Micro Jokes, Mega Laughs: Comic Ben Kronberg at the Wheeler Opera House
If You Go…
Who: Ben Kronberg, presented by Empire of Crime
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Saturday, Nov. 29, 8:30 p.m.
Ben Kronberg has made the rounds on late night TV stages in recent years, had his own half-hour special on Comedy Central and memorably made a furious Roseanne Barr lose it on “Last Comic Standing,” but his big break came here in Aspen.
Kronberg performed at the 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival — the popular HBO event’s last year here — and it thrust the clever comic onto the national stage, winning him a slot on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and gigs around the U.S. Born and raised in Denver, he is now based in Brooklyn and best-known for messing with audiences using wordplay, witty one-liners and “micro-jokes,” with touches of music. He will return to Aspen on Saturday, in a Wheeler Opera House show produced by Denver’s Empire of Crime, and recently found himself looking back on the Comedy Fest set in an interview.
“It was a great thing to happen,” he said recently from New York, “but was also a retroactive reality check to think about, ‘Oh, what did it mean for me?’”
When he played the Comedy Fest, the big stage at the Wheeler was reserved for comedy giants like George Carlin, with newcomers like Kronberg spread around smaller venues.
“I’m excited to perform back in Aspen,” he said. “It’s definitely an honor to be performing [at the Wheeler].”
The bearded, straight-faced comic has an off-kilter sensibility. Bits in his Comedy Central special included the idea of a memory foam pillow fight, riffing on what text message exchanges would sound like if they were phone calls, calling your stepfather your “faux-pa,” and a suite of potty humor (“If White Castle was a real castle, I bet the moat would be made out of diarrhea”). A recent set on “Late Night with Seth Myers” saw him pontificating on “reggae marriage” and how to use solitaire as a drinking game.
He also has a knack for winning laughs out of awkward moments. His most notorious such bit came on NBC’s stand-up competition show “Last Comic Standing.” On the 2014 season opener, Kronberg began his set with at least half-a-minute of silence, breaking it finally by asking the audience and judges, “What, like you guys start working right when you get to your jobs?”
When judge Roseanne Barr scolded Kronberg for a bit she deemed disrespectful, he turned the exchange into something akin to performance art, up-ending the power dynamic of the show. When Barr began ripping Kronberg he played ignorant, responding, “I would prefer you started with a compliment, but I’ll take your out-of-the-gate criticism.” It went downhill from there, with Kronberg mocking the judges and Barr finally spitting “Go f— yourself” at him. The moment spawned the Twitter topic #GoF—YourselfBen, through which comics and fans offered their own video insults for Kronberg.
His delivery is often reminiscent of Steven Wright, master of deadpan irony.
“Him, Mitch Hedberg, even Andrew Dice Clay, kind of expanded what comedy could mean for me,” Kronberg said, “where it’s not just jokes but a specific type of joke.”
Kronberg’s pithy joke-writing and fearlessness make him a Twitter-friendly comic. And the brave new world of comedy that’s emerged in recent years, with the rise of podcasting and social media, has been kind to Kronberg. Some of his high-profile gigs, including “Last Comic Standing,” came via Facebook, he said.
In recent weeks, as sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby have gained widespread — if belated — media attention, Kronberg has laid into the comic legend on Twitter with little mercy (“Bill Cosby doesn’t tell rape jokes…he lives them,” “I just found out my favorite rapist of all time is a comedian”).
“It’s the hypocrisy of the situation that I’m making fun of,” Kronberg said. “My jabs and jokes are coming from a place where, when it comes to clean comedy, there is a sense of holier than thou. The king of clean comedy is now being accused of rape, you know. So my dick jokes don’t sound so bad now, do they?”
Kronberg met Empire of Crime producer Ethan Wallison at one of the weekly “Too Much Fun” stand-up showcases at Deer Pile in Denver. (The weekly comedy night was co-founded by Sam Tallent, who opens for Kronberg on Saturday.)
Wallison has been working recently to establish a permanent home for comedy in Aspen. The effort began with a series of summer shows at the Hurst Theatre in Rio Grande Park, and Wallison is hoping, eventually, to bring monthly shows here year-round. Kronberg’s performance is Empire of Crime’s first winter stand-up showcase in Aspen, and the only one booked so far. Downvalley, Empire of Crime has been producing regular shows at the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue featuring national comics.
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