make the flyer,” she said over the phone when I said I’d do the show. “What do you want to call it?”
“Los Comicos Super Hilariosos!” I blurted out.
“Done,” she said, never giving the dumb name so much as a second thought.
I don’t really remember much about that first show – save for me and Andrew Orvedahl eating KFC bowls, having fake heart attacks and then defibrillating each other on stage (author’s note: our bit predated Patton Oswalt’s far-funnier bit). We charged five bucks at the door, split the take at the end of the night, and everyone involved agreed we ought to try it again. So we did. We did an entire year of shows at the Old Curtis, coasting on the goodwill of our friends and families who were still in that delicate grace period early in a comic’s career when they can actually get people close to them to come out to shows. I still remember my sister and her new boyfriend/now-husband graciously sitting through whiff after painful whiff.
But we were having fun. And we were getting better.
A co-worker’s boyfriend had a great little art space on Larimer Street called the Orange Cat Studios. I fell in love with the place and Sean Rice graciously agreed to host our monthly show. It was at the Orange Cat that Los Comicos really flourished. Our cast of characters changed from those original Old Curtis shows – Andrew Orvedahl took off to LA, Ben Kronberg as well – but we brought a newly sober Ben Roy on board, and the core crew of myself and Greg Baumhauer and Jim Hickox stayed the same. We showed occasional videos and did a news section called “Los Comicos Action News.” We printed up different flyers for every show and tattooed them all over the city. But more than anything, we lived for that stage time. Those shows were the highlight of our months; we needed them, and anything short of absolutely destroying would spin us into several days of depression.
The city rewarded our unhealthy monthly ritual by turning out in droves. The shows were packed. Like, one-in-one out, standing room only, people spilling out the doorway packed. The rise of Los Comicos dovetailed nicely with the national ascension of alt-comedy and in Denver, if you were into Mr. Show and podcasts and comics not talking about how fat their wife is, we were the show you wanted to see. The press was nice to us, we started snagging great guest comics when they came through town and all of a sudden we had a full-fledged local phenomenon on our hands. A phenomenon we rode until 2008, when the Orange Cat closed and we decided to end the show, rather than do it somewhere else. Kyle Kinane did the last show, we made a farewell video, and we walked out of the Orange Cat forever.
It would go on to get gutted and cleaned up like everything else in this city.
Maybe a year later we started the Grawlix at the Avenue Theater and our amazing fans followed us there. But something wasn’t really right. There was turmoil amongst the core members of the crew, differences of opinion and/or follow-through on what it took to run a great show, and so after much painful deliberation, and some bruised relationships and egos which I really hope have healed, we whittled the Grawlix down to myself and Ben Roy and Andrew Orvedahl (who had just recently returned from his sojourn to LA).
And that’s when things started to change.
I think all three of us had latched onto the concept of comedy-as-a-career and we were at the point in our lives where we were ready to push to the next level. To try and do this shit for a living. We had confidence that what we were doing was as funny and as valid as anything else going on in the country and I sincerely believe each of us felt it was only a matter of time before the entire comedy community learned that. Provided we put in the work. So we just got to work. We had been filming sketches here and there but the second the Grawlix became a trio we really doubled down on that effort. We reached out to the Nix Brothers, these amazingly talented local filmmakers, and in one of those great, small-town Denver turns, they already knew about us and were eager to work together! We made one sketch and it was so easy and fun that we decided to start the Grawlix web-series, a bunch of shorts chronicling the behind the scenes of the world’s Denver’s greatest comedy show. We crossed out, “the world” as a sort of visual joke in the credits to tell you everything you needed to about the hubris and naiveté of these three asshole protagonists. It was us winking at the viewer. But in a muted-desperation, fly-over-states kind of way, I think it was also our way of saying, “Hey! We’re doing something pretty cool over here too! In the middle of the goddamned country! Maybe you guys should pay attention!”
Remarkably people did. After posting two or three episodes Hollywood types started getting in touch with us about turning the Grawlix into a TV show. Ben and Andrew and I had all advanced to points in our careers where we were New Facing and agent-ing and manager-ing and lawyering up so this concept was not completely foreign to us, but still, the fact that people were responding to something we were filming completely on our own and throwing onto the internet lit a fire under our asses in a way that nothing else could. I think the Nix Brothers probably felt the same way. We filmed those episodes on the weekends in each other’s homes and in borrowed businesses and performance spaces on no budget whatsoever and still we put everything we had into them. We would not tolerate sloppy performances or storytelling or filmmaking. We took that shit seriously. As seriously as you can take dick jokes.
It also helped that we were starting to get recognized around town. That felt pretty cool.
Somewhere in the middle of all this we moved over to the Bug Theater. Alex Weimer, who runs the place, was a fan/friend of the Nix Brothers and I suppose, by association, the Grawlix, and he welcomed us with open arms. More amazing small-town Denver shit. He gave us a great deal on the space and would literally exhaust himself turning over the house between the production of whatever play was being staged at the Bug and our last-Friday-of-the-month shenanigans. The Grawlix at the Bug was an instant success. The incredible comedy fans of Denver followed us once again. James Adomian kicked off that first show with a typical tour de force, and we knew we really had to work to keep things at that level. Denver was exploding as a comedy scene, amazing shows were popping up every night of the week; we were really going to have to bring it to consistently draw crowds with so many amazing options out there. Fortunately we had a ton of help.
