Every Denver comic eventually comes to this decision: to move or not to move. We’re a small city with big-time talent, and the bright lights of a bigger burg can be very seductive. Adam Cayton-Holland—local comedian and former A.V. Club columnist—is already at this crossroads, half-packed and almost ready to head west to try his comedic wiles in Los Angeles. But, he says, he hasn’t fully decided yet. For now, at least for the summer, he’ll stay put in Denver “pending some developments.” Cayton-Holland seems to be making moves either way. He consistently tours the national stand-up circuit and his latest project, The Grawlix—a web series and monthly live show that he co-produces with fellow comics Ben Roy and Andrew Orvedahl—sells out almost every month. And tonight Cayton-Holland will be headlining the prestigious Comedy Works downtown. But before that, we chatted with him about the long road he took to get to this point. Spoiler alert: It starts with David Letterman and ends with Chris Hardwick.
The A.V. Club: You’ve said that you have nonexistent hurdles. Do you think you disprove that idea that comedians have to have that experience to be funny?
Adam Cayton-Holland: I think I and a bunch of people do. Everybody’s got pathos. If you’re sensitive, things will affect you. There’s levels of bullying, but I didn’t have, “Oh, my dad didn’t love me, so I’ve got to be funny.” I think that’s kind of bullshit—you can be funny [in spite of that]. When I was a little kid, I read Shel Silverstein and thought, “That’s funny.” I listened to They Might Be Giants and thought, “That’s funny.” And I got older and was like, “Okay, The Simpsons, that’s my thing.” I always liked humor.
There are people that gravitate toward humor, and a lot of the times those people are sensitive. Sometimes they’re sensitive because their dad beats the shit out of them, or they have a broken marriage and they come from a broken home. Sometimes they’re sensitive because they’re just sensitive. I feel like comedy draws those people in. There are a lot of people who are normal and have humor inside of them.
AVC: You mentioned that you picked up on what’s funny really early on. You got onstage with your own material when you were in sixth grade. Was that the first time you performed?
ACH: We had to do school speeches about some bullshit. [And] I was obsessed with Letterman. I would stay up every night to watch the Top 10. So I wrote a top 10 list, and it killed. People loved it. I got laughs. I was not popular at all, so that was one day where people were like, “All right, that kid exists, good for you... Okay, back to calling him ‘fag.’” But I definitely got their attention. I filed that away somewhere deep.
AVC: What other projects are you working on?
ACH: The Grawlix crew is working on scripts. That stuff’s kind of hush-hush, but that’s something that we’re very actively getting into. The city is ripe for a comedy festival. I’m traveling a lot. I might be moving to L.A., pending some developments. If things happen, then I won’t. If things don’t happen, then I will. I can’t give you any specifics—a lot of shit’s up in flux right now.
AVC: You’re ready to make the leap to L.A. if the right opportunity comes along? That’s been a big question for you.
ACH: That’s a big question for Ben and Andrew, as well as any comic. You kind of blow through the ceiling in Denver at a point. The sad truth of it is that you develop the skill set of a comic and a comedic writer, and it’s very highly rewarded in N.Y. and L.A. and not really rewarded at all here. It sucks, because I love this city. I hate L.A. At some point, you have to play for real or not play for real. It’s a question that I’m facing right now, and I’m leaning toward going there, because I think I'll regret it if I don’t. I’ve got a lot of friends out there, and I do really well in the L.A. scene. We’ll see, we’ll see.
AVC: What do you think are the best marketing tools for up-and-coming comics right now?
ACH: Funny Or Die is pretty good. [The Grawlix] does that, as well as YouTube. Twitter seems to work. There’s so much good comedy. There’s so much bad comedy. The channels are wide open. You can get shit out there, but you still have to have good shit. But I’m finding that if you make something that’s pretty funny, it’s not amazingly hard to have it [come from] Denver and then featured on the front page of Funny Or Die. If you put in the work and team up with the right people, it’s not impossible. But all it is is people pointing their spotlight on you for a minute, then pointing it right back to N.Y. and L.A. So you kind of have to go out there and be in their face a lot.
AVC: A lot of comedy podcasts have popped up this year. Have you thought about doing a podcast?
ACH: That’s a great medium, but no. We have a video called “The Eradicaster” that kind of mocks podcasts. I listen to comedy podcasts left and right, but I don’t really have a good idea for one right now, so I don’t feel the need to have one just because. If I did it, I would want to do it right.
AVC: You were on Nerdist, Chris Hardwick’s podcast, is that right?
ACH: Yes. I met him at Comedy Works here, then I’d see him in L.A. a bunch. He’s just a super, super nice guy. In 2010, he did his thing called Stand-up Cluster, [which was] like comics you need to know. [The next year] he did another one, and he was nice enough to ask me to be on it. It was me, Pete Holmes, Rory Scovel, Brent Weinbach, and some other great comics. It was fucking awesome. It’s at this venue called Meltdown, which is the back of a comic book store. I’ve performed there a bunch now. It’s become my little L.A. second home, so I feel very comfortable in that room. His Nerdist crowds are unreal; they’re the best. It’s like this weird niche of lovely, nice, nerdy Internet people. They’ll listen to your set, then follow you on Twitter and tweet nice things at you all the time. After that, I was getting new followers from New Zealand, England, Denmark—it’s fucking cool. And then, when he came through here to do his live podcast taping at the Boulder Theater, he had me open up. Hardwick’s been very cool to me.
AVC: Who would you like to see come to Denver?
ACH: Reggie Watts. Zach Galifianakis hasn’t been here in awhile. Marc Maron just came through. Bill Burr just came through. I’d love to see Louis C.K. There’s a guy who I love, an Irish guy, Tommy Tiernan. No one really knows about him. He’s so fucking funny. He does theaters all over the world, and I’d love to see him come through. I doubt he knows what Denver is. I’d like to see Pete Holmes come here.
AVC: Holmes an accomplished lucid dreamer.
ACH: Is he? No shit.
AVC: Do you lucid dream? What are your dreams like?
ACH: Exactly like this. I dreamt this exact interview last night. I’m clairvoyant. I had a lucid dream once, maybe twice. Both times I flew. Afterward I was like, “Why didn’t I fuck everything I could fuck?”
AVC: It's funny when people lucid dream and go around punching everyone. You can tell that’s what they fantasize about doing during their waking hours.
ACH: See? Well that’s how un-fucked up I am. I just want to fly, man. I just want to fucking fly.
AVC: That’s beautiful.
ACH: Thanks, that is beautiful.