Before a recent Boulder performance, Denver comedian Darius Dinkins said his comedian friends wished him a special dose of luck because Boulder carries a reputation for an opaque sense of humor.
He was performing at The Tune Up last month at a show put on by Laugh Lines Comedy Club, which hosted a biweekly comedy night at the bicycle and community spot earlier this summer.
The free show included a few established comedians in addition to some newbies. My friend and I, we found out, were the only ones there who didn’t personally know a performer.
Boulder’s not necessarily a funny place. It has a dirt-bag silliness baked into it, but the boulder pie has a prominent serious side, marked by environmental activism, progressivism, spiritualism and, increasingly, Tesla-ism. Each have their merits, of course, but each has its own self-serious gravitational pull.
In addition to the Boulder Comedy Show, put on and produced by Brent Gill Sunday evenings at Rayback Collective since 2013, in the past year, something in the dry Boulder air has nudged locals to exercise their city’s funny bone as two new comedy efforts have sprung up.
This article chronicles the efforts working to get Boulder laughing.
“People want to see comedy and they want to see it in a club environment,” says Brad Belanger, Laugh Lines’ founder. “I’m not entirely sure why no one’s tried to do this. I feel like it’s something Boulder really needs. I see the demand for it.”
Before the pandemic forced him to redevelop his business plan, Brad only got in eight of his New-York-style shows — where several comics deliver short, 10-minute stand-up sets — at his short-lived brick-and-mortar stint on Pearl Street’s East End.
“We are trying to provide a hub for everything comedy,” Brad says, hoping to eventually establish Laugh Lines as an institution for improvisation classes, open-mic shows and first-time comedians.
Brad established Laugh Lines in January 2020 and had a location on Pearl Street for mere months before the pandemic hit.
Since pandemic restrictions lifted, Laugh Lines has hosted 12 shows in Boulder, including ones at the Niche Event Space, Tune Up and Mason Jar Event Center.
Brad’s not the only one trying a new Boulder comedy endeavor.
Though Boulder Comedy Festival’s Zoe Rogers started planning her four-day event before the coronavirus hit the United States, she introduced her inaugural series this summer.
A standup herself, Zoe started performing in Los Angeles a decade ago. When she moved to Boulder, the small, inclusive comedy scene surprised her, and the lack of outlets.
Stifled in L.A. by a saturated market and “lineups of straight, white guys,” Zoe saw the opportunity to do something different in Boulder.
Zoe had performers and dates confirmed last year for her inaugural event before the pandemic cancelled it. This year’s lineup boasted 17 Colorado comics, 80-120 people attending every night and five in-person shows at the Dairy Arts Center, and Louisville’s Tilt Pinball and Tiki Hut on Main Street.
Comics get more stage time in Boulder because they face fewer competition, and the audiences show more engagement than in LA, Zoe says.
“Here, you can have a little venue with such a rich turnout of people,” Zoe says. “The people here really like comedy, and they like not having to drive an hour into Denver or have a two-drink minimum, but just going out and laughing for 90 minutes.”
At a Laugh Lines’ Tune Up show I attended last month, Brad set up extra chairs in rows once the bar’s tables were filled with performers’ friends and family. Though most people held a beer, the shop’s atmosphere — bikes, appropriate clothing and equipment lining the walls — contributed to the show’s casualness, an afternoon running errands rather than a late-night ticketed occasion.
Early to bed, early to rise
Zoe agrees Boulder’s sense of humor is different, but could be to timing since a 10 p.m. show in Denver, for example, is much different than a 6 p.m. show in Boulder.
Different times and venues attract different kinds of people. “Sometimes you have to get pretty racy or raunchy with certain crowds to get them to listen and pay attention,” Zoe says. “Boulder is the opposite of that. It’s very into vulnerable, personal stuff.”
Brad has plans to book shows at Niche Event Space through October with the hope it would become a regular open mic event, Zoe has announced a 2022 return for her festival and Brett’s weekly show keeps humming.