Steamboat’s blossoming standup comedy scene takes raw talent to new level
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It was a Tuesday night, and President Trump was giving the State of the Union address while Nancy Pelosi would make headlines ripping up his speech on live television.
Maybe that’s why patrons at The Barley Tap & Tavern in downtown Steamboat Springs were almost outnumbered by local comedians who were about to take the stage during open mic night. The bar eventually filled up but not before the audience missed 27-year-old Matt Newland killing it on the stage with his hilarious look at the modern-day marijuana culture.
“My favorite stoner thing to do is go to the dispensary and pretend like it’s an illegal drug deal,” said Newland in a deadpan voice. “You have to be really shifty right off the bat. … The budtender comes up to you, and you gotta be like ‘yo man, thank you so much for meeting me here. My regular guy is completely out.'”
Newland is one of about a dozen local comedians who meet and work out their jokes with each other and bond over their love of comedy. Unfortunately, this group of local comedians is still a well-kept secret, but hopefully, not for long.
“In the last year, myself and a few other people put together this group where we do open mic comedy and bring in other comedians from places like New York, Chicago and Denver,” said Kyle Ruff.
Ruff keeps the audience in good humor as the regular host of Steamboat’s open mics around town. He usually starts out the night warming up audiences and cleverly works his way through the list of stand-up comedians he introduces.
“We wouldn’t be here without Kyle’s ambition and work,” said fellow comedian Mack Maschmeier, who is a graphic designer at Big Agnes. “He’s funny and organized.”
Maschmeier said Ruff and fellow comedian Kendra Ruth have helped organize open mics and official shows ever since a Facebook post went out more than a year ago looking for people who wanted to do stand-up comedy in Steamboat.
According to local comedians, there are good nights and then there are bad nights when jokes just seem to fall flat.
“I cried about it for two weeks after it happened,” said Ruth of the worst comedy night of her life last year.
It was her first official show with a paying Steamboat audience, and it was sold out.
“I ran my set by my friends, but when you’re in public with a different kind of demographic, things don’t go the same way,” said Ruth, a 27-year-old bartender originally from Salem, Massachusetts. “I completely forgot my set in the show. It was horrible. I wanted to quit, but bombing is part of the process. … And so, you do it, again,”
Newland, a bellhop and ski bum in his regular life, sadistically enjoys watching comics bomb.
“I enjoy watching people do good, but I really enjoy watching people do bad. When someone bombs, everyone in that room can feel how awkward it is, and we all have to sit with it and live in that awkward moment,” Newland said. “It’s beautiful, and it’s painful, but a lot of learning comes from people doing bad sets.”
Comedian Kalynn Smith, who’s performed in Steamboat’s homegrown Cabaret for several years, heard about the Steamboat Comedy group soon after they began holding open mic nights. She and others said the atmosphere in Steamboat’s comedy community is different from most cities, where intense competition and jealousy prevents comics from bonding and practicing with each other.
“Steamboat’s comedy group has made me a better comedian,” said Smith, whose day job is working at a pyschotherapy office. “Even when you don’t do your best, everyone here is going to give you pointers and a pat on the back.”
What: Steamboat Comedy presents Desperation Day
When: Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, and Friday, Feb. 14
Where: Schmiggity’s Live Music & Dance Bar, 821 Lincoln Ave.
How much: $5, purchase tickets at schmiggitys.com
Smith, known for her cheeky observation of local Steamboat life, was also rocking the house this particular night with a racy story about a very attractive “breastfeeding Cougar” that her young guy friend was trying to seduce during a ski trip to Telluride.
Details wouldn’t be exactly appropriate for a small-town newspaper, but you can catch her act during upcoming open mics or a two-day comedy show on Thursday, Feb. 13, and Friday, Feb. 14 at Schmiggity’s Live Music & Dance Bar in downtown Steamboat. Ruff managed to book an up-and-coming comedian from New York to headline the two-day show, with a promise of free ski passes and a place to crash.
“We’re calling it the second annual Desperation Day Show at five bucks a head,” Ruff said. “No one’s making a living off it, but we’re trying to build a comedy scene and brand right now, hoping for bigger and better things in the future.”
Maschmeier said Steamboat is the perfect place to hone his comedy craft.
“The Steamboat audience is wonderful with both locals and tourists who are respectful, patient and supportive in general,” Maschmeier said. “You can figure out your timing and shtick before you go to a bigger place.”
And that’s what comedians like Miles Sanchez and and Reed Belmonte hope to eventually do, but in the meantime, the camaraderie and support of like-minded people keeps them perfectly happy in Steamboat.
“I tell my parents the stand-up itself is really, really fun, but it’s afterwards when we’re having beers with other comedians and surrounded by hilarious people or we go to Kyle’s garage and go over jokes with our group. … That’s what’s wonderful,” Belmonte said.
Meanwhile, back on stage, 30-year-old Sanchez, a chef originally from Alabama, is riffing on Steamboat’s predominantly white culture.
“I miss black people a lot” was all he needed to prompt a knowing audience into raucous laughter as he began a rant on race. He may have even crossed a politically incorrect line or two, as is the nature of any good comedian, but a lot of his humor is aimed at himself.
“I try to be relatable, self-deprecating and just observe life,” Sanchez said. “I’m treating it like a second job, and I’m loving it.”
To follow Steamboat Comedy or to get involved, you can go to steamboatcomedy.com, or follow them on Instagram and Facebook under Steamboat Comedy. There’s also a Steamboat Comedy podcast that features local comedians and a look at the local comedy scene.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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