Bryan Kellen kicks off this year’s Warren Station Winter Comedy Series
4 more performances planned through March
The atmosphere is starting to return to normal at Warren Station Center for the Arts. The venue’s Winter Comedy Series, an annual collaboration with Denver’s Comedy Works, featured multiple reschedulings and two socially distant sets per event last year. Now, the series beings again Friday, Nov. 19, with masks encouraged during the one traditional show featuring an opener, intermission and headliner.
Denver-based Steve Vanderploeg will open the show. The comedian, writer and improviser has performed in over two dozen festivals and is the founder of a brewery-themed touring comedy show known as Rotating Tap.
Bryan Kellen, described as adversity’s magnet and the rubber-bodied comedian, will headline. The first nickname comes from his self-deprecating humor where he tells jokes about uncomfortable situations in his marriage and life in general throughout his act — whether that is at conferences in Keystone, cruise ships, colleges or other events.
Meanwhile, the rubber-like flexibility allows him to deliver the jokes in an animated, high-energy style that’s far removed from deadpan comedy. The physicality didn’t land at open mics during his early days. Yet it went over well at a comedy club, and he’s stuck with the unspoken punchlines, such as acting out that the perfect romantic match for a wiry, long-nosed guy like himself would be a pterodactyl.
“When I was a kid, the show was already off the air, but my parents always watched reruns of Dick Van Dyke,” Kellen said about his inspiration. “That’s what I patterned my comedy after. … Every little thing had some kind of physical element to it.”
Raised in California, being goofy came naturally to Kellen. However, before he got the nerve to start going to open mics in San Francisco 45 minutes away, the psychology major worked at his brother-in-law’s welding specialty tool company and other various office jobs.
The nightly drive to the city would stress him out each time the skyline came into view.
“I was horrible at first, like most people,” Kellen said. “But for whatever reason, I stuck with it, and the next thing I know I’m making a living at it. It’s crazy. … It was a really hard transition to be a guy that people in your office laugh at to a guy that strangers laugh at.”
What: Warren Station Winter Comedy Series featuring Bryan Kellen and Steve Vanderploeg
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov 19. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: Warren Station Center for the Arts, 164 Ida Belle Drive, Keystone
Cost: $20 for general admission and $25 for a reserved table seat. Visit WarrenStation.com to purchase.
The friends he made going through the comedy circuit acted like a support group and gave him the motivation to continue.
Kellen’s path led him to meet his wife at a Denver comedy club 20 years ago. He was performing while she was a cocktail waitress, and Kellen stayed in Denver for 13 years before they moved to Oxnard, California, and started splitting their time between the states.
The biggest shift in Kellen’s career came around 2000, when he was the house emcee for Rooster T. Feathers comedy club in Sunnyvale, California, after an unexpected audition. He then emceed at the Punch Line San Francisco as George Lopez was performing one night, and the two became friends.
He has been Lopez’s opener for about 16 years, and Kellen said he’s looking forward to working with Lopez again following a break this summer and fall. Kellen’s relationship with Lopez has provided him stability and camaraderie as the two banter and have a comedic rhythm together.
“What a blessing to have that for so long,” Kellen said. “In comedy, you never know how that year is going to end up. With George’s stuff, you could count on doing a ton of shows every year, and it was great.”
Through Lopez, Kellen also had the unique opportunity to perform for Eddie Van Halen’s birthday party.
“It was one of the most satisfying shows I think I ever had just because I was thinking it would be so horrible, and it turned out even better than I thought it could be,” Kellen said.
Other highlights include appearances on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and “America’s Got Talent.” While he made it to the semifinals of the ninth season of “Last Comic Standing,” he was eliminated in the audition round of the 13th season of “America’s Got Talent.”
Kellen said it was hard to condense his act to roughly 90 seconds for “America’s Got Talent” compared to the five or so minutes he had on “Last Comic Standing.” Nevertheless, he said the programs were a good experience and lesson in paring routines down to their most effective elements.
“Every word counts,” Kellen said. “When you’re doing a competition show and they’re timed sets, every word is going to be scrutinized. So it’s a great exercise for your act to really get what’s supposed to be there and cut off any of the fat.”
When it comes to writing jokes, Kellen usually jots them down on paper and then hashes it out on stage. He said it can take awhile for routines to mature because of how he works them out in front of a crowd.
Naturally, the loss of an in-person audience due to the coronavirus pandemic made things difficult for Kellen and other comedians. He was originally against performing virtual shows, yet the medium helped his joke writing as he came up with bits that weren’t as dependent on visuals.
He also spent the downtime to record an album — but not a comedy album. Rather, the guitarist Kellen wrote 13 songs based off his old jokes that span genres like reggae, country, rock and punk. He then recorded the songs with another frequent Lopez collaborator, the band Session B.
However, Kellen said he isn’t a musical act and won’t likely incorporate it.
“I did bring my guitar on stage a couple of times just to see what it was like, but I have a long way to go before I work it into the act,” Kellen said.
Following Kellen and Vanderploeg, the next entry in the comedy series is Dec. 17 with Jacob Rupp and Stephen Agyei. Aaron Urist and Brent Gill perform Jan. 21, Dē Kelly Sam Tallent are scheduled for Feb. 25, and Nathan Lund and David Rodriguez close out the series March 25.
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