If you’re making people think too hard on stage, Sam Tallent questions your chops as a comic. He’s in the business of belly laughs: pure and simple. The Colorado-raised artist points to the noise rock duo Lightning Bolt as an example of the kind of immediacy he strives for behind the mic.
“No one can tell you why Lightning Bolt is good,” Tallent says. “It’s a punch in the face: It’s loud, it’s frenetic, it’s an aural assault. You either like it or you don’t.”
That sort of direct confrontation is a big part of what he loves about the craft. Tallent’s first taste came through seat-of-your-pants improv performances and DIY rock shows at since-shuttered Blast-O-Mat and Rhinoceropolis. From there, he charted a path to becoming one of Colorado’s foremost comedians, podcasters and authors by leaning away from the cerebral and into the visceral.
Tallent, who grew up an hour outside the city in the quiet country town of Elizabeth, was soon drawn to the chaotic energy of mixed DIY bills featuring music, comedy and points in between. So when he and some friends founded Mouth House, a now-defunct house venue on California Street deeply entrenched in local lore, anything went.
“Our whole thing was like, if you want to play a show here, you can,” Tallent says. “We’re gonna have a guy that plays the theremin, followed by some Madball-style hardcore band from Baltimore, then we’re gonna have some white kids rapping.”
For around $120 a month per person, Tallent shared the space with more than a dozen other people, including his best friend and current Chubby Behemoth podcast co-host Nathan Lund. He’d conjure setlist of unlikely mash-ups, and just maybe, if people came for a show, they’d see a band they would’ve never encountered. Meanwhile Tallent turned out huge crowds for the Too Much Fun variety show at Deer Pile, a creative space above Capitol Hill eatery City, O’ City. He did so alongside fellow co-founders of the Fine Gentlemen’s Club comedy troupe, Lund, Bobby Crane and Chris Charpentier.
Three available comedy open mics across the city had turned into countless locations in just a handful of years. Garage venues hosting punk and metal bands soon dotted the Denver metro, spurred by the efforts of a creative community that included Tallent and his friends. The ethos was simple: You did it how you wanted to do it, and did so without hesitation.
“That’s just the way that I ran my businesses forever,” says Tallent. “Touring non-stop, sleeping on floors, passing hats, making my own merch, booking my own shows in the old fucking nascent days of MySpace, booking your own fucking life — that all made its way into my standup.”
After the Mouth House closed its doors in 2013, Tallent headed west for Vegas with his wife Emily, trading impromptu music and comedy nights for variety shows at supper clubs in dimly lit casino side rooms. The burning desire for stand-up had dwindled, but the urge to create had not.
“I didn’t have any friends and it was, like, a million degrees. It was so hot I literally couldn’t leave my house during the day,” Tallent says. “My wife was gone all day at medical school, so I was home alone — I’d fill up those empty hours with writing.”
Searching for stillness
Tallent says he needs stillness to write — and in Las Vegas, the stillness was ever present. Day after day, he’d stack up the pages that would become his first book, Running the Light. A gutting, macabre novel about a washed-up touring comic named Billy Ray Schafer, the work has been hailed by critics as a true-to-form slice of life on the road.
“The more days that I can stack up back to back to back writing only [improves] the product because you get in that rhythm, that groove,” says Tallent. “I had that in Vegas. But now, I don’t have an address.”
Since July, Tallent and his wife have been living what he calls a “weird, vagabond” lifestyle. Nearly all of the time, they’re visiting family across the country or traveling abroad. Suffice to say, there hasn’t been much stillness for Tallent lately.
“I haven’t written anything since I was in Ecuador for all of May,” he says. “I have two books that have like 60,000 words in them so far — if I could just sit down for like two months, I could get one of them done.”
Tallent’s only time spent in Colorado this month will be to perform at Comedy Works Denver over Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a club that’s remained one of standup comedy’s most recognized locations.
“It is the benchmark, it is the gold standard. I love being a Comedy Works comic,” Tallent says. “It’s a killbox, you know: It’s 220 people in a low-ceiling, underground room, and they’re all knee-to-knee. It’s funny when people bomb at Comedy Works. The quiet is so pronounced.”
