Stand-up comedy resurges in Boulder County
Boulder: The joke's on you
Posted: 03/09/2012 01:00:00 AM MST
Kelly MacLean wants to remind Boulder: One definition of enlightenment is to lighten up.
The 24-year-old comedian is down with spiritual pursuits. She was raised in a Buddhist household in Boulder. But MacLean thinks the city's inhabitants need to release from downward facing dog, slow the half-marathon training regimen and get off the zafu meditation pillow long enough to find their funny bone.
"A lot of Boulderites really take their vegan nutcake seriously," says MacLean, who produces a monthly stand-up night at The Bitter Bar in Boulder. "I think Boulder is an advanced, evolved place in a lot of ways. I think it's a really special community. Obviously, we're really educated and healthier and all of that. But I don't feel like we are much in the way of having a sense of humor, especially about ourselves."
And so, much of MacLean's stand-up comedy takes aim at her hometown.
"I think it's really just begging to be teased or roasted a little bit," she says.
MacLean is one of the funny people behind what seems to be a growing stand-up comedy scene in Boulder County. While the hunger for live humor isn't great enough to sustain even a weekly stand-up night anywhere in the area, three monthly shows have sprouted up, two within the past year, and that's promising. Whether or not the laughter dies down the road remains to be seen -- stand-up nights have come and gone in Boulder through the years. But for now audiences are supporting the live comedy.
Now if they could only learn to laugh at themselves, some organizers, like Marc Gitlin, say.
"We take ourselves seriously here," says Gitlin, owner of Nissi's nightclub in Lafayette. "We have a highly intelligent area, high education levels. There's a reason why that blue-collar comedy is so popular these days. Those people like to laugh at themselves."
Gitlin was general manager of Caroline's comedy club in New York during the late-1980s and early-1990s.
"Those were days when John Stewart, Ray Romano, Denis Leary -- they were all young comics," Gitlin said. "I used to pay those guys $30 a set."
Gitlin moved to Colorado in 1995, and in the back of his mind wanted to bring stand-up to Boulder County. In 2010, when he bought Nissi's, he reached out to Comedy Works in Denver to help him scout comics and book them at the Lafayette club.
Nissi's hosts music most nights of the week. At the club, diners can order from a full menu during a comic's set or a band's performance. The venue holds up to 150 people and boasts a large dance floor.
Most of the comics the facility hosts are from Denver. Josh Blue, winner of TV's "Last Comic Standing," has played the room, and Kevin Fitzgerald (TV's "Animal Planet") headlined Nissi's in February.
Its clientele fits mostly into the 35- to 55-year-old demographic, Gitlin says, and they come to the club from the outlying parts of Boulder County, Broomfield and even Denver. The shows tend to be cleaner than what audiences will find at Comedy Works, the venerable comedy clubs in Denver. But Gitlin has been surprised at times.
"Sometimes some of my acts are more risqué than others and they go over better than I thought they would," he says.
For now, The Bitter Bar and Nissi's host the county's only regular stand-up shows, but Matt Rushing, who put together the monthly Boulder Comedy Club's shows at The Lazy Dog last year, said BCC will return later this spring after a wintertime hiatus.
MacLean emcees The Bitter Bar shows -- her January intro included pokes at Boulder for being the worst-dressed city in America, and a funny bit about a dog and a jar of peanut butter -- and she books the talent that appears on the bar's corner stage.
While it started a year ago, Bitter Bar's stand-up night settled into a routine slot this past fall - the first Thursday of each month. The restaurant's comfortable interior includes a mix of couches and traditional tables and booths. Its menu, dotted with fois gras, French bread pudding and pomegranate appetizers, would tempt a foodie's palate.
MacLean, who graduated from New Vista High School, in Boulder, studied with the Los Angeles-based sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings, but got into stand-up comedy when, on a whim, she signed up to compete in a stand-up competition at CU in 2007.
"I went out that night and had a couple of cocktails with my mom and wrote three minutes of material," she says.
She won the competition. MacLean has worked at the downtown Denver Comedy Works laugh-shop -- she co-hosted an adult-oriented game-show last month -- but she thinks Boulder audiences are a unique breed, and that The Bitter Bar shows are catering to their tastes.
"It's been an exciting challenge to figure out which comics will work in Boulder," she says.
A decidedly very politically incorrect set by Denver's Greg Baumhauer last fall didn't click with Boulder audiences, MacLean says. On the other hand, Ben Kronberg's quirky observational humor ("A bun in the oven is cute ... a baby in the oven is horrifying," is a sample of the tone he set during his January show in Boulder) killed.
Crowds for The Bitter Bar comedy nights have been sizable, says the restaurant's general manager Camren Von Davis. The bar holds as many as 100 people, and most shows have sold out, or come close to selling out. Von Davis said he expects the interest in local comedy to continue.
"I have restaurant owners and managers and staff around town that have enjoyed it so much that they're talking about it with their patrons and telling them to come to it," Von Davis says. "The buzz is out." Matt Baca, a comic who lives in Denver but teaches at CU in the summer, found a willing audience when he performed at The Bitter Bar in January.
"A lot of the comedy shows I've been to in the past, if there's a lot of folks from Boulder, they don't necessarily like to poke fun at themselves," Baca says. "It's a funny kind of thing. But it was definitely different at The Bitter Bar; maybe because it's a younger crowd."
"I love Boulder; it's a cool town," Baca adds. "But people definitely have got to laugh at themselves more."
Contact Mark Collins at BDCTheater@comcast.net.
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