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A Great Comedy Room with Wende Curtis

INJ 54 | Comedy Room

 

Wende Curtis started as a cocktail waitress at Comedy Works in Denver, moved on to general manager, and is now the owner and operator of comedy works in Downtown Denver and in South Denver. Wende expanded her business to include Comedy Works Entertainment, a concert promotion and talent management division, which has promoted such acts as Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia, and Brian Regan. Wende was honored with the Denver Business Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Women in Business.

Listen to Episode #54 here:

A Great Comedy Room with Wende Curtis

Our guest is Wende Curtis. Wende started as a cocktail waitress at Comedy Works in Fort Collins, moved on to general manager and is now the Owner and Operator of Comedy Works in Downtown Denver and South Denver. Wende expanded her business to include Comedy Works Entertainment, a concert promotion and talent management division, which promoted such acts as Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia and Brian Regan. Wende was honored with the Denver Business Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Women in Business. Welcome, Wende.

Thank you so much.

Wende, if you weren’t working in comedy and entertainment, what would you be doing?

I have no idea. I honestly don’t know.

This is your chance to fantasize.

I thought about, “What if this gig ever blows up? I’m in trouble.” I don’t know what I would do because I’ve been doing this for 33 years. It’s hard to keep that whole guise up of being 27 anymore because the math doesn’t work. I don’t know what I would do. Hopefully, if it ever did blow up, it would blow up in a retirement thing and I’d be set where I wouldn’t have to go out and be forced to make a living right away because I don’t know what I would do.

What if we changed the question? You were a cocktail waitress at a comedy club. Suppose you didn’t become general manager, where does your life take you?

I was studying theater, acting, directing, classical