Colorado stand-up comic Lori Callahan died on Friday from heart failure at the age of 54.
A 30-year veteran of the Colorado stand up community whom industry insiders and audiences often dubbed “the Mom of Denver comedy” -- or simply “Mama Callahan” -- the comic impacted several generations of younger comedians.
This was particularly true of younger performers, who viewed Callahan as a protective mentor during their blossoming years.
“She went out of her way to help up and coming female comics,” Jodee Champion, who first encountered Callahan when she began performing five years ago, says. “Her vote of confidence would do a lot for a young comedian. She was the most loveable person I’ve ever seen on stage.”
“She used to bring tomato juice to bars and pour it in our beers to make sure we got at least some nutrients,” comedian Sam Tallent says of Callahan.
Before she became a Comedy Works headliner and full time stand-up comic, Callahan worked jobs in construction, banking and surveying for the State Highway Department.
Owing to the wide variety of her experiences, Callahan developed a charmingly crass stage presence that could appeal to a broader cross-section of audiences than is commonly the case with new comedians.
“Lori could relate to the working class or the elites,” Denver comedian Terri Barton Gregg says. “She could fit in anywhere.”
Gregg formed the entertainment production company and agency Hold Please Productions with Callahan two years ago, which hosted philanthropic comedy shows for causes like vet care for retired police dogs and the National Council of Jewish Women.
“Anyone who asked her to produce, promote or perform in a benefit show, she’d be there,” Gregg says.
“We all loved her,” Comedy Works owner Wende Curtis says.
Long before purchasing the Denver comedy club in 2001, Curtis worked at the now-defunct Comedy Works club in Fort Collins as a waitress. It was in this role, some 27 years ago, that she first encountered Callahan, who was at that time a relatively new performer on the scene.
“She was such a bright light, such a light-hearted spirit,” Curtis says. “She was always the person to come to someone’s side when they’d experienced a loss.”
In addition to performing shows all over the country and entertaining U.S. troops in Hawaii and Asia, Callahan was also invested in small town comedy communities, regularly booking shows at Mingles Lounge in Gillette, Wyoming.
“She did her time on the road and she had a following and a fanbase all over,” Comedy Works headliner Chuck Roy says. “There are a lot of clubs that I won’t play. But if Lori needed me to go play a bar in Gillette at the last minute, I would cancel with Comedy Works and be there for her.”
Curtis says that Comedy Works will be hosting a tribute event in Callahan’s honor sometime in late March or April.
In a 2011 interview with The Denver Post's "Reverb" blog, Lori Callahan commented on the “Comedy Mom” legacy bestowed upon her by the younger generation of performers.
“I didn’t ask for that moniker,” Callahan says. “However, I’m like a mama bear with cubs. You don’t mess with my peers in any way. I may have a sweet demeanor, but if you screw us with money or heckle, you are toast.”