UMS comedians on their hate/hate relationship with critics


By John Moore
July 21, 2013

Easily the most aggravating hour of this or any other UMS was the (Not) “Funny Face-­Off: Comedians vs. the Media,” during which one contradictory comic lambasted the largely friendly media coverage comedians receive here. First he gave it to them for somehow destroying the life work, hopes and ambitions of apparently the most hypersensitive performers on the planet. And then, 5 minutes later, the same motormouth charred them for never writing anything negative.

This panel was all over the map, lacking even a basic understanding that the two remaining writers who actually write regularly on comedy — John Wenzel of the Denver Post and Josiah Hesse of Westword — primarily pen trend stories, celebratory profiles and advances, not reviews. (When is the last time you saw an actual, honest-to-goodness, critical review of a comic’s live performance in the newspaper?). But the conversation never strayed from these phantom “reviews.”

Despite moderator Joel Warner’s best efforts, comic and panelist Ben Roy came here looking for a fight. Even when one, among this group, was hardly warranted. Instead of a potential thoughtful dialogue on how technology and the dire financial condition of mainstream media are changing (for the worse) how both comics and the media must evolve and innovate new ways of getting the word out about comics, Roy called into question not only a critic’s right to write about comedy, but pretty much his right to exist on this planet. Not a particularly conducive (or original) approach for a panel discussion, especially at the UMS, which has welcomed comedians into the fold and woven them into the fabric of a music festival that’s all about love, not this kind of cliched, venomous chum.

But this forum was pretty much doomed from the start when former Bill Owens staffer (and Denver comic) Jodee Champion opened the conversation with a quote from her former boss calling critics “thumb-sucking, algae-eating, diarrhea-ridden bottom-feeders.” Oh yeah, Jodee? Well, among other political atrocities, your beloved ex-boss is the man who eliminated every single penny of state funding for the arts in Colorado, so, pretty much … F*** him.

And I’m pretty sure that Owens’ petty spite toward his critics has nothing to do with the two guys who write about comedy in Denver and bring publicity to struggling comedians like yourself, so your petty interjection brought no helpful relevance to the conversation. It just established that it was going to be icky. But it did serve as an effective reminder of one small reason why snide, mean-spirited Bill Owens was the worst governor in modern Colorado history — and it’s kind of delicious that it was his own moral hypocrisy that brought down his national political ambitions.

Full disclosure: I was a music and theater critic at The Denver Post for 12 years. And since no one else was standing up for the essential nobility of the profession yesterday, I am happy to do it here. As that pertains to comedians, very few ordinary readers even try to keep informed on who all the relevant, up-and-coming local comics are. I patron all of the arts in Colorado, which means that when I have a rare opportunity to seek out a stand-up comic in Denver, I don’t have an evening to waste. Journalists like John Wenzel and Josiah Hesse serve an essential function in steering consumers like myself toward rising comics in a helpful, curated way. If I see John Wenzel mention Phil Palisoul often enough in print, then I know Phil Palisoul is a guy I am going to want to check out when my schedule allows it. And when Phil Palisoul warrants that recommendation by delivering an insanely funny set, that makes it more likely that I will go out and spend my money seeing someone else. So journalists serve an essential function in the comedy ecology in Denver. Without them, you all would be just that much more screwed when it comes to getting yourself noticed.

So next time, ditch the faux antagonism and have a real and meaningful conversation instead. And leave all unfunny and irrelevant former governors out of it.

OK, good talk!


To see our gallery of photos from the 2013 UMS, click here.

Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper introduces one of his personal favorites to the UMS main stage: Sunday headliners Nathaniel Rateliff and Born in the Flood. Read more about it here.


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How you can donate to the Denver Actors Fund

The new Denver Actors Fund is a modest source of immediate, situational relief when members of the local theater community find themselves in sudden medical need. Photo by John Moore. To donate to the Denver Actors Fund, please go here (with our humble thanks):

By John Moore

Award-winning arts journalist John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the United States by American Theatre Magazine during has 12 years at The Denver Post. Hen then created a groundbreaking new media outlet covering Colorado arts an culture as an in-house, multimedia journalist for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. He also founded The Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that has raised more than $600,000 for theatre artists in medical need. He is now a journalist for hire as the founder of Moore Media Colorado. You can find samples of his work at MooreJohn.Com. Contact him at