South Broadway and the Paramount Theatre partied hard all weekend with the 2017 High Plains Comedy Festival in Denver. From local comedians to big names in Hollywood, the fifth annual festival had it all and then some with audience members’ laughs ranging from deep chuckles to hearty guffaws. There were definite “what-the-fuck-did-I-just-watch” moments to “I-can’t-believe-he-just-got-away-with-that-joke” gasps, but all in all, the Mile High City proved to be 100 percent accepting of the wild, the absurd and the hilarious. We definitely had fun this weekend. Here’s a recap of the insanity.
Thursday, August 24
King’s Cup at 3 Kings Tavern
As the very first show of the festival, King’s Cup at 3 Kings Tavern was super low-key and featured local comedians such as Harris Alterman and out-of-towners like Caleb Synan to get the crowd going for the later shows. Featuring stand-up in a natural setting, each performer got to showcase his or her best jokes and do their thing without any themes or distractions. From Langston Kerman’s funny commentary on witnessing white people washing windows in Canada to Todd Glass messing around with the stage lighting and confessing he’s terrified of large moths, King’s Cup got the festival off to an amazing start.
Arguments & Grievances at 3 Kings Tavern
Audience members at King’s Cup stuck around for the next show at 3 Kings Tavern, and were in for a whole new atmosphere at Arguments & Grievances. Based on the live comedy series and podcast, this award-winning show featured comedians battling their jokes on opposing topics such as dog walking vs. catcalling and off-brand vs. on-brand. To start, the Puterbaugh Sisters brought on their witty comedic duo performance on being female comedians while Sam Tallent rhymed his way to a win. Maggie Maye even brought her sweet little white dog onstage to protest catcalling. The debates were definitely a spectacle.
Friday, August 25
Surprise Party at Mutiny Information Café
Mutiny Information Café might have been a small venue, but audience members still squeezed inside the record and bookstore. For surprise party, people lined up through the bookshelves to listen to headlining act Rory Scovel and surprise guest Adam Cayton-Holland of The Grawlix. The crowd also got a kick out of Tyler Jackson of Late Late Breakfast’s giant poster board of joke topics the audience was allowed to select for him to tell (some examples were Hot Topic, La Croix and almond milk). It might have been a little hot inside, but Surprise Party earned its name.
My Favorite Murder at Paramount Theatre
Fans of the podcast My Favorite Murder came to a sold-out show at the Paramount Theatre on Friday night and were not disappointed. In a crowd of mostly ladies, fans dressed up for the occasion. We spotted audience members in black dresses and costumes like the spooky twins from The Shining. When comedians Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark made their appearance on stage, we’ve never heard a louder crowd (ever). For the first 30 minutes, the co-hosts simply talked to their fans and commented on Instagrams they’d seen, such as a post about the My Favorite Muffin bakery in Denver and then got right to it. Telling two tales of local murders in the Mile High City, Kilgariff and Hardstark told the story of the 2002 slaying of Nancy Soddenfeld on New Year’s Eve, involving a 9/11 conspiracy theory and a fugitive story as popularly told in a GQ article. Next was the famous murder of Toni Henthorn in Rocky Mountain National Park, when her husband, Harold Henthorn, pushed her off a cliff on their anniversary. Kilgariff and Hardstark even welcomed a fan onstage to tell her scary story of how she was almost a victim and surprised the audience with Rhea Butcher, another famous comedian performing at High Plains, who told the story of a local murder she remembered growing up in her hometown of Akron, Ohio. In addition to the horrifying tales of tragedy, Kilgariff and Hardstark offered their popular banter and witty commentary — poking fun at the murderers like they do on the podcast. Fans left 100 percent satisfied and probably scared of their city.
