by John Wenzel on January 29, 2009
Most Denverites know Adam Cayton-Holland from his Westword column “What’s So Funny?” and his part in the Wrist Deep Productions comedy collective, which puts on nightly open-mic nights at the Squire Lounge and the monthly Los Comicos Super Hilarious showcases at the Orange Cat.
What’s less apparent is that Cayton-Holland, like many rising Denver comics, works his butt off performing in and outside of the state, struggling to be noticed amid of sea of other hungry stand-ups. But Cayton-Holland has an edge: “D**k Jokes for Artists,” his new DVD, is a crisp sampling of his (and to a lesser extent, his cohorts) brand of funny — a smart, self-promoting business card for any booker or talent agent that also doubles as the perfect introduction to his act.
In advance of the Friday, Jan. 30 installment of Los Comicos at Orange Cat Studios, we thought we’d take this opportunity to review the DVD, trying our best to avoid the liberal f-bombs and otherwise unprintable material that would swiftly place this blog in the realm of no-no material (at least by family-friendly newspaper standards).
Shot and edited by Wrist Deep’s Jim Hickox, the DVD sets a tone of tranquility with the menu pic of Cayton-Holland smelling flowers in a pastoral field. Don’t get used to it. Taped at the Orange Cat in multi-camera format, the DVD kicks off with varied after-show comments from audience members, making you wonder if your DVD player accidentally skipped to the end. No worries. He’s just starting where most people finish.
The cartoonish, neon scrawl of “D** Jokes for Artists” contrasts with the gentle cursive of the menu screens as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” theme music plays, Cayton-Holland taking the stage to applause that probably could have been mixed louder. Adorned with only a couch, a Rockies pennant and a red Italian soccer flag, the setting is meant to resemble his room growing up (sort of).
Wrist Deep’s “DNC Denver Orientation” video.
Anyone’s that caught Cayton-Holland’s set recently will recognize a few of the bits, which cover everything from panhandlers, summer camp, Tanzania and corporate slogans to his travels overseas (he frequently mocks his well-off background) and service at banks. “I bet you the title ‘bank manager’ is a lot less prestigious when that bank is inside a supermarket,” he says before comparing said manager to a glorified checkout bagger.
Even if some of the material is familiar — and I’m biased because I’ve seen him perform a lot of it — it’s great to have it collected in this clean, smoothly-edited package. This is easily the longest, most substantial thing a Wrist Deep member has released and it proves their DIY/indie comedy ethic doesn’t preclude a palatable, cohesive format.
Cayton-Holland possesses a sharp, matter-of-fact style that bleeds confidence and sops it up with bursts of absurdism. It’s smart but not off-puttingly intellectual (he lays into hipster douchebags more than a few times) and falls somewhere between the narrative style of Patton Oswalt, Aziz Ansari and less shy, mumbling Mitch Hedberg.
“Text Messaging,” an earlier version of a “D**k Jokes” bit also taped at the Orange Cat.
Some of the material could work well anywhere, as Cayton-Holland acknowledges when discussing his “career day” appearance at a local school. “I am pro-text messaging because I don’t think there’s enough technologies that cater to the coward,” he also spits at one point between liberal gulps of Stella Artois. At another: “I bet you Uggs are the only shoe ever named after the exact sound people make when they first see them.”
Cayton-Holland has a facility with both cleverness and filth, and that hints at one of his biggest strengths: He’s not married to a single approach. Comics from Steven Wright to Demetri Martin has made a career of one-liners, but Cayton-Holland uses them as starting points, putting the punchline first and the embellishment later. He’s not quite as strong at ranting (see his MacBook-Powerbook vs. Master-Slave metaphor), if only because his normally honed, economical phrasings get a bit lost in the shuffle, but his rant about a chili con carne/baseball experience overcomes that with suitably visceral language (think “fecal bonanza”).
Speaking of visceral, I’d be scared out of my gourd to do half of this material in front of my parents and ex-soccer coach — all of whom Cayton-Holland points out during an impromptu (and slightly overlong) segment where he enters the audience. His excellent “Ya’ll charge cheese?!” bit is an exercise in delicious harshness, and when abortion and feline-AIDS jokes net scattered groans, Cayton-Holland declares, “That’s not MY audience!”
“Sinkhole ‘08,” a video blog originally taped for Westword.com.
It’s not as overtly slick as some comedy DVDs, but that’s the point. This is raw comedy. And overall the material easily stands out among Cayton-Holland’s peers, which probably explains why he’s played prestigious out-of-state gigs like Tearing the Veil of Maya.
If you’re familiar with the guy, the DVD is a concise document of his best material, and if you’re not, well, come out to the Orange Cat on Friday for a righteous sampling. (Full disclosure: I’ll be there selling my book “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny,” which features a lengthy sidebar on Wrist Deep Productions).