Standup comedian David Rodriguez sees a lot of comic talent in Fort Collins. Yet he was always told “you get funny here. And if you want to advance in standup, you go down to Denver.”
Rodriguez thought a comedy club would do well in town. So he pitched the club to investors (mostly friends and family). Those investors stuck with him despite one major, glaring, historic and ever-present roadblock on the ha ha highway.
“It's like the headline was ‘Most Dangerous Thing Is Being Indoors, Tightly Packed And Laughing or Shouting,’” says Rodriguez of how nightlife came to a crashing halt with the spread of COVID-19. “Well cool. That is literally the only thing that’s important to a good comedy show.”
Although Rodriguez had the idea for the club three years ago, he was only ready to make a move in 2020. Just in time for his spiky red nemesis. Rodriguez was on the verge of signing a lease in March of 2020 but thought better of it. Last summer, he negotiated more flexible terms and signed a deal.
As the pandemic raged, he and a friend turned it into a laugh box.
For Rodriguez and many other comedians, there were months of virtual and outdoor shows. But now, as state mandates fade and local rules assert themselves, The Comedy Fort is open in downtown Fort Collins, weekends only with limited seating until the pandemic eases. Patrons must wear masks and Rodriguez says he invested in suped-up HVAC. The staff is also fully vaccinated, protecting them and those looking for a laugh, “a huge relief,” he adds.
Troy Wertz, a new Northern Colorado transplant from out of state with Pueblo roots, jumped at the chance to see a live comedy show. The new club is practically in his backyard.
“I’m very comfortable. They’ve taken measures,” he says. “It can’t just be work or stay at home. You’ve got to get out and be amongst people.”
Even though the club is arranged at just 35 percent capacity (they could be at half capacity, but the tables can’t be spaced properly), Rodriguez is thrilled to hear laughter again. To him, nothing matches “the energy and electricity of a live, indoor crowd.”
But it’s not all guffaws and giggles. Rodriguez does payroll, changes the marquee, cleans and sets up the bar.
“I thought it was just going to be all bringing my friends in to tell jokes and having a good time. And it's mostly that, but there's also stuff that's very necessary, that's not as fun.”
There’s no profit yet, but even with limited capacity and limited hours, Rodriquez says he’s covering his expenses.
“So I’m excited to see what can happen when it opens up 100 percent.”
In a sign that downtown Fort Collins managed to navigate the pandemic relatively well, the Downtown Development Authority says only a few businesses were removed from its listings.
“What we saw mostly was businesses just really evolving, scaling back their hours,” says Program Administrative Supervisor Vanessa Kroeger. She says Larimer County held regular meetings with business owners to keep them abreast of changing health rules and to connect them with vaccines.
It’s a lot for a new business owner like Rodriguez to juggle. But he’s not deterred.
“One of the most rewarding things is getting my friends who are comics on stage for the first time in a year,” he says. “It’s crazy to me that this is work because it doesn’t feel like it most of the time.”