Spit Take Saturday: High Plains Comedy Festival

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HPCF-logo_small_new-330x207Welcome to Spit Take Saturday, courtesy of Brown Paper Tickets’ Comedy Doer Julie Seabaugh and her professional comedy criticism site The Spit Take. Julie’s goal with the site is to “elevate the public perception of stand-up comedy to that of a legitimate art form, and to enable comedy criticism be taken as seriously as that of theater, film, music, food, even video games. No a**-kissing. No bias. No mercy. Just honest, unfiltered, long-form reviews written by professional, knowledgeable comedy critics.” 

Every week Julie will select an entry from the site to be included on our blog and hand-pick some related events happening that week that she feels all you comedy lovers out there will appreciate.

So, without further ado, let us introduce you to this week’s Spit Take Saturday!

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Denver has been in desperate need of a national-quality stand-up festival for years. The explosion of open mics and alternative showcases, plus the city’s growing reputation as an incubator of new talent has nevertheless failed to put it on the same footing as similar scenes in Austin, Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon. Newer events like the Laugh Track Comedy Festival or the punk-rock Too Much Funstival are stacked with talented locals and a few out-of-towners, but neither have the resources or attention to compete with something like Portland’s Bridgetown Comedy Festival.

Cue the High Plains Comedy Festival, a two-day event run by Adam Cayton-Holland and Andy Juett. Cayton-Holland and his Grawlix troupe buddies Andrew Orvedahl and Ben Roy are not just at the top of the Denver food chain, they’ve been dining out at festivals like Just For Laughs Montreal and flirting with fame via Conan spots and Amazon pilots. The relationships they’ve built touring nationally gave them a chance to book solid out-of-town talent for the first year of this mostly-DIY festival (as did, of course, the bankrolling of its sponsors).

High Plains unfolded like a hybrid of Bridgetown—with its hip music stages and audiences—and The Denver Post‘s Underground Music Showcase, which takes over the same stretch of South Broadway annually. The first day drew crowds to a podcast taping and happy-hour showcase at indie club the Hi-Dive, where Denver’s Christie Buchele joked about her cerebral palsy while struggling to navigate the stairs to the stage. Matt Monroe, Kevin O’Brien and Troy Walker, all of whom run their own shows or headline locally, warmed the crowd up for headliners Beth Stelling and Kurt Braunohler.

Across the street at 3 Kings Tavern, Comedy Works regulars Louis Johnson and Orvedahl discussed decapitating hookers and unwanted urinal conversations. Andy Peters’s agreeably neurotic set disarmed the crowd with a bit about his phone substituting Hitler for hotel in predictive text, and wholly unnecessary slogans for things like milk and gasoline. A running open mic at bro-dude bar The Hornet allowed shut-out locals and anyone else a spot to try material. Kudos to hosts Brent Gill and Aaron Urist for keeping the loud, drunken crowds under control.

Fine Gentleman’s Club member Nathan Lund’s self-deprecating set kicked off another round at 3 Kings, which comic-for-comic hosted the best stuff of the night. From the bearded, articulate whimsy of Jordon Doll to the perfectly calibrated David Gborie and always-brilliant Kyle Kinane, it was an example of how to do comedy right at a music venue (hint: folding chairs with ample aisle room and a bar staff that didn’t try to yell over the comics).

Marc Maron, who wasn’t officially on the roster, popped over from Comedy Works for a recording of Cayton-Holland’s My Dining Room Table podcast the next day, setting the stage for the crowds that would rule the rest of the night. The main events shifted down South Broadway to the Gothic Theatre, which sold out its Grawlix and Reggie Watts showcases quickly and reverted to standing-room-only tickets to accommodate lines down the block. Room-owning sets from Dave Stone, Roy, Chris Charpentier, Braunohler, Kinane and Matt Braugner were topped off with Watts’s oddly clipped performance, which found the musical-comedy improviser admitting he’d eaten some incredibly powerful weed edibles earlier (and it showed).

It’s easy to envision the fest getting bigger and buzzier next year, since it so easily hit the mark in giving Denver the marquee comedy event it’s been missing.

By John Wenzel

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For other comedy festivals on the horizon, check out:

Wednesday, September 4 I Indiana Comedy FestivalEvansville, Indiana  The Indiana Comedy Festival, sponsored by Hoosier Park Racing & Casino and Heroes Vodka presents ten of the funniest comics in competition for a $5,000 1st Prize. Comics are judged on stage presence, writing and their ability to bring the funny!

Thursday, September 12-Saturday, September 21 I San Francisco Improv FestivalSan Francisco, California  Are there more than 4 shows you’d like to see in the amazing lineup at the SF Improv Fest 2013? Here’s your chance to get in to *every* show on your list – the Festival Pass – $65 gets you into over $400 worth of shows!!

Sunday, September 15-Sunday, September 22 I #AccidentalComedyFestCleveland, Ohio  Taking place from September 15 thru Sept 22, the festival will take place at venues all over Cleveland. Limited # of VIP passes available, which includes admission to all shows with a cover + preferred seating at free programming AND your choice of 1 #accidentalcomedyfest gig poster.