The Spotlight’s On Me (Another Goldfish Production)
I returned to the Goldfish Garage last Saturday night for the bi-weekly Garage Show by Goldfish Entertainment. Intimacy distinguishes this and any underground world – if you wanted a macro focus on the Denver comedy circuit, this is where you would venture. I’m standing next to Lauren Dafault while she looks over and edits her notes before her set. I’m a few feet away from comedians Kona Morris and Stylo Marx, each of whom selectively laughs at jokes that leverage their professional approval.
There are layers upon layers of passion, commitment, and camaraderie that subsist for performers, especially comedians, and you can’t often see it when watching someone on a massive stage in a packed auditorium. I grew up watching some of the greatest comedians receive their first HBO specials in just such a space, and even now feel intense excitement over the Netflix, Hulu, and Prime generation of comedy special releases with comics who catch their breaks. But the world inside this garage engages more than just laughs.
Unlike the polished comics we all know by name, these folks are still seasoning the pot of their comedic soup. They are learning how to deliver with timing and tone, how to feel confident in a joke even when the audience is silent or distracted, and they are reworking jokes until they get them right. It’s one thing to be impressed by someone who has practiced to the point of perfecting their art; it’s another entirely to be invited on the journey to that perfection. I’m honored to be here, to have the opportunity to watch local artists grow – and I’m certain I will see many of these folks find success if they keep at it. More so, I’m certain I will see myself find success – in part because I’m surrounded by people who inspire me to keep chipping away at my own goals.
Harrison Garcia took to the stage, thanking us for “being here in this garage” and describing his look with rubrics such as “if an owl had a drinking problem” or “resting diabetic cat face”. In his black rimmed glasses, bearded face, and flannelled chest, Harrison is the epitome of a Denver guy. As he narrates to us in sing-song The Backstreet Boys’ musical number, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” so we can all re-familiarize ourselves with lyrics about a return from a record-making hiatus, he becomes uproarious about the fact that 29 million copies had been sold about this repetitive and lowbrow piece of music. From there, he spirals out of control telling us about how he learns that this musical number about a triumphant return showcased on the band’s very first album”.
At 35 and having experienced the 90’s, I’m not surprised this escaped us. Still Harrison made sure we understood that it wasn’t because my generation were a bunch of nitwits incapable of noticing such musical atrocities; we simply didn’t have the ability to pull out our iPhone’s and Google that shit back then. The greatest success with Harrison’s joke functions outside the moment, as I later wondered how many people nowadays used their futuristic Google-fact-checking technology to discover the song actually appeared on the band’s second album.
Up next, Miljen Aljinovic opened his set by letting us know his preferred pronouns are “we” and “us”. Quite a juxtaposition from Jonny’s sense of humor, Miljen understands that great jokes can disregard class – but only if they critique something in society that the audience itself weathers. We are all trying to examine new meanings of old binaries; and, some of us are learning how to address others in a way respects them and doesn’t conflict with our understanding of the world. Miljen challenges us to forget individual person-hood entirely requesting we refer to him as a cooperative.
Though I personally find myself striving for a singular or solo identity in a world that seems to strip me of mine the second I entwine my arm in another’s, I know it’s not that way for everyone. And just like the past generation of hippies, we live among a growing number of people who want to be part of a collective. For Miljen, it meant moving out to Colorado to be with a partner whose expectations were impossible to meet whilst he played video games and ignored his relationship. Perhaps he should rethink the enmeshment of monogamy entirely, but real life aside, his jokes had fire. Daring to criticize the all-too-beloved Beatles, he wonders, how much would we idolize John Lennon if he was alive now and on Twitter…you know…considering he beat his wife and abandoned his first child.
Next, Austin Black scoffs at friends of his bragging about having “dad bods” like it’s worthwhile to be out of shape without the trophy excuse of a wife and kids. He mused on the idea of a “dead beat dad bod” for those dads who aren’t around their kids and can’t pay child support because they are “knee-deep in jet ski lessons”. While Austin wasn’t abandoned by his own dad, he touches upon the idea that it’s not always that much greater with a dad around. He recounts a tale of a time he ordered boneless wings at a restaurant and bares his father’s reproach about how a “real man eats chicken off the bone”.
Austin is not only dismayed by the audacity of absent fathers but rattled by toxic masculinity entirely as he quips back, “No dad, a real man doesn’t yell at his son at a Buffalo Wild Wings”. Understandably a bit depressed and isolated, Austin binges Netflix’ series entirely before deciding if it’s worth his time – yet he’s not willing to give nearly as much energy to actual people. “TV is just better than people”, he asserts. Austin believes it would be great if friends were a little more like Netflix. It might be a better world if they asked him, “Are you still listening to me?” and “Here are some other conversations you might like”.
