Art is meant to endure. That’s why centuries-old paintings hang from museum walls, film reels are preserved and restored and books are reprinted long after their authors’ deaths.
Stand-up comedy is different, says veteran local comedian Nancy Norton. It’s a temporary art, each bit surviving only as long as it takes to deliver to the audience. Perform it again, and you better breathe fresh life into it, because even the best jokes aren’t as funny the second time. Boulder audiences will get a taste of this on April 16, when The Dairy Arts Center launches its monthly stand-up comedy program.
Headlining the show is Norton, a mainstay of the Colorado comedy scene who’s toured in places like Amsterdam, Guam and Iceland. Her routine draws from her experience as a nurse, her time, as she puts it, identifying solely as a lesbian, and adopting a young child at an older age — “His first words were ‘hot flash,’” she cracks.
“I love sipping whiskey and talking dirty,” she offers. “I can work smart and clean. This particular show, we’ve sorta tailored it a little more geeky. It’s got a little mix. It’s smart and sassy.”
Joining Norton will be fellow comedian James Goldmill, who also serves as the marketing manager for The Dairy.
“There’s a pretty solid comedy scene [in Boulder],” he says. “The Dairy is trying to get in on that.”
Goldmill is getting back into the game after a year-and-a-half sabbatical. He overcame feeling burned out, got married and is attacking stand-up with a renewed vigor.
Denver regular Eric Henderson and CU student Jacob Rupp round out the lineup. Henderson is “hitting the scene hard,” as Goldmill puts it, and Rupp is a relative newcomer but has had success with his campus radio show, Ice Cream Social.
The new Dairy program also throws in a twist — random audience participation. If you’ve never tried stand-up before, you can put your name in a drawing, and if you get picked you have a couple minutes to show your stuff. That was the setup the first time Norton tried comedy. She wrote her material, put her name in a hat and planned to do it once and be done. But they didn’t draw her name, and it gave her the comedy bug.
“It’s a more forgiving audience than an open mic, because these are people who bought tickets to come see a comedy show,” Goldmill says.
Ask Norton and Goldmill why The Dairy is bringing comedy back now, and you’ll get the answer you’d expect from two stand-up comedians.
“It was an astrological decision, wasn’t it?” Norton quips.
“I saw a psychic,” adds Goldmill.
“There was a planetary alignment of Venus and Mars.”
“Something to do with the equinox or something… nah, this is just a rebirth.”
The Dairy itself is being reborn, not just its comedy program. It’s undergoing a massive three-step renovation program that started last August and is due to finish in December, which includes expansions to its theaters that make them currently unavailable. It’s perfect timing for The Dairy, which is completing its renovations and bringing back stand-up just as Boulder is starting to embrace the medium.
“Ever since I came to the Dairy, I’ve fantasized about having a comedy showcase in this particular space,” Goldmill says. “Once you go in there, you’ll see it’s perfect, perfect for comedy.”
“And they have cocktails,” Norton adds, noting one of stand-up’s most essential ingredients.
Goldmill says that Boulder’s stand-up comedy scene is leagues ahead of where it was even three years ago, when he started doing stand-up here.
Norton remembers the days when the only stand-up gigs a comedian could get in Boulder were a one-night tour stop at the Broker Inn sandwiched between performances in Nevada and Montana, or — the horror — an alcohol-free show in a strip mall.
Now, Boulder supports several monthly showcases and multiple open mic nights a week. The Bohemian Biergarten hosts Boulder Comedy Show, a free weekly program that features comedians from Boulder, Denver and nationwide. There’s the Boulder Stand-Up Comedy Club, which puts on open mic multiple nights a week at places such as Conor O’Neil’s, Illegal Pete’s and Twisted Pine; Johnny’s Cigar Bar holds their weekly “Smokes and Jokes” show; they also do a bi-weekly showcase on CU campus. There are comedy nights around Boulder County as well with showcases at the Dicken’s Opera House, Longmont Museum and Nissi’s, just to name a few.
But Boulder may never support a nightly comedy club like Denver’s Comedy Works, Goldmill says. Comedy Works is regarded as one of the best clubs in the nation; it’s where Roseanne Barr launched her career, and it’s a favorite of Dave Chappelle’s, who Goldmill says always goes out with local comedians after his show.
Norton got started there, too. She was working in Hawaii and asked every comic she saw about the best places to perform as a young comedian. They told her San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago — and Denver. Norton did five nights a week at Comedy Works when she first broke into the business. It’s a launching pad because they let less-well-known local comedians open for the big acts who come through. Compared to the warm reception and support at Comedy Works, she says, one-night tour stops on the road in different towns every night are a harsh dose of reality.
Boulder may never beat Denver’s comedy scene, but still, Boulder’s quick progression is a positive sign.
“It’s a big, fat baby,” is how Norton describes Boulder’s comedy landscape. “Sort of a toddler. A hilarious toddler. A precocious toddler. This is the best it’s been, to be honest.”
Like any baby, it has only room to grow. It needs to be nurtured by comedians and by its audience. On April 16, they’ll do just that — one bit at a time.