We snagged Illegal Pete’s as a sponsor. But Pete Turner and Virgil Dickerson were way more than just a sponsorship. They put out our albums, they helped promote us at every turn, and they were tireless in helping get the Grawlix word out. And with their monthly endorsement check we started flying out comics for each show. We strived to bring in people that we thought our fans would like, often going for the biggest name we could get, but just as often bringing in somebody that we knew and loved, but who was still relatively unknown. Those comics in turn gained a barrage of new Denver fans and left town singing the praises of the magical little comedy scene at 5280 feet. Other local comics started putting on shows around the Grawlix, shows that took place on Saturday and Sunday after our regular Friday show, and we started sending our out of town guests that way, the comics appreciating the extra money and stage-time on their little jaunt to Denver, the people running the shows appreciating having such good comics on their shows. Soon comics just started being conveniently in town for the last Friday of the month. That was a nice turn of events, really made booking a lot easier. It got to the point where we could fly in a guest, and then regularly rely on an amazing comic or two to just happen to be in town also, comics from San Francisco or Chicago or Atlanta or Austin or Omaha. Not to mention New York and LA. The Grawlix became a stopping ground for fellow travelers. I always liked to think of it that way, anyway.
Meanwhile the Denver comedy scene continued to cultivate great comics with such incredible frequency we could barely get them on our stage fast enough. But Denver’s always been good for that.
And still people continued to offer to help. We got Ryan Brackin to take photos every month. We got Michael King to design flyers and posters. We got Andy Juett to help in every variety of way, from booking hotel rooms to recording the most hilarious Grawlix intros month after month. My buddy Heath O’Campo worked the door. When he couldn’t, Kim Nix took the reins. David Soto ran our social media; Ron Doyle kept our websites afloat and edited the Grawlix compilations. The crew helping us grew so large that Andrew printed up laminated passes and handed them out to people on “Team Grawlix.” We had to print up a second batch. The Grawlix really started to feel like a family and I loved that. It felt like home, like a community. That’s how our shows have always felt. My best friend Monty was the first person to ever work the door. My little sister Lydia took over after that.
From the start our one rule was that the three core members of the Grawlix had to bring ten new minutes of material every month, as a way of rewarding our regular fans. These people were choosing to repeatedly give us their money, to follow our careers, what kind of showmen would we be if we couldn’t give them new material? Besides it kept us writing; kept us on our game. To see Ben and Andrew and I those last few days before a Grawlix was to see three neurotic fucking messes, anxiously mining every bit of our lives for some seed to take to stage. Ben usually wouldn’t leave his house the last Thursday of the month, so busy was he working on his latest opus.
But as a comic, in a way, that’s the best feeling. To have something untested, something you have no idea whether or not it’s going to work, and to be about to take the stage for the first time to tell it. It’s thrilling. And the Grawlix gave us that every single month.
My favorite part was the intros. Working on some three-man sketch that we had come up with the day before, nervously pacing backstage with Ben and Andrew as we tried to hit the broad strokes of the sketch confidently enough to present it on stage mere minutes later – that’s the shit that makes your blood move.
I’m going to miss that.
Through it all there were those people out there in the audience, those invaluable asses in seats – following us to other shows, sharing our videos, downloading our podcasts, buying our albums, helping us spread this Grawlix thing all over the place because they believed in us. And because of that we believed more in ourselves.
And now we have to hang it all up. Or at the very least, end our monthly Denver comedy show that in some way, shape or form we’ve been doing for the past nine, ten years. We got ourselves a little TV show. I won’t bore you with the details; that’s not the purpose of this naval-gazing screed and I’ve rattled on long enough. The point is that this feels like the start of something. And though no big battle has been won yet, though in a lot of ways one could argue that now our careers are only really actually beginning – Christ, we still haven’t even made the TV show (pre-production is a bitch) – all of this somehow feels like an accomplishment. Like we really may have done something cool here. In Denver. This city that we love.
And to bring it to a close feels overwhelming.
Sometimes I feel like I blinked and I went from sitting around a back booth with my buddies at the Lion’s Lair to sitting around a writer’s room table with them making a goddamn TV show.
It’s a good type of overwhelming.
So I guess I just wanted to say thanks to everybody. Thank you for always believing in and supporting us. Thank you to everyone that ever came to a show and thank you to everyone who ever performed on one. Thank you Ben Kronberg and Jim Hickox and Greg Baumhauer. Thank you Nix Brothers. Thank you Ben and Andrew. Thank you, Denver. The platform you gave us meant and continues to mean the world to us.
Now if you’ll excuse us, it’s time to do what we’ve always done: make a show that you’ll be proud to call your own.