The Laugh Track

Can a bunch of dudes, some dirty jokes, and $50,000 make Denver famously funny?

February 2013

For years, Denver comedy revolved around Comedy Works. The 31-year-old institution, with its intimate, densely packed subterranean room in Larimer Square and its independent management in an industry full of chains, has always helped Denver draw bigger comics than other cities of similar size. It also has nurtured such local talents as Troy Baxley, Chuck Roy, TJ Miller, and Josh Blue of NBC’s Last Comic Standing.

The guys behind Those Who Can’t represent the latest wave in Denver’s comedy evolution. Cayton-Holland, 32, penned the “What’s So Funny” humor column for Westword while hanging around comics and launching his own stand-up career. Orvedahl, 35, an odd-job dabbler, was once terrified of public speaking until his roommate convinced him that he’d kill at comedy. Roy, 33, who worked at an online insurance quote company and sang in punk bands, was often at Comedy Works because his then girlfriend (now wife) worked the door. Eventually, all three worked up the nerve to climb onstage and tell jokes. “I was hooked,” says Cayton-Holland, wryly adding that he eventually regretted his desire to interact so much with other comics once he realized that “they’re all just miserable.”

After they’d spent a year or two performing, the trio set about creating their own opportunities beyond the handful of weekly open mic nights around town. In 2005, Orvedahl, Cayton-Holland, and some other comics began running a monthly underground show called “Los Comicos Super Hilariosos.” Appearances by names such as TJ Miller, Maria Bamford, and Tig Notaro helped draw crowds to the alternative stand-up events. Roy soon joined the group, which now runs a bigger version of the show at the Bug Theatre, a usually sold-out event called “The Grawlix” (named after the symbols used to replace swearwords in comic strips, as in “%#!*$”).

Running their own show and producing new material every month forced each budding comedian to hone his onstage persona: Roy, the liberal hellraiser; Orvedahl, the wide-eyed raconteur; Cayton-Holland, the smarmy lothario. They’ve performed at well-known comedy events such as the Aspen Laff Festival and Montreal’s Just for Laughs. named Roy’s 2012 recording, I Got Demons, among the best comedy albums of the year, and at press time, Cayton-Holland was scheduled to make an early-2013 appearance on Conan. “You saw a long time ago some serious genius from these guys,” says Wende Curtis, Comedy Works’ owner. “They just went out and started storming down doors and building their own rooms so they could get all the stage time they needed.”

These days, there are grassroots stand-up shows, comedy debates, humorous storytelling events, and comic-run podcasts all over Denver. Orvedahl, Roy, and Cayton-Holland are tapped into all of it, headlining shows, appearing on podcasts, and wrangling out-of-town comics to appear at events. “It’s been huge,” says Chris Charpentier of the Fine Gentleman’s Club, a stand-up collective following in the Grawlix troupe’s footsteps. “Just seeing guys like that at the same open mic as you and all the other nobodies gives you hope that if you work hard enough, you can make it as a comic and not have to leave the city we all love.”