Deer Pile: Rethinking the Comedy Venue

Denver's comedy scene has a reputation for producing experimental and innovative performers. About a year ago, a unique venue called the Deer Pile opened and emerged as a perfectly matched showcase for local jokers -- not to mention a pretty funny painting on the wall.
There's a space above City O' City restaurant in Capitol Hill that, at first glance, is simply that: a space. It's probably 1,500 square feet, give or take. A collection of mismatched chairs are organized in rows of nine or ten, a makeshift stage runs along the wall. One corner is plastered with old concert posters and a few serpentine electrical cords are loosely coiled on the floor.
It's all very nondescript. Until you notice the backdrop to the stage: a mural of three deer caught in the act. Yes, the act.

This is Deer Pile, the one-year-old brainchild of Jonny DeStefano, Dan Landes and a few others, where virtually any performer -- musician, poet, comedian, etc. -- can get some time in the spotlight, because the space's most important attribute is the strict open-door policy.
"It's hard for these artists to get in and play at most places, but here, we're very open to anybody who has the courage to get up on stage and express themselves," says DeStefano, Co-Founder and Director. "Anybody can bring a show to Deer Pile, as long as they respect our guidelines, which are to be good people and to treat the place like it's their own."
Treating the place like it's your own is easy when you genuinely have the sense that, at least in part, it is. "People definitely feel like it's their home as much as it is ours," DeStefano says, and he's not talking only about the performers. "It's an intimate space, capacity of 100. The audience is connected to the artist here, and that feels good."
Every Wednesday, Deer Pile hosts a comedy night.Consequently, Deer Pile has become a community attraction. 
"Dan Landes owns City O' City and the building," explains DeStefano, "and when he expanded his restaurant, everybody was challenged to get into the spirit of expansion. I really wanted to help activate this block. I knew about the space so I contacted some of my comedian friends and it grew organically from that."
And it's grown to the point that it's a bona fide cog in Denver's comedy wheel. While the door is always open to up-and-comers, it's not uncommon for established performers to take a turn on the mic, too. Troy Walker, a well-known Mile High funnyman who regularly steps on stage at Comedy Works, still swings by on occasion.
"It's an important part of Denver's scene for a few reasons -- more stage time, cool indie sort of place," says Walker, "but its main contribution is to the experimental nature of our comedians. In Colorado, we all get to sort of incubate in this low-stakes environment that allows people to experiment and develop. Deer Pile provides a space for various unique show ideas. Comics are able to try all kinds of new, fun things here. I think that it's at the heart of the innovative spirit of Denver's comedy scene."
And it's quickly becoming the heart of the 200 block of East 13th. "Deer Pile helps bring people to this neighborhood who otherwise wouldn't be down here," adds DeStefano.
Too Much Fun & The Fine Gentleman's Club
There is no question about that. The evening I attended, I sat next to a young woman from Arvada. She was "in town" to watch The Fine Gentleman's Club -- comedians Chris Charpentier, Bobby Crane, Nathan Lund and Sam Tallent -- host their Wednesday night (10:30 p.m.) showcase called "Too Much Fun", which features all four of the gentlemen, plus various guest acts.
"Too Much Fun" built a solid reputation during a prolonged stint at the Rockaway Tavern, but relocated when Deer Pile opened. The weekly gig has been a staple ever since, and the regular appearance of The Fine Gentleman's Club is certainly one of the reasons this relatively new upstairs space has garnered so much attention. 
But, as is so often the case, the benefits go both ways. "Deer Pile is really great for comedians because it is its own space," says Nathan Lund. "Most of the time, when a comic wants to put on a show, it's going to be at a bar, and until you have a regular following, it can be a real uphill battle to get the comedy out to all those people who are there, but maybe didn't know there was going to be a show or, worse, to a crowd that doesn't want to see a comedy show."
"Deer Pile is unique because the crowd is either there for a specific show or came because they heard about the cool shows that are put on," continues Lund. "Either way, you're going in order to see the performances. That kind of crowd is really invaluable to comics."
No cover charge, no two-drink minimumThe signature painting onstage at Deer Pile.
Speaking of value, there is no charge to enter Deer Pile; the shows all are free. DeStefano, though, hopes that his be-a-good-person guideline extends to the spectators who are asked to make a nominal donation to the performers. 
"These musicians, these poets, these comedians are amazing, brilliant people," he says, "but it's hard to survive as an artist. So the donations are really a philanthropic gesture from the audience to the artists. And these performers are upper echelon people; they're making the world a better place through their art. To me, the spirit of donation in that sense is a cooler exchange of currency. And if you don't have money, it doesn't matter, come on in -- Deer Pile is about people coming together."
People are coming on in, almost every night. Check the venue's Facebook page and you'll find a packed schedule of events, ranging from The Fine Gentleman's Club and 3 Course Comedy (during which a meal is actually produced) to poetry readings, bands from across the country and much more, bringing people together in this unassuming -- yet utterly enlightening -- space known as Deer Pile.
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Read more articles by JB Bissell.

Based in Denver, JB writes about local happenings and far-flung places often getting sidetracked at various points between. He can be reached here.
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