Can a bunch of dudes, some dirty jokes, and $50,000 make Denver famously funny?
That’s what the three hope to prove: that they can be successful without leaving Denver. The pressure’s on to move to California, to be closer to TV execs and talent scouts and late-night talk shows. But they have homes and families here now. “We’ve been working really, really hard to prove to people that our dream of staying here and creating something is not an unreasonable goal,” Roy says. “I don’t think it’s bad to be in a place where you feel comfortable, a place where you are creatively inspired.”
This is where online videos come in. Much like YouTube has shown that you don’t need to live in New York or L.A. or have a record deal to get your music heard, online comedy opportunities have helped the Grawlix guys build a name in Colorado. While Evan and Adam Nix had day jobs in video production and advertising, in their off hours they were filming comedy videos like Rainbow Chasers (the cutest form of storm chasing), running Denver’s Laugh Track Comedy Festival, and forming a German synthpop duo named Total Ghost. (The act began as a joke but has since played more than 70 shows around Denver and was invited to Germany by a big Total Ghost fan to play a birthday party. That fan was PayPal co-creator and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. The invitation didn’t work with the brothers’ schedules, but Adam says, “We’re hoping to be the first band to play on Mars.”)
Evan says he and his brother began collaborating with the Grawlix guys because, “We like working with comedians because they already have material.” That material morphed into a Web series on funnyordie.com. While anybody can upload videos onto the site, the Grawlix episodes stood out for being both professionally produced and profane, and all earned enough hits to land on the website’s front page. Among the plots: In one installment, Orvedahl takes a meeting about a movie deal, overdoses on donuts, and demands to star in Hostel 3. In another, Roy’s wife leaves him and starts dating the Nix brothers—concurrently.
Soon, the Grawlix members were fielding calls from Comedy Central, FX, and Adult Swim. Then last October, news broke that Amazon Studios, which has been experimenting with crowd-sourced films and digital comics, had optioned Those Who Can’t. The show is one of about a dozen potential series for Amazon’s “Instant Video” streaming service. Benjamin Jones, head of Image Brew, the local production company where Evan Nix works, agreed to produce the pilot. “Shooting in Denver was something we all wanted,” says Josh Lieberman, Cayton-Holland’s Los Angeles–based manager, who is executive producing the show. “It seemed organic to them.”
The Nix brothers finished editing the pilot in January, and now it’s up to Amazon, which will soon decide whether to option more episodes of the show. If it doesn’t, the folks behind Those Who Can’t are free to shop the pilot around after a waiting period. If no one picks it up, the five might have to move to Los Angeles. If Amazon or some other studio bites, they still might shift production of the show to Hollywood. John Wenzel, who covers comedy for the Denver Post, is realistic. “If their series gets picked up and does well, and they start getting on late-night shows, I think they have potential to have a national presence and never move from Denver,” he says. “But I think it would be extremely hard for them to do that based on just what they’re doing right now. Something would have to change.”
About that dodgeball: After another frustrating take, Evan has an idea that he whispers to Roy. Sure enough, on the next shot, Roy launches the ball a beat early and Orvedahl, caught off guard, takes a direct hit and falls backwards, arms flailing. As Roy cackles with delight, Cayton-Holland cracks, “Stay down, Andy! We’ve called the paramedics!”
A few minutes later, a makeup artist hurries over to apply a bloody nose to Orvedahl. “You’re on the ground now, choking on your whistle,” instructs Evan, before hollering, “Everyone ready for blood?” On a nearby flat-screen monitor, Roy and Cayton-Holland watch the dodgeball-hit footage over and over. “Can we do one more take?” Roy asks. “After all, this isn’t a Web series.”
Joel Warner’s book, The Humor Code, co-authored with Peter McGraw, will be published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster.