We caught up with High Plains Comedy Fest co-owner Andy Juett to chat about this year’s festival lineup, Denver’s growing comedy scene, and which Jim Henson puppet he’d do unspeakable things to.
It’s only fitting that Andy Juett was welcomed into the Denver comedy scene five years ago with a hot box session and a plate of Mongolian barbecue during a meet up with Chuck Roy. “And the rest is history,” says Juett. Now as co-owner of High Plains Comedy Festival, Juett along with Adam-Cayton Holland (one-third of Denver comedy troupe The Grawlix) and Pete Turner (Illegal Pete’s) have created a three-day, 20-show comedy marathon inspired by the likes of festivals in Portland and Aspen. Featuring a slew of local and national comics—such as TJ Miller, Pete Holmes, Ben Roy, Andrew Overdahl, and Kate Berlant—year two of High Plains will take the stage at five venues along South Broadway and Colfax Ave. It’s like summer camp for comedians but with more booze and less trust falls.
Rooster: What can we expect from this year’s festival?
AJ: There will be a pass pickup party Thursday (8/21) South Broadway Illegal Pete's and then we'll actually be adding shows that night like Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction which is run by a hilarious dude named Bryan Cook who did the fest last year. So we're kicking off with Smurf sex stories! Friday will be South Broadway again, but Saturday will be at The McNichols Building in Civic Center Park. We have the whole building til 6 a.m. so we'll do three big shows (“You Made It Weird Live” podcast with Pete Holmes, The Grawlix, and Pete Holmes and Friends) to end the fest and then we'll party in the catacombs like college kids until we pass out or destroy all the art. Just kidding about the art. We will eat it. It's delicious.
What goes into planning a comedy festival?
A lot more than you'd think. Coordinating just the 33 people flying in from LA and New York in the first wave of comics announced is one challenge. Booking rooms, flights, transportation, diet requests, and other nuances is a big undertaking so we've hired someone great to help us with that. We also have to create a website, ticket mechanisms, tons of art, promotional materials, social media constantly needs updating—it's a lot. Oh yeah, then you have to run about 20 shows in three days! No problem. Adam and I will have our own personal Segways that will scoot us between venues. We'll both be in loud velvet jogging suits wearing blade sunglasses from the gas station and squawking into people uninvolved with the fest through our bullhorns.
How has Denver’s comedy scene changed over the past few years?
Denver's scene was good but it has gotten much better in terms of the amount of shows, quality of shows, quality of comics and organization of all of it as a whole. Under our Sexpot Comedy banner we have about 16 shows a month. One show that's leading the charge innovation wise is Comics Against Civility. It's a knockoff of another game and comics get to make up the game cards. It's fucking hysterical. Jake Browne and Zac Maas run that. The mainstays are the backbone though: Grawlix, Sexpot, Too Much Fun, Arguments and Grievances, Moxie, and anything Chuck Roy does. There are like 20 shows outside of the awesome Comedy Works and improv clubs here. They are also great—of course. Oh, and The Nix Bros and Matty O'Connor have completely changed what's possible from a video perspective. We're making a ton of videos as a scene.
Do you think legalized marijuana is propelling the growth of Denver’s comedy scene?
Cannabis and comedy are natural tie-ins that are complimentary to a lot of what's going on in Colorado lifestyle-wise right now. Environmentally the crowd can be slightly sleepier because of it, but once a great comic wakes them up, it can be an additive that really lights the show on fire. Cannabis has been key to the growth of Sexpot Comedy. We are sponsored by Denver Relief and Incredibles (edibles) and they're both businesses that align with our Sexpot Comedy brand as sterling products that also happen to fit our audience. We're trying to do business with people and businesses that make sense and those two absolutely are key to our success.
When did you first realize you were funny?
When I was six years old and my brother was two, we used to assume the role of the Blues Brothers and dance our little asses off for my parents listening to the Briefcase Full of Blues record. I remember making my parents and little buddies laugh singing “Rubber Biscuit.” It continued into elementary school when I would harangue the kindergarten teacher. That led to a meeting with my parents that didn't go so well for me. I've always been respectful in school and work and situations like that, but having childlike fun is sort of a mission statement for me. Life's too short not to be embracing the sweetest kernels of the day.
Who did you find funny when you were a kid?
I grew up with a steady diet of Saturday Night Live and SNL alum films. I remember being very young and thinking Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray were so goddamn funny. To this day, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had was being picked up from some practice by my mom and her telling me that we'd be going to see Ghostbusters that day. I don't know if I've ever been more excited. Another classic was watching Trains, Planes and Automobileswith my parents and grandparents. John Candy and Steve Martin killed me. I'm grateful for their influence and bizarre creativity.
Have you seen Jamie Kennedy’s documentary Heckler? How do you deal with hecklers in an audience?
I've not seen Heckler but I've met Jamie Kennedy and partied with him before. He wouldn't remember if you catch my drift. I'm just now getting used to shutting down certain kinds of hecklers. There's the kind you can smartly shut down by immediately eviscerating them as playfully as possible and after that, they realize their etiquette error and they behave. Then there are the completely intoxicated meatheads and bachelorette parties. They have no awareness of their surroundings and handle a comedy show with more narcissism than the comics on stage. That is just a scenario when someone needs to be kicked the fuck out and the comic and rest of the crowd have every right to enjoy the rest of the night at that person or person's expense.
Marry, Fuck, Kill: Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster. Explain.
First of all, I love Sesame Street and all of Jim Henson's creations. That said I'd likely fuck Cookie Monster because he'd be generous as shit with enthusiasm and there's nothing like bed snacks after a good throw. I'd marry Big Bird because Big Bird challenges us to be kind, better people to everyone and that's a lesson we can all use. Oscar the Grouch really is the shit, but I don't have time for negative Nancys. Especially not Nancy Grace. FUCK HER. Print that.
When: August 22-23
Where: Hi-Dive, Illegal Pete’s, Mutiny Information Cafe, 3 Kings Tavern, McNichols Civic Center Building
Cost: $100 for a weekend pass
To contact the writer of this story, Michelle Johnson, email firstname.lastname@example.org