When local comedian Michael Jeffries stepped up to the mic at Max Taps Brewery in Highlands Ranch, the room was filled with a variety of suburbanites.
Folks just getting off work, couples young and old, friend groups and beer lovers filed into the seats in the back room of the brewery on Jan. 25. Minutes before, the room was occupied by a crowd from a funeral reception.
Jeffries, 29, who produces and hosts the show, opened with a joke apologizing for his appearance.
“I made the mistake of sleeping on my hair last night,” he said. “I know I should start sleeping on a mattress instead, but mattresses are expensive and the hair is free if you don’t ask any stupid (expletive) questions.”
When Jeffries first started the suburban showcase, he was asked to only book comics who will remain clean and non-political. The crowds in the suburbs tend to skew older and more conservative, after all.
The problem, he said, is that leaves almost no one to perform. So, he asked the owner to trust him and after one show, he was given full authority to just book the funniest people possible.
“Just because you live in the suburbs doesn’t mean you don’t like to laugh,” Jeffries said. “Even if the joke is dirty … or even against your political beliefs.”
Jeffries is just one of the Denver-based comedians capitalizing on the fact that while everyone enjoys laughing, not everyone wants to sit in an hour of traffic to do it.
While solid comedy is generally successful everywhere, there are some big differences between the suburban and urban comedy scenes. Those distinctions just might be the reason downtown’s shows are experiencing huge growth and the outskirts are seeing a slower uptick.
For starters, the suburbs are much more spread out, meaning ride-sharing services can get expensive quickly, said Wende Curtis, owner of Comedy Works, which has locations in downtown Denver and Greenwood Village.
Curtis opened up Comedy Works’ suburban club in 2008 after market research showed that’s where the bulk of people are moving, she said.
“It’s 13 1/2 miles from the original location downtown … but it’s a world away,” she said.
Even if suburban crowds still like to laugh at the not-so-clean jokes, producers still tend to book people who lean away from dirtier humor in their sets.
“My philosophy is on a Saturday night if I’ve got tickets available and people can walk in and buy a ticket, I want to appeal to (our audience),” Curtis said. “Chances are you might get somebody a little edgier walking in downtown and you’re going to get somebody a little cleaner if you go south.”
Another factor challenging the comedy scene in the suburbs is the demographics. Josue Flores, a Denver-based comedy producer, describes his target ticket buyer as between the ages of 21 and 34. In the city center, there’s a higher density of this group. A few miles from downtown, the crowds tend to skew a little older, more conservative and less diverse, Flores said.
That’s why the suburbs tend to be a place where local comics can really put their jokes to the test said Korey David, a local comedian and producer.
“The suburban rooms are where you find out what your material actually is,” David said. “It’s easy to pander to audiences in the urban area because everyone agrees with you.”
David, who hosts a traveling show called “Rotating Taps” at breweries in places like Centennial, Lakewood and Parker, has realized you often have to start safe at the suburban shows, he said. That’s because many people in these areas have never seen a show like this.
“You’re just dealing with different types of people who are going to find different types of comedy funny,” he said. “Once you start getting repeat customers, then you can take more risks.”
David also hosts a regular show in Arvada called Hootenanny, which combines live music and comedy.
“A lot of times people think it will be rough (in the suburbs) but it’s actually quite the opposite,” he said.
In Parker, stand-up comedian Rion Evans and improv comedian Grant Garrison are also both working to distinguish the small town as a strong place for comedy.
“I want to turn Parker into the city that’s known for having the best comedy scene in Colorado,” Garrison said. “I don’t want to commute for my comedy.”
While the audiences tend to be extra appreciative of these live shows close to home, they can also be pickier.
“When you’re older, you’re more selective,” Curtis said. “You just want to see who you want to see.”
Another reason the community hasn’t taken off more is because of a lack of open mics for people to try out comedy for the first time, said Harrison Garcia, another local comic working the suburban crowds.
“I wouldn’t say that any places in (suburban Denver) have their own distinct scene,” he said, “Most of the time a comedy scene needs a few venues that are willing to regularly host not only shows but open mics allowing new comics to try things out.”
As Denver and its comedy scene continue to grow, spaces like the ones Garcia described will continue to pop up, Curtis said. But will the same happen in the suburbs?
“I think the more urban (shows) are going to have a better success rate than the suburban ones, but you know, eventually something’s going to stick,” Curtis said. “Build it and they will come and if it’s strong enough … they’re going to come back.”
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