Nate Earl had some of the most solid jokes of the evening. With a one liner “Didn’t we used to assassinate presidents?” that progressed into cartoon methods of murdering Trump such as a “well-placed banana peel” or a “stick of dynamite with lipstick and a wig”, Nate completed his political commentary without ever saying a bad word about Trump. He recognizes a feeling of comfort in a philosophy we’ve all now heard (or said) about the “pendulum swinging the other way” in terms of our next president. Nate’s prediction? We will have our first male ponytail hairstyle in office. CBD in the water supply. A vice president golden retriever. Clever, Nate. Clever.
Nate’s not from Denver and so he much appreciates the neighborhood Trader Joe’s he visits for groceries. The thing he loves most is the tie up dock for shoppers’ pets. Or, as he describes, the “rack of carabiners” for the “leave a dog, take a dog” station. He’s just struggling with confusion about why some guy yelled, “That’s my dog” as he reacts with astonishment, “Dude, get your own. They’re free.”
Another victory of the night, Preston Tompkins recalls an experience at the zoo when a child and his mother happen upon a sign on a monkey cage with the word “ass” in it. The mother turns to the child and tells him this one and only time, he can say a swear word. The child exclaims the F-word and proudly announces that he “saw a chance and took it”. Preston’s right when he diagnoses this kid as dangerous.
Preston learned through personal experience just how awful children can be. Bullied in childhood, he was oblivious to the idea that anyone would be mean to him. He paints us a picture of himself as a child at school: Out on the football field, children are throwing chicken nuggets at him as he catches them one by one in his mouth. He can hear the cheers from everyone. He thinks, wow, he’s making friends.
His best jokes exist at the most raw point of his victimization though. When he calls his mom recently to share that he lost ninety pounds, she offers to bake him a cake in celebration. He pinpoints her as the problem all along, the kind of woman who would suggest they “get wild” and grab some Four Loko – a risky concoction of energy drink and alcohol – if her hypothetical alcoholic son received his sobriety chip from AA. It’s not surprising then that she would bully him about sleeping on an air mattress and being poor during a time when he was a child in her care.
In the corner of my eye, I notice Josue laughing at the jokes as he manned the bar for the night. This is not only a journey for performers. Josue is building a dream, too. As intimate as a night of local amateur comedy feels inside of a garage, it’s easy to lose oneself in a Goldfish Entertainment production because Josue is as serious a producer as they come and he demands that seriousness of those he employs. He’s planning great things for this year. I promise myself I will keep pressing forward so I can not only contribute something, but so I can participate in it.
Zach Welch headlined the night – and he was worth the wait. Immediately he asks us, “Do you like faggots?” and declares that he’s taking the word back. Even though he’s unable to step away from sipping his beer throughout his show, his alcoholism’s not getting the best of him because he has come up with a solution to “treat his alcoholism like a pet” by walking, feeding, and watering it.
For a moment, he seemed to have forgotten his set, and when an audience member by the stage shouts, “more gay stuff”, he quips, “Duh, this is all I have.” He proceeds to stand in front of her and deliver his lines directly to her, claiming all he ever really wanted in life was one person who wanted to hear his jokes. As his comic friends in the back laugh, he explains to the audience that the group has already heard him tell these jokes a million times before. He’s heart-warming and he’s tipsy, but he’s stumbling into a perfect set.
He tells us about that unfortunate time he had to ghost an ex once he found out the guy lured children off Craigslist for sex. Although disgusted with the behavior, he tosses back his metaphorical hair from his baby-face and concludes, “At 29, I still got it”. I can in no way recreate his imagery of a Hoarders‘ episode in which a man hoards cocks (attached to the person). You have to experience this for yourself, okay? But, I will tell you that he named them all “Ryan” and as a gay, cock-loving man, if it were him, he would be looking around at the cocks and saying “I see nothing wrong here”.
I don’t blame him.
Zach may be intoxicated, but he’s in control. He can see me in the back of the room, furiously jotting down my notes. Suddenly the spotlight is on me as he tells the audience, “Comedy Central’s here”. For a moment I forgot how far I’ve come in my life and I sensed a fear I carried as a child. Then, I laughed. I’m no longer devastated by attention, and I hope one day I can free myself enough to live life for the applause.
I can’t thank enough those who chase their dreams while in the public eye, nor people like Josue who quietly generate high-quality production in even the most intimate of settings. I won’t be satisfied if I only reflect on the experience. With each attendance, I discover another piece of an act that’s buried inside me ready to be released. And I know now that it’s here where I will one day perform it for the very time.