I grew up in Loveland, Colorado. I've been back since and it's completely different. It has grown a bunch. Most of my friends have moved away. Even my family has moved from there. It is my hometown, but it hardly feels like home. Going back there just feels weird to me. As much as it shaped me into who I am today, the Loveland I knew is gone.
However, that disconnection to my hometown is nothing when compared to when a comedian loses their home club, the club that rejected you until you were good enough, the club that eventually gave you your start. In Denver, I have two home clubs, the Comedy Works, and Wits End. As of last weekend, Wits End closed its doors.
MY CAREER STARTED HORRIBLY
When I first started comedy, I was awful. I mean, I was so bad I can't believe anybody ever let me set foot on a professional stage. Unless they are incredibly egotistical/ insecure, every comedian will tell you how they were awful when they started. I have proof. Below is a set I did in early 2002 at Wits End Comedy Club:
WITS END DIDN'T GIVE UP ON ME
Despite how awful this set was (any many subsequent sets were) Wits End kept giving me stage time. At one point, I couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting work there (or anywhere). I flat out asked the New Talent Coordinator at the time, Jay Benedict Brown, for some advice. Jay agreed to meet with me at a gas station Subway near the club.
Jay always gave you his pat answer: "Now, I am not telling you what to do with your act. I am only telling you, based on my many years working with Wits End, what works for this club." We went through my entire "act," weeded out all the abortion jokes, suicide jokes, religious jokes, racial jokes, graphic sex jokes, downright not funny jokes, and most of the poop jokes. He wasn't suggesting I kill all these jokes permanently. He merely suggested that if I wanted to work the club, I leave those jokes out of my showcase sets. Looking back, those jokes don't really belong in any audition for any club anyway.
A SLOW CLIMB
Shortly after this meeting, Jay helped me arrange another guest set. It went much better than all my previous sets. In 2007, I won Wits End's annual contest, "The Survival of the Wittiest." Here's a video of me accepting the award:
After this promotion, it took only 2 more years to be promoted to feature. Then, in 2011, I recorded most of my debut CD, JAke's First Purge at Wits End. Here's a video from that recording:
Because of Wits End, I ended up working with hundreds of comedians, many of which helped me get into other clubs throughout the country. I also learned how to showcase a clean set, which has proven very useful in getting to comedy festivals, and NACA, etc. I now regularly perform at clubs, colleges, and comedy festivals from coast to coast. My experiences at Wits End certainly played a part in that.
On a more personal note, the Wits End family will always be special to me. Special thanks to Don, Mary Kay, Dave, John W, Jay, Danni, Deion, Amanda, Davis and so many others! There are so many other folks from Wits End that matter to me- that I can't think of right off the bat! I wish my brain wasn't crap!
YOU CAN'T GO HOME
The next time I go back to Denver, I will most likely drive over to the Wits End parking lot, look in the empty windows, and reminisce for a couple minutes. Then, I will probably leave. Wits End was in a strip mall, right next to a Judo dojo. I don't want to get my ass kicked by a child with a mullet.