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- Featured - Posted on: Apr 12, 2010

The Bright Side Of Dark Minds: Seven Short Essays On The Things We Love Most

Critics can be so, well, critical. But this week they take a minute to appreciate the best people, places and things they cover. Consider it a reminder of the richness of Colorado culture.


Underground: A clubby place for laughs
By John Wenzel
The Denver Post

Walking into Comedy Works just shy of Larimer Square and 15th Street is like entering a subterranean clubhouse. With a couple hundred of your closest friends.

It's a familiar, husky embrace; the echoes of its smoky past (and lots of cheap, fried foods) assaulting your nostrils the minute you enter. But once you've seen a few great shows there, you're hooked.

The Comedy Works has helped a diverse group of comics launch their careers. Here, comedian Nora Lynch opens for headliner Henry Cho. ( Karl Gehring, Denver Post file )Not every night there kills. It's spookily dark. The seats are so close together that you feel like you're in a less comfortable airplane seat - where the booze costs twice as much and you can't wear headphones to drown out annoying noises.

But where most mainstream comedy clubs shuffle their patrons in and out like liquored- up cattle - shoving potato skins and neon- blue mixed drinks into their faces until they've satisfied their purchase minimums - Comedy Works takes a lot more care.

Owner Wende Curtis and her staff are pros, gliding from one seat to the next, efficiently moving people in and out while precariously balancing piles of food and drink atop trays. Meanwhile, everyone around is guffawing, focused on the stage. Not every comedy club makes it look this easy.

Seats that feel uncomfortably small and rigid become occasions for collegial elbow-rubbing as the show progresses, the housewife or college student next to you morphing into just another buddy. Stand-up comedy in general is an irreverent equalizer, but at Comedy Works, it feels like a flattener.

Is every show achingly hilarious? No. But comedy is supposed to be subjective. The independent (read: non-chain) atmosphere Curtis engenders has helped a diverse group of comics launch their careers. Everyone from Dave Chappelle, Carlos Mencia and Lewis Black to local heroes like Josh Blue have found their voices on Comedy Works' stage.

Even now, Curtis' connections and the room's uniquely shallow layout allows you to sit a few feet from comics like George Lopez - while people outside of Denver shell out big bucks to watch him on giant display screens in arenas.

"It's the best-designed club in the world," Tommy Chong once gushed to The Denver Post.

Perhaps, but with the newer Comedy Works South location chugging along, Curtis' original club has taken on the status of legendary older sibling. And we should be thankful for that.

Denver is stuffed with lovely, unique things that we take for granted every day. Is Comedy Works one of them? Is the pope Catholic?