The energy in the car was static, nervous, and without warning, apt to transform itself spontaneously into conversations about videoconference pornography. When rare instances of silence were broken, one would call out something like, “We’ve got this,” or, “We can do this,” followed by groans and mutterings of agreement from the rest. There I was, one dork journalist sandwiched between four comedians hurtling northbound on I-25 from Pueblo. Had anyone been naked at the time, it would have been easy to assume that this was just another one of those dreams.
Having the opportunity to accompany members of Steel City Stand Up (Garret Waller, John Brown, Liz Benfield, and Charley McMullen) to Loonees Comedy Club was an experience that had the potential to get weird if things went south. After all, the members of this Pueblo-based comedic guild were headed to the Colorado Springs comedy club for a very serious gauntlet. What if one of these comedians truly bombed? I was there to review them, and they were my only ride home. Foreseeing the possibility of an eternally awkward trip back to Pueblo, I adopted a one-night mantra: “Please kick ass.”
Garret Waller entered into the stage lights and immediately took aim on his physically obvious affinity for the fast-food culture. Nonetheless, I am purposefully avoiding the use of blanket phrases like “self-depreciating humor.” Waller is no one-trick-pony; the Garret Waller pony can teach other ponies telepathy. Like a palm reader, he gave the room exactly what it wanted (but didn’t know it wanted) to hear.
Ending his set balancing with one hand on the floor in a stance somewhere between a linebacker and a Playboy bunny, Waller was making me and everyone else in the room cry. Thanks were silently whispered heavenward, but John Brown had to follow this. Please kick ass.
John Brown, in contrast to Garret, commanded his audience to follow him. While his confrontational cadence is reminiscent of the comedy of Louis C.K, his routine was anything but contrived. Having spent his formative years as a professional clown that was married to (and subsequently divorced from) another professional clown, his life experiences alone are the ingredients for an inimitable comedic jambalaya.
Burning through riffs on clown sex, the ability of large shoes to deter child molestation charges, and clown divorce, his act was far from what you would expect from circus humor. In short, and thankfully, Mr. Brown nailed it to the wall.
Following this, Liz Benfield took to the stage with an obvious air of nervousness. Was she going to crack? Please, Liz, put your foot to these glutes.
Benfield’s style directly challenged the crowd’s senses of socio-sexual taboo while wearing a smile that one could possibly trademark. Occasionally glancing at hand scrawled notes, Benfield ping-ponged her material around topics of bestiality, Easter, vibrators, and the wholesale exploitation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. While the scope of her material was topically vast, Benfield was serving to a crowd that was sharp enough to follow her. Benfield left Charley McMullen on his own to counter her obvious virtuosity. Charley, you are the final Steel City Comic. Please kick ass.
McMullen took to the stage with a full deck of politically-driven/absurdist material. In his characteristically deadpan style, McMullen dealt hilarious observations skewering the tenets of fundamental social conservatism in a city that famously provides harbor to groups like Focus On The Family. Identifying the irony of egg-throwing by anti-abortion activists, his style was reminiscent of a sober version of Bill Hicks in his earlier days. This was a wonderful thing.
Whether from laughter or relief (or a combination of both) this writer may or may not have jean-peed just a little bit here and there throughout the course of the night. The car on our ride home was jammed with humanity and the exhaust of accomplishment.
When the applause set and the crowd favorites were announced, Garrett Waller and John Brown rose as victors. This distinction marked a shining achievement for this pantheon of piss-provoking poets. All of them, without pander or predetermined praise, did Pueblo positively proud. All alliteration aside, one could not be more thankful that this was the case.