“At that moment, I thought I’d ruined my life,” explained Jake Norris as he graphically described a gruesome climbing accident to a room full of strangers. The accomplished distiller, who’s widely known for his work at Stranahan’s and Laws Whiskey House, explained that a dumb teenage mistake was the catalyst for his success in the spirits industry. Because before the accident, he was hoping to become a firefighter. But after falling 30 feet onto solid rock during a flash flood, his dreams (along with his left ankle and several vertebrae in his back) were shattered.
“The only thing I could think of was, ‘Hey, I’m not dead!'” said Norris to the crowd—who after Norris’ surprisingly comedic recount, were uproariously laughing.
This type of laughter, though, is typical at FuckUp Nights. The international movement, originally founded in Mexico City, is designed to allow people to not only share their stories of failure but to make light of them. And while FuckUp nights welcomes a variety of speakers, many of Denver’s most notable entrepreneurs have graced its stage.
“Denver is a goldmine for creative, brave, curious human beings,” said Lauren Butts, owner of LoLo LLC the storytelling agency responsible for bringing it to Denver. “One thing I have learned from owning a storytelling agency is that every human is on a journey, writing his or her own story.”
So far, well-known business owners including Justin Cucci of Edible Beats, the restaurant group responsible for Linger, Root Down and more, as well as “Distilling God,” Todd Leopold have both admitted their respective failures (including a $20,000 mistake that almost cost Leopold his now famous brand, Leopold Bros.)
“The stories range from straight up weird to oddly relatable. Some are hilarious and super crass and others are tremendously humbling.”
“The stories range from straight up weird to oddly relatable. Some are hilarious and super crass and others are tremendously humbling,” said Butts. “Jake Norris’ story really resonated with the crowd because he overcame some crazy obstacles before becoming a distiller. Very few people know that his career stemmed from a chain of tumultuous, painful events. It was so humanizing to hear a badass dude like him share an extremely personal story that ended up really happy.”
The event takes places monthly at Globe Hall, a barbecue joint and concert hall in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood. It only costs $10 to get in and comes with a free PBR. Each speaker (on average there are three) is given seven minutes and 10 slides to tell their stories. Afterward, there is a Q&A session for anyone with burning questions.
“I want people to know that fucking up is the new success,” said Butts. “It’s cool to take risks, fall down, try again,” she said. “We are all guilty of looking at brands through rose colored Instagram filters, but that’s not the reality. The reality is much messier—and that’s okay!”