The 2017 season of Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents comes to a close tonight at midnight with a half hour from Denver’s Adam Cayton-Holland. Adam is a founding member of The Grawlix, the comedy trio behind truTV’s Those Who Can’t. In addition to standup and acting, he’s also an avid birdwatcher and author of the upcoming book Tragedy Plus Time. He’s one of the few comedians who has made a living earning multiple stripes in the industry while maintaining a home base in a non-industry city. I spoke with Adam about his choice to stay in Denver, winning over his early haters, and how his Grawlix compatriot Ben Roy changed his mind about what a comic can be.
I last talked to you when Those Who Can’t had just gotten picked up. That show is really taking off after that whole process of Amazon running the original pilot and then not picking it up. It’s so rare for pilots to get a second chance and a company to allow you to take it and reshoot it somewhere else.
We’re really lucky. You don’t hear about many second winds for shows. It was awesome that Amazon let it go and truTV resurrected it.
You Grawlix guys are kind of spread out now. You’re still in Denver, right?
I’m in Denver, but during production I make the move out there. Our writers are in LA so I rent a place for five months with my wife. When everything is done I go back to Denver. I have a schizophrenic life.
The show is so funny and you have such a great supporting cast.
Yeah, we wanted it to be kind of a clubhouse for comics that we like. It’s become that and has now spread into really funny actors too. It’s great.
Is your goal to stay rooted in Denver?
I always admire the people who can make it and still keep a home base in their original scene.
I’m lucky that my wife is so cool. It might change when we have kids, but I never want to live in LA. We’ll live in Denver with our kids and make it work. It’s a big part of my ethos. People are like, “New York, LA, New York, LA,” and I’m like, “There’s a ton of other cities.” Of course, that’s where the industry is, so it makes sense, but for our show we made a web series out of Denver and we sold the show out of Denver. It’s like music: musicians are allowed to exist in regional scenes and have driving careers. I want to do that as well.
I feel like that’s the dream for a lot of people.
I have friends, like Sean Patton, who says, “I want to buy a house in New Orleans and do it the way you do it. I’m gonna do it, man. Make it work.”
Denver has such a great comedy scene. Every time I go through I see new people and am just blown away by how hard everyone’s working.
I run this festival, the High Plains Comedy Festival. I started it to highlight how great Denver is, so I’m delighted to hear you say that. There are so many killers out of there. I’m constantly surprised how many new, great voices are coming out of there.
What do you think makes Denver so special?
I think it starts with a good club. Comedy Works is world-class. The fact that every comic in the world wants to play Comedy Works helps. But also, Wendy (Curtis), who owns the Comedy Works, is not at war with the alternative scene. I’ve seen so many cities where people say, “If you play my club you can’t play within 20 miles of here.” That’s so short-sighted. When we were coming up we couldn’t get on the Comedy Works stage and we were so hungry for stage time that we just did our own thing, kind of alt/indie style. That grew and we would go and poach headliners from Comedy Works and Wendy had no problem with it. She would just say, “Cool, just say ‘special guest’ and don’t advertise the name.” We were always respectful of her. We got better and now she uses us.
It’s very short-sighted of a club owner to police the indie scene because the kids will get better on their own and then you can use them. As simple as that is, very few club owners in the country have that mindset. I think a lot of club owners are stuck in the model of the ‘80s where they treat their comics like shit: “They’re a dime a dozen. Just let them MC and pay them a dollar.” People like Wendy treat their comics well and they treat their young guys well because, who knows what they’re going to become? Hopefully those dinosaurs are dying off.
I read that when you were in junior high you made a Letterman-style Top 10 list to prove you could be funny and to win over people who didn’t like you. Is that where this whole comedy seed was planted?
Definitely. I’m working on a book that will be out next year where I’m writing about this shit. Nobody would pay attention to me at school. It was like a rich kids’ school and I was from the wrong part of town. They were rich waspy assholes. In 9th grade you have to give a speech. I always loved Letterman, so I wrote a Top 10 list and crushed it. I remember vividly people being like, “Oh, Adam is cool for the day.” It was an escape from the hell I was living in for one day. The next day it was forgotten, back to the nerd table. But I filed that away somewhere deep. In high school and college I was really into The Onion and satire writing. I was always into writing. I met Ben Roy at a bar one night and he was like, “I’m a comic.” I had never met a comic in the flesh. I think that demystified it. “Oh, you’re just a normal dude.” I thought you had to be on Star Search or something.
You just dated yourself with that reference.
Yeah, I thought you had to be like Uncle Joey from Full House. That’s what I thought being a comic was. I didn’t know anybody could do comedy. I followed Ben to an open mic the next week. I watched Ben and a couple other guys go up and do great and then saw 15 pieces of dogshit perform and thought, “I know I’m funnier than these guys.” I went back the next week and I’ve been doing it ever since.