Diverse comedic voices take center stage at the Boulder Comedy Festival

Zoe Rogers started doing stand-up as a young mother in Los Angeles almost 10 years ago. The stress and chaos of caring for a baby gave him more than enough material to fill 10-minute slots at open mics all over town. The performance proved cathartic. “I felt like the only person terrified and Googled my way in life,” Rogers says of being a new parent. “Then I got on stage and other people were like, Yes, exactly.”

The backstage environment was not always so reassuring, however. It was not uncommon for onlookers to approach Rogers after a set to ask why she was in the bars and not at home with her baby, a question she said seemed mostly reserved for female comedians. The misogyny didn’t stop there: Rogers says she would often be rejected by bookers if another woman was already on a show. The reason? Nobody wanted to organize a “ladies night”.

Discouraged by gatekeeping, Rogers began producing her own show in her friend’s backyard, dubbed “Token Straight White Dude”, which spotlighted comedians who were marginalized because of their gender, race, sexuality or their physical abilities and who often felt symbolized by comedy. shows by being the only person representing a minority. The show, which ran monthly for a year in 2015, featured, as you might guess, only one straight white guy.

In 2017, Rogers decided it was time to move on from Los Angeles. The sheer number of comedians in Los Angeles had begun to wear her down, so she packed her bags and moved to Louisville. After a few years doing stand-up around Boulder and at the Dairy Arts Center (DAC), she pitched the idea of ​​an inclusive comedy festival to DAC staff in 2020 and got the green light. The inaugural festival took place last summer.

In its second year, the Boulder Comedy Festival will feature 30 comics, including local comedians Miriam Moreno, Lee Robinson (of Dyketopia) and Shanae Ross. Big names such as Heather Pasternak (who recently opened for Jeff Garlin), Leslie Liao and Mike Merril, all from Los Angeles, will also join the party.

Ahead of the festival, which runs June 23-26 at six venues in Boulder and Louisville, including the Dairy Arts Center, Front Range Brewing Co. and Finkel and Garf tap room—5280 spoke with Rogers about the local comedy scene, the consistency of stand-up comedy, and which jokes, if any, are banned.

5280: How is the Boulder Comedy Festival different from other festivals of its kind?
Roger: I include people. I create space for different voices without excluding. Sometimes with comedy it can feel like [show-runners say] “I book a black comic, or I book a female, and that will cover my diversity.” The rest of my training will be made up of straight, white men. Like, don’t you think guys talking about Tinder, how high they are and how crazy female dogs are for 90 minutes is redundant? I’m just saying there shouldn’t be 90 minutes from this perspective.

How did the actors react to their participation in the festival?
It was really good. People are okay with the diversity aspect because it’s lacking in most festivals. It has improved over the past two years, but it’s a slow crawl. I feel like people don’t want to make a conscious effort. Perhaps events like the Boulder Comedy Festival — or other comedy festivals that make a conscious effort to promote diversity — will inspire others across the country to do the same.

Why do you think the comedy has been so seamless?
I think it’s because people associate certain people with being headliners, so people keep booking them. But for me, I wonder, Is it a voice that is represented? We control the content that goes out into the universe; we control what people will hear and then think on their journeys home. Why not make this as diverse as possible?

Does being inclusive mean that certain jokes are prohibited?
I think most things can be funny if done the right way, from the right angle. I don’t think you should be afraid to go to dark places. I really admire when someone is like, Here’s a topic that’s gonna be totally uncomfortable, and I’m gonna make it funny. It’s not like we’re stuck anymore. We’re just more aware of how people feel. As a woman, having comedians stand up and make, like, rape jokes, then come up to me and say, Hey, are we cool? You wanna be like, You just got here and you said horrible things, and now you want to shake my hand and ask me if I’m okay? I’m cool, but I think you need to go to therapy.

What kind of comedy do you turn to?
I like it when there’s no “punching” or bullying. Personally, I like really vulnerable, personal, even self-deprecating humor, and someone who looks like fun to watch on stage. I like who we have this year, because it’s a real spread of different voices and different energies.

Ticket prices range from $15 to $25 per show. Saturday evening session will benefit the LGBTQ Resource Center Outside of Boulder County to celebrate Pride month.