Denver’s ’50 First Jokes’ Pairs New Comedy With The New Year

Photo: Comic Adam Cayton-Holland At 50 First Jokes Denver 2015
Denver comic Adam Cayton-Holland smashes an apple with a baseball bat during the inaugural 50 First Jokes Denver at Syntax Physic Opera on Jan. 7, 2015.

Denver comic Timmi Lasley doesn’t remember the first joke she wrote in 2015. She thinks the subject matter might have been about being sick. But after performing it once, the bit didn’t make it into any of her acts.

Lasley says that’s not really the point of "50 First Jokes Denver," a showcase she organizes to challenge 50 comics to perform a brand new joke to start the new year. Instead, she says it’s more about the practice of crafting a joke without the typical pressures.

“It’s nice to have a reminder that comedy is fun, it’s not always about the competition and all that,” Lasley says. “It’s less about the joke and more about the moment.”

For its second year, the event moves to Denver’s Bug Theatre on Jan. 2. The only rules? Comics must write the joke after midnight on Jan. 1. And it can't be longer than two minutes.

Lasley, who performs at a few showcases a week and hosts an open mic night called Comedy Room Room every Thursday at El Charrito in Denver, spoke with CPR News.

Photo: Denver Comic Timmi Lasley
Denver comic Timmi Lasley hosts 50 First Jokes Denver.

How did "50 First Jokes" originate?

John F. O'Donnell is one of the founders, and he helped start it in a tiny bar in New York City in 2007. The comics just wanted to get together with friends and have an easy show to work on some material and remind themselves why they do this. And then they reached out to people in Los Angeles to start an event there. And it’s now in other places like Austin, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Ann Arbor, Mich.

Why did it make sense to bring the event to Denver?

Denver’s comedy scene has a reputation for being very flexible. The comics are usually up for anything, and that’s not always the case in other cities. I think it has something to do with that frontier, rough and tumble spirit. Plus Denver’s comedy scene has grown so much lately that there is a lot of talent to pick from.

How do you select the comics who participate?

I definitely want headliners, the ones who are really good and have that name recognition. I also want to include comics who regularly perform at Comedy Works. I also like to pick a few dark horses, maybe a young comic who deserves a shot. You don’t know who they are yet, but you should. And even if they bomb, it’s no big deal because it’s only two minutes. Funny trumps everything, but there are other factors to look at like who’s involved in the scene, attending events and helping to put them on.

Who are some comics that you’re especially excited to have this year?

We’ve got Josh Blue scheduled. He’s a nationally touring headliner and was a winner of "Last Comic Standing." Josh has cerebral palsy and is a hilarious human being. He’s just a fount of creativity.

Janae Burris came to Denver from California, and we're very lucky to have her. It's wonderful to watch her process. She'll bring something to an open mic and sort of talk through it. And you know there could be something there, but it's not there yet. Then you'll see her headline the next week and that same joke is honed and sharp and nearly perfect.

Jacob Rupp from Boulder is honestly someone I didn’t think of right away. He wasn’t on my shortlist until I started asking around. He’s superbly funny. He has a talk show that he hosts with Cody Spyker on Radio 1190 called "Ice Cream Social" that they also turn into a podcast.

How is this different than a typical stand-up comedy showcase?

It’s so hard to get a joke and just put it out there. Good jokes take time. So it’s great, especially for younger comics in the scene, to see these people – maybe ones they even worship – throw caution to the wind. The loose, relaxed environment is important.

There are 50 comics, so there are 50 ways of looking at it. Some will try something they’ll never do in their acts. Last year, Adam Cayton-Holland took a chair and did a Gallagher thing where he smashed an apple with a baseball bat.

For some, their jokes probably did make the cut. But there are so many jokes in a comic’s career that fall by the wayside, ones that never work, even if they really loved it. If jokes were objects, comics would have basements full of them. That’s the interesting thing about stand-up comedy, there’s no doing it without an audience. So there's no way to know if something will work when you first think of it.

The second annual 50 First Jokes Denver takes place at the Bug Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 2.