‘Waiting for a punchline’
Denver is a city that loves to laugh. Tallent attributes this to a “comedy incubator” of sorts: The people are well-educated, but also a little drunk and maybe a little stoned. “It’s the perfect crowd,” he says. Other cities in Colorado, like Fort Collins, have established a strong base as well.
“Fort Collins secretly had the best Monday and Thursday night shows in the state for years,” Tallent says. “David Rodriguez, Kyle Pogue, Mallory Wallace, Dan Jones: what they’ve built up there ended up paying off as the Comedy Fort, which is without a doubt the best new room in the country.”
Boulder can be a little tougher, considering the transience that comes with being a college town. By the time most twentysomethings start appreciating comedy, it’s move-out day, and many are gone to places that are more affordable. There is, however, one man who Tallent says has held it down in the People’s Republic for more than a decade.
“I don’t think Brent Gill gets enough love for giving Boulder an actual space to see consistently good comedy once a week,” Tallent says, referring to Gill’s long-standing Boulder Comedy Show, held every Sunday at Rayback Collective since 2013.
Gill got Tallent his first open mic at Red Fish, the long-gone spot next to Bohemian Biergarten, and later his first paid performance at the since-closed Albums on the Hill. It’s bonds like these that make standup comedy here so tight-knit — a community Tallent has called family for a long time.
“I’m really grateful for all the things standup has given me,” he says. But he’s not ashamed to admit that his love for writing may perhaps be greater than his love for telling jokes behind the mic.
“I finally got an agent and a manager,” he says. “We’re on a Zoom meeting and they ask me, ‘What does a perfect life look like for Sam Tallent?’ I tell them I’d move to Paris and write books. They were waiting for a punchline, but it never came.”
ON THE BILL: Sam Tallent. 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22 | 7:30 and 9:35 p.m. Fri.-Sun., Nov. 24-25, Comedy Works Denver, 1226 15th St. Tickets here.
BONUS: Laugh it up
Sam Tallent rates our favorite things in the People’s Republic of Boulder
Tallent: Love them. Especially being on the road — there’s so few things that are actually good. That was my favorite part of Australia. Me and my wife went to so many fucking farmers markets there. … The stuff there isn’t straight-up poison. You can get some locally made cheese, some cherry tomatoes, and there’s someone baking bread or doing some kind of weird cured fish. But dude, when cherry tomatoes are in season, holy shit, get yourself a box and munch ’em.
. . .
Love it, dude. Anything that gets that program fired up is good for not just Boulder, but the whole state. I mean, that program was so bad. I was living in Fort Collins for the last three years, so I became a version of a [Colorado State] Rams fan. But just seeing how far down both those programs fell…
And it’s very good to have a definitively Black man showing up in Boulder — a city that loves talking about how progressive it is, but has a notoriously difficult time with people of color being in any position of power. To have someone like that define your city is very cool to see. He’s infused like 90 million worth of ad revenue into that program. College GameDay being in Boulder. These are all cool things that never, ever would’ve happened before. If you’re anti-Prime, you’re probably a hater, first of all, and you’re probably secretly racist [laughs].
. . .
You know, it’s not for me. It’s noodling. It’s one-string guitar solos. I mean, I was in a band called Electric Mind Gravy in high school, and after high school, we had an album called Jerry Garcia is Dead. I mean, I’ve never been pro-jam band. But hey, to each their own. I will say Trampled By Turtles has been very nice to me.
And you know what? I fucking like Les Claypool. I like Billy Strings, Oysterhead, Primus. I’m all for that shit. But I’m not a big Frog Brigade guy. And also, I’m not good at doing drugs in public. I don’t like doing hallucinogens and going around 3,000 people. But you know, anything that gets people out and about with their friends — outside wiggling to music, it’s fine. But I fucking hate jam bands.
. . .
It’s good! I love a good walk. The issue is I’m a city guy. When we were in Tokyo, we were putting on mileage, like eight to 12 miles a day on foot. So I’d rather do an urban hike around a city that I’ve never been to. I’ll have a hard time when it’s just walking on a path the whole time, with trees on both sides. Give me a fucking church that’s been there for 800 years that I can stumble upon. There’s no bakeries when you’re hiking in the woods. You can’t accidentally find the best croissant you’ve ever had.
I like a long walk, but it just doesn’t need to be a hike. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m from Colorado, but all these people who are so enamored and boned up for walking up to Hanging Lake — we did that when we were kids.