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A Comedian Walks Into A Pandemic — And Opens A Comedy Club

The past year has given us a lot to be sad about. But Fort Collins comedian David Rodriguez believes it’s time to start laughing again — together, in a shared space. It’s why he’s reopening the former music venue Hodi’s Half Note this week as a new comedy club, The Comedy Fort.

KUNC arts reporter Stacy Nick spoke with Rodriguez about his plans and why, just like telling a joke, timing is everything.

Interview Highlights:

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Stacy Nick: What made you decide that, right now, in the middle of a global pandemic, was the time to open a comedy club?

David Rodriguez: This project has been in the works for about two years and right before everything shut down, I thought I had a spot and was about to sign a lease. And then everything — everything happened that happened last year, and so it was kind of put on pause. The owner here (former Hodi’s owner Dan Mladenik) reached out to me because we had had talks beforehand. And he's obviously a huge supporter of live entertainment and a supporter of comedy. And he was looking at other positions and didn't want this place to just be dormant. Luckily now, it seemed like it might be good timing for the spring because the vaccines are rolling out, cases are going down. And I wanted to be in a position to be able to open up as soon as possible because people haven't had entertainment in a year and everybody's pretty ready for it.

Green Room Wall Homage to Hodi's.jpg
Stacy Nick / KUNC
The Comedy Fort’s green room features old band stickers and graffiti from its time as a music venue. Rodriguez said it was important to pay homage to The Comedy Fort’s beginnings.

Was there ever a point where you were just like, this is crazy?

Doing all of the renovation and construction myself, basically with the help of handy friends and contractors that I know, has kept me busy enough to where I didn't have to step back and take a look at the bigger picture and be like, “Oh, this is pretty insane right now,” thankfully. But my philosophy has always been to do things in a way that makes sense for the customer and for the performer. There's plenty of things that are done in the business world that don't make any sense. And I was like, well I'm new at this, so how about we just do things in a logical way that makes sense. And this venue and this venture just made sense to me.

Now, you actually got your start here in this very venue when Hodi's used to offer open mic nights for comedians. But I wondered what was it that got you into comedy in the first place?

My friend took me to an open mic when I was living in Denver and before going to an open mic, your only exposure to comedy is, you know, the super famous Chris Rock, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld superstars. You know, they're like movie stars, basically. And you're like, oh, that's a cool, glamorous profession. I never considered it something that anybody could just do until I went to an open mic. And I'm like, oh, literally anybody is allowed to try — for better or worse — anybody is allowed to get up on stage with this microphone.

So I was immediately pretty infatuated with it, and it took me a while — it took me like almost a year to get up the courage to get on stage for the first time. I just went to open mics and watched and took notes. And so finally I made a New Year's resolution, and on January 5th — the first Monday after the New Year that year — I got up and did my three minutes. And from the very first single laugh that I heard from a joke that I told I’m like, “Oh, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” It was just one of those cliché, like it clicked and like, this is my passion. And from that moment I was like full steam ahead.

Some people will wonder why start a comedy club in Fort Collins, you know, a place that hasn't had a comedy club in 30 years. Why not Denver?

That's kind of what I was told when I started out too, why the scene was so small here is because Denver is so close and that once you get to a certain point, you're like, “Well, you've hit the ceiling here. You've got to move to Denver if you want to advance.” And I'm like, I just saw how good the crowds were and how big of a need there was for these shows that I was like, “We can do it all from here. I promise. Like, you don't have to go to Denver. You don't have to go to L.A. or New York. We can do it all from Fort Collins. We've got plenty of people here ready to laugh and ready to support.”

Do you think the pandemic could kind of be — I hate to say it — but almost good for comedy?

Sure. I mean, it has to be. We get our comedy from our lives and everybody is going through a huge global shared experience right now. There's going to be lots of commentaries on it — good and bad. It's going to be a tricky thing to navigate as the pandemic keeps going and more and more lives are lost, more and more people are affected directly by it. It's going to be a tricky thing to joke about because no matter what, in every audience, there's going to be somebody that knows somebody close to them that was affected by it or you know they themselves, but that's what comedians do. We take the world around us and we put it through our own personal, specific lens and try and make it funny for everybody.

The Comedy Fort opens Feb. 11 with shows featuring headliner Shane Torres.

This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for Feb. 10. You can find the full episode here.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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