Comedy crusaders hit Boulder

Why doesn’t this town have a comedy scene?

Comedian Kelly MacLean
Amanda Moutinho | Boulder Weekly

With Boulder’s fixation on eco-friendly products, gluten-free food and meditation, it’s no surprise that some comedians find Boulder to be a goldmine of material.

“I do this bit about the Whole Foods parking lot, and how everyone in Boulder is so good and they meditate and they’re interested in kindness — until you get to the Whole Foods parking lot and then it’s war,“ says Kelly MacLean, a local comedian.

MacLean is one of the few crusaders working to establish a stable comedy scene in Boulder. On the first Thursday of every month, she hosts a comedy show at the Bitter Bar, where she says loves to poke fun at Boulderites.

“I started [the show] because I grew up in Boulder, and I love this city,” she says. “But what’s missing in Boulder is a sense of humor — especially about ourselves.”

The Bitter Bar’s show began in March of 2011 with the help of MacLean and other locals who wanted to add comedy to the long list of entertainment options in Boulder. The shows mostly feature Denver comedians with some locals. They have been very popular, with 75 to 120 people coming, occasionally having to turn people away, MacLean says.

But, not every comedy night has been as successful. Matt Rushing created Boulder Comedy Club and last April partnered with the Lazy Dog to host comedy nights every month. The nights were popular with a diverse crowd from college students to baby boomers, and Rushing says, they could easily get 100 patrons per show.
As they increased the show from monthly, to every three weeks, Rushing noticed it was harder to fill seats. In November, Boulder Comedy Club went on hiatus, which is where it remains today.

The biggest challenge Rushing faced was promotion, he says. With only a limited amount of resources, getting the word out was not an easy task. He had access to only a small street team, and while working his own full-time job, Rushing didn’t have sufficient time or money for marketing.

“If you really want to fill comedy nights on a weekly basis you have to get money and resources to make it stable,” he says. “It takes more commitment, more resources, time, money, marketing budget, bodies and so on.”

In the past, MacLean has booked comedians who don’t understand the audience. Boulderites likes smart comedians, she says — more Bill Maher, less Larry the Cable Guy.

“Some comedians were too Denver for Boulder — a little more taboo, loud and fast-paced,” MacLean says. “There’s a fine line. Boulder is really smart and doesn’t like cheap shots. You have to craft the joke intelligently.”

Tailoring events to Boulder is how the Bitter Bar is trying to gain the edge in the comedy scene. It provides a comfortable atmosphere with lounge seating. And MacLean says it is nothing like a comedy club, which serves frozen food and overpriced drinks. The Bitter Bar serves locally grown food and organic drinks.

“If you went into a comedy club and asked for gluten-free, they’d probably look at you funny,” MacLean says. “We cater to the dietary needs of Boulder. It’s a night Boulderites would like to come to. Even the comedians dress up instead of wearing t-shirts filled with holes.”

Denver-based comedian Chuck Roy says he loves taking the trip down to Boulder to perform. He’s been coming down for eight years, and even Roy notices the atmosphere at the Bitter Bar.
“It’s an upscale crowd,” Roy says. “They know good food and they’re smart. You couldn’t do your bullshit, bad material.”

Having performed at several comedy nights around Boulder that have shut down — his favorite being open mic night at albums on the hill — Roy doesn’t understand Boulder’s delay to for a designated comedy club.

“It’d be great if Boulder had a good comedy scene,” he says. “I don’t know why Denver has had Comedy Works 30 years, but Boulder can’t keep [a comedy club] open. What’s wrong with Boulder?”

As MacLean and Rushing work to ensure that comedy doesn’t fade out of Boulder again, Rushing is hopeful for the future. He doesn’t know when Stand up Boulder will return, but he knows it will make a strong comeback.

“I really want to see comedy succeed in Boulder, and I think it’s on its way,” he says. “It’s just a matter of time.”

On the bill: Catch local comedians at the Bitter Bar on Thursday, March 1, and the first Thursday of every month. Show starts at 9 p.m. 835 Walnut St., Boulder. 303-442-3050.