Denver-bred comedian Adam Cayton-Holland recently took his one and three-year-old sons on the road with him for the first time. Traveling for stand-up sets is standard fare for a comedian with nearly 20 years of experience, but bringing his kids along for the ride changed everything. Cayton-Holland quickly realized he was working double-shifts on this work trip — parenting by day, stand-up by night.
“Every hour of the day was go, go, go,” Cayton-Holland said, sitting down with Rooster on a crisp January afternoon. “I wasn’t off the clock at all. But they think even the train at the Denver Airport is cool. So we had fun with that.”
How fitting to begin an interview with an anecdote about his children, since Cayton-Holland’s latest special, Wallpaper, is almost entirely about his experience of fatherhood. Wallpaper, which is available for purchase on 800 Pound Gorilla and streaming everywhere January 18, is Cayton-Holland’s sixth hour of comedy.
“Right now, my life is all about these kids,” Cayton-Holland said. “So it didn’t take long to realize that I had nearly an hour’s worth of material about them.”
Wallpaper, despite its seemingly specific subject matter, is a stunning showcase for a comedian who remains relatable while also upending expectations of what to expect when a dad steps onstage. Few jokes sum up this skill better than the closing joke of the special, which starts with ‘kids being goofy’ content and ends with a touching reflection on the comedy industry, our choices as adults, and the legacies we leave behind.
Through stories about his children, Wallpaper explores universal themes of insecurity, moral dilemmas, and the way our loved ones change our view of the world. Perhaps Cayton-Holland is able to distinguish himself from the stereotype of ‘white male comedian’ because you can feel the craftsmanship behind the jokes themselves — he’s not just going for the cheap laugh, he’s inviting you into a conversation.
“I’m always tweaking and tweaking and tweaking the jokes I write, and then all of the sudden you go ‘oh, there it is,’” Cayton-Holland said. “It’s like a math problem. I really like the formula of solving a joke.
The title of Cayton-Holland’s special speaks to his fatherhood experience — willingly and gladly fading into the background of the larger family picture. While he feels seen by his family (especially while playing basketball with his sons), Cayton-Holland has harnessed the wallpaper of it all and crafted a thoughtful and relatable hour of comedy rooted in observation.
“Even though I’m up there talking about my kids, I know I’m still me,” Cayton-Holland said. “I’m still the edgy, alternative comedian, but now I just talk about parent stuff.”
Outside of his illustrious stand-up career, Cayton-Holland remains a major player in the Denver comedy scene, with not only a television show and published memoir , but also a podcast and a monthly show at Denver’s historic Bug Theater. Not to mention, he also founded High Plains Comedy Festival, which brings local and national comics to Denver.
“Denver comedy is a really healthy, robust scene,” Cayton-Holland said. “It’s got the nationally respected clubs, the indie scene, and a lot of opportunities to get on stage. It’s a great place for comedians.”
Due to his scathing self-awareness, Cayton-Holland is likely to make the joke about himself before you have the chance to. Take, for example, a highlight of Wallpaper where Cayton-Holland describes the experience of his liberal guilt “spinning out” in Target while deciding which baby doll to buy for his son. Cayton-Holland’s desire to steer clear of the
‘toxic masculinity podcast circle jerk’ is made possible by his unwavering dedication to his beliefs and his singular voice.
“I am a political person by nature, and I’m a liberal person,” Cayton-Holland said. “And I think there’s a lot of comics who say, ‘well, don’t even talk about it because you’re going to lose people.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t care. I’m trying to find my fan base.’”
He’s also not shy about discussing challenging subject matter that less vulnerable comics may steer clear of — these topics include his OCD diagnosis and the death of his sister. The latter has inspired a one-man show, Happy Place, which is loosely based on Cayton-Holland’s memoir. His one-man show returns to the stage in February at the Buntport Theater.
Toward the end of his conversation with Rooster, Cayton-Holland recalls a recent incident where his sons encountered some less-than-pleasant children on the playground. Cayton-Holland described a ‘proud dad’ moment of talking with his son about the reality of unkind people. He was beaming, recounting the conversation and the lessons learned — a similar look that you can see on his face when discussing his children onstage.
“I can only imagine what teenage conversations with my kids are going to be like,” Cayton-Holland said. “But you can either sit in fear as a parent, or just have children and trust that you and your family are going to do the best you can.”