Entertaining Julia at Hi-Dive
Fans of the sassy Puterbaugh Sisters at their earlier appearance at Arguments & Grievances were in for a treat when this dynamo sister duo hosted their famous stand-up show Entertaining Julia. The Hi-Dive was overpacked with many audience members standing on the sideline to watch a wide range of talent from near and far. This included former Denver comedian Mara Wiles who commented on her recent move to New York City and Comedy Works favorite Alabaster Cain who dressed up in a white suit and brought out a card game of excuses he made called “Trump Cards.” Marcella Arguello was a class act with her hilarious Mariah Carey impression and audience members even got to see Kilgariff of My Favorite Murder make an appearance after her show at Paramount and play her guitar while singing songs about online dating.
Fine Gentlemen’s Club at 3 Kings Tavern
Although we didn’t get to see the beginning of the show, the last show on Friday night was packed until 1:30 a.m. when festival headliner T.J. Miller made his first arrival after landing back in his hometown. Troy Walker was a big crowd-pleaser with his Obama impression and paved the way for Miller who told a couple jokes to end the night right.
Saturday, August 26
Late Late Breakfast at Hi-Dive
It didn’t get much wilder than Late Late Breakfast during High Plains, and if you saw it, you’d know why. Hosts Danny Maupin and Tyler Jackson brought their own bizarre comedic game show to Hi-Dive and the audience really couldn’t get enough of it — even though it got weird. Stand-up performers had to pop a balloon onstage that would reveal a slip of paper with a rule on it that required the comedian to perform with a crazy objective. Audience members got to sing along to Seal’s “Kissed by a Rose” during Sam Tallent’s set, watch Laura Sanders dance and pretend to cry, watch Caleb Synan arm wrestle and Rudy Tyburczy get chased by zombies — all while delivering their jokes. If this isn’t entertainment, we don’t know what is.
T.J. Miller at Paramount Theatre (headlining show)
Miller was ecstatic to be back in Denver to perform among friends and family at the Paramount on Saturday night and it really showed. Local favorite comedian Janae Burris kicked off the show to discuss oral sex uncensored and scored big laughs from the audience before visiting comedian Matt Braunger recounted a very long elevator experience where he met numerous characters that drove him nuts. The frequent opener for Miller — Nick Vatterott — began his show by telling the audience he “forgot something” while patting his body as if he left a pair of keys behind while casually revealing he forgot to “start a family before his 40s.” His witty, sometimes cerebral banter livened up the show before Miller strolled out with what appeared to be a broken arm.
“I can’t tell if it’s more distracting if I use this hand,” he said in regards to the arm in a sling. Miller implied that a feud with his wife might have been the cause of the injury, but later the audience learned that it actually was a former infection gone wrong, and he’s still trying to navigate the medical terminology surrounding his wound. Miller, who grew up in Capitol Hill, made references to his former alma mater — East High School. He told a story about a senior prank he and his friends played that wasn’t funny and how he used to make up fake announcements as “Head Boy” before he was disbarred. Miller was as expected — a little crazy with a lot of movement around the stage. From tangling himself up in his own mic to jumping off the stage to kiss the head of a man in the front row, Miller was uncensored and pumped to riff about how much he loves Denver and how much he hates Texans. At one point, he seriously hissed at the audience, which he said his wife told him not to do. Miller even invited Governor John Hickenlooper’s son Teddy onstage to publicly thank his father in the audience and prank call one of his (Teddy’s) friends.
Wild absurdity was to be expected, but there might have been a reason for it.
“I’ve had more CBD oil than water in the last 72 hours,” Miller said. “I’m either not high at all or this show isn’t happening yet.”
Finale Show with The Grawlix at 3 Kings Tavern
Finally, the last show of the festival was sold out at 3 Kings Tavern with members of Denver comedy troupe The Grawlix — Adam Cayton-Holland, Ben Roy and Andrew Orvedahl — hosting their very own show. From local acts to an appearance by Miller himself, this show did not disappoint audience members since they got to witness a fantastic line up all before the festival was over. It was so much fun, we already can’t wait until next year.
All photography by Brittany Werges. Go here to see our full gallery from the event.