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Comedians lighten the mood at Warren Station

Comedian Steve McGrew is headlining this weekend at Warren Station Center for the Arts. McGrew has been in stand-up comedy for about 40 years.
Photo from Steve McGrew

 

Steve McGrew went nine months without a comedy gig. He heard of peers quitting the industry and picking up retail jobs to make ends meet, but the Parker-based country comedian waited for the live shows to happen again.

He knew he would be unhappy if he quit his passion after almost 40 years in stand-up, so he stayed busy by releasing his album “Toxic Masculinity” and turning to YouTube. McGrew released videos of characters such as Liberal Larry, Tucker the Trucker and Conspiracy Theory Carl that have worked their way into his routine. He started the hobby of metal detecting — what he calls “dirt fishing” — and recorded himself providing color commentary while finding an 1875 dime in Colorado or a rare, old Texas Bottling Works bottle.

When he finally got back on stage at the Loony Bin Comedy Club in Oklahoma City, he found himself questioning whether his timing was still on point and whether people would still laugh. Those fears quickly vanished.



“It was almost like a welcome-home thing,” McGrew said. “People who had seen me before were out. It felt good. People want to get out laughing again.”

It was technically sold out, but McGrew is aware of the difference between selling out with reduced capacity in venues versus before the pandemic. He’s fine with either scenario in this day and age since the intimacy at today’s venues doesn’t bother him. Some comedians might struggle to play off the energy of reduced crowds, though McGrew started stand-up in Houston at clubs that sat no more than 80 people.



Before grabbing a microphone, McGrew was a newspaper cartoonist in Houston. He knew he always wanted to do humor as a living in some shape or form, and eventually it evolved into essentially doing the cartoons verbally on stage.

He moved to Colorado after falling in love with the state during frequent vacations to the mountains. With a couple of TV appearances and albums under his belt, he was hired to be a radio personality on KYGO-98.5 FM and won three Country Music Association awards.

“It was a blast because I was just hired as the sidekick to be funny,” McGrew said. “All I had to do was be funny. I didn’t need to worry about the pressure of running the show.”

Comedian Steve McGrew will perform Saturday, March 20, at Warren Station Center for the Arts as part of the venue’s winter comedy series. The pandemic put a nine-month pause on his stand-up, but McGrew is glad to be making people laugh again in person.
Photo from Steve McGrew

In 2004, McGrew had his own half-hour set on Comedy Central as well, yet none of the experience prepared him for the unprecedented shutdown of the entertainment industry. With certain venues still not open, his number of performances has dwindled.

“I’ve probably done eight gigs maybe since back on stage,” McGrew said. “When I was working for Royal Caribbean Cruises working on ships, there were times I was doing 20-something shows a week.”

Live entertainment has been few and far between this year, though Warren Station Center for the Arts is making it work. The Keystone venue will feature McGrew and opener Jodee Champion this weekend for the penultimate entry of its winter comedy series.

“Through this whole thing, comedy has been this one event that we feel really comfortable doing in a safe way,” said Maja Russer, director of events and marketing for the Keystone Neighbourhood Co., which manages Warren Station. “It’s just one type of programming that we feel that the community needs.”

The annual collaboration with Denver’s Comedy Works began in the fall, yet was put on pause when the county went into level red restrictions. February’s show was the first since October. Featuring Georgia Comstock and Steve Gillespie, it originally was slated for November, then moved to January, then moved to early February before settling on Feb. 20.

“There was always a holiday or some event that you have to consider that you will see some sort of potential (virus) spikes afterward,” said Russer, who added that the staff quickly got used to rescheduling and the comedians were flexible. “We just don’t want to ever add to that. After every holiday time frame, you want to give yourself a little time to make sure nothing too drastic has occurred in the county with the pandemic.”

Along with the regular health protocols, such as masks being required except for when eating or drinking — though maskless comedians perform 25 feet away from the nearest table — the biggest change for the venue has been the size of the audience.

What once drew about 150 people before the pandemic became capped at 24. The venue then increased capacity to 50 people as restrictions eased. Assigned seating has replaced the first-come, first-served system, and tables include only a single party made up of no more than six people from two households.

Russer said it’s easy to control the one-way flow and space out tables in the well-ventilated venue. Warren Station might keep the reservation system in the future, she said, and focus more on the quality of the experience rather than quantity.

“It’s an industry that has been so heavily impacted that I think everyone is excited to get back to work,” Russer said. “But obviously, safety still trumps all.”

Due to reduced capacity, two separate seatings with ample sanitation time in between has become the norm in the industry. McGrew was quick to adjust to doing back-to-back shows because of his cruise ship experience.

“You’re like a one-man play,” McGrew said. “You just have to keep the same speed and intensity as if you were doing an act on a play stage.”

However, the shows on Saturday, March 20, were consolidated this week to one set due to ticket sales.

Closing out the series is Ben Bryant opening for headliner Nancy Norton at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3. Bryant has appeared at festivals such as the High Plains Comedy Festival and Asheville Comedy Festival, while Norton has been touring since 1991 and won the Boston Comedy Festival in 2018.

Russer said she is unsure at the moment if the April evening will be combined into one show.

“We’re excited to be dipping our toe back into the water,” Russer said. “Eventually, things are going to get back to normal, so it’s better for us to ease into it than just jump in with both feet.”

If you go

What: Warren Station Winter Comedy Series featuring Jodee Champion and Steve McGrew

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 20

Where: Warren Station Center for the Arts, 164 Ida Belle Drive

Cost: $25. Visit WarrenStation.com to purchase.

What: Warren Station Winter Comedy Series featuring Nancy Norton and Ben Bryant

When: 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3

Where: Warren Station Center for the Arts, 164 Ida Belle Drive

Cost: $25. Visit WarrenStation.com to purchase.


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