The energy in the car was static. 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 English-Major sandwiched between four comedians hurtling northbound on I-25 from Pueblo.
Liz Benfield, John Brown, Charley McMullen, and Garret Waller are four comedians that comprise Steel City Stand-Up and represent a growing cache of creative talent hailing from Pueblo, Colorado.
Our destination: Loonees Comedy Club in Colorado Springs. It was the fourth of April, and the members of Steel City Stand-Up had traveled to compete in a comic gauntlet including the best available comics in all of Colorado hosted by the comedian David Lee. The rules were simple. The contestants were provided with ten minutes to perform their material. Anything over ten minutes would represent a penalty, and there were three unidentified judges lingering in the audience to watch every move. The four advancing finalists moved on to a second round on April 25. The overall winners would have the opportunity to open for major national acts that would be cycling through Loonees.
Prior to the sequential appearances of the Steel City crew, the night’s comedic flavor was minced with jokes that mainly zeroed in on the ridiculousness of ethnic stereotypes, fake boobs, and few garnishes of tried and true slights on Pueblo (for local measure).
On stage, Garret took aim at his physically obvious affinity for fast-food culture. The routine is akin to one that reads palms for a living. He had a strange and innate sense for pulse of the room, and he was giving 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, Garret was making people cry, and John Brown had to follow this.
The contrasting style of Brown commands the audience to follow him. While his confrontational attitudes and cadence are reminiscent of the comedy of Louis C.K, his routine is anything but routine. Having spent his formative years as a professional clown married, and then divorced to another professional clown, his life experiences alone are the ingredients for a surreal 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, Mr. Brown nailed it.
Following this, Liz Benfield took to the stage with an obvious air of endearing nervousness and static electricity. Benfield’s style is one that directly challenges the crowd’s senses of socio-sexual taboo while wearing a smile that one could possibly trademark. Occasionally glancing on notes scrawled on her hand, Liz Benfield moved her piece around topics of bestiality, Easter, vibrators, and the exploitation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. While the scope of her material was vast, the crowd was hot and ready to follow. The last Steel City comic to appear on the night’s roster was Charley McMullen.
McMullen delivered, in his characteristically deadpan style, 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 more grounded version of the late Bill Hicks.
The night came to a close. The votes were in. Out of a dozen comics Steel City Stand-Up took two of the four available slots. Garret Waller and John Brown were selected to move on to the next round of eliminations.