Three of Denver’s top stand-up comics are taking to the stage at the Hurst Theatre in Rio Grande Park tonight in what the show’s producers hope will be the first installment in a regular comedy series in Aspen.
The night, produced by Denver’s Empire of Crime, is headlined by Adam Cayton-Holland. He was named to Esquire magazine’s 25 comics to watch in 2012 and has done sets on late night shows like “Conan” and “The Pete Holmes Show.” He co-founded the popular Denver-based comedy troupe The Grawlix.
Troy Walker, who has won the New Faces contest at Comedy Works in Denver and played the Wheeler Opera House during the Rooftop Comedy Festival and the Aspen Laff Festival in 2012 and 2013, also performs. Stephen Agyei, finalist in the Great American Comedy Festival and the winner of Comedy Works’ Clean Comedy contest, will emcee the show.
“All three of them are pretty piquant observers of modern foibles,” said Empire of Crime co-producer Ethan Wallison.
Joining the Denver-based trio is local comic and Aspen Daily News columnist Beth Brandon, who opens the show.
Empire of Crime is carving out a place for itself beyond the Front Range by bringing stand-up showcases to cities around Colorado that don’t have permanent comedy clubs. It has a stable of Denver comics on board, giving performers the opportunity to play shows close to home rather than flying to Dallas or Chicago or San Francisco, which is common for comics in the isolated state capital.
Over the past four months, Empire of Crime has booked gigs around the state and begun hosting monthly shows in Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction.
“This will be our first show in Aspen proper, though we’ve done a number of shows in Aspen improper,” Wallison said.
Comedy has long had a home in Aspen, going back to the 1994-to-2007 run of HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and continuing with the Wheeler Opera House’s Rooftop Comedy Festival and Aspen Laff Festival. While those annual events have been hits, brick-and-mortar comedy clubs haven’t fared well in the resort, evidenced most recently with the short run of the Aspen Comedy Club on Cooper Avenue.
Empire of Crime is aiming to give comedy a permanent home here. Tonight’s show in the tent will be the first in a series of monthly comedy showcases, at various venues around town, with top regional and national stand-up acts. Denver’s Hippieman, a regular at Aspen comedy festivals, is scheduled to headline the next show in the Theatre Aspen tent on July 27.
Wallison said top Denver comics are eager to play Aspen because of its comedy pedigree and its status as an entertainment hub.
“A lot of comedians in Denver want to appear in Aspen,” Wallison said. “It’s not just another dot on the map for them. It’s important for them to reach the kind of audience they want to reach.”
Wallison’s group has picked a competitive weekend to launch its Aspen venture. Today, the show is going up against the Aspen Ideas Festival and Tony Bennett’s show closing Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ June Experience. But Wallison said he’s confident that it can fill the 189-seat theater with young people and Aspenites hungry for stand-up.
“People who enjoy comedy are going to love this show,” Wallison said. “Are we going to draw people that evening that are 25 to 45 looking for entertainment on a Saturday night in Aspen? Absolutely. Are we confident about taking your average 65- to 85-year-old customer? Not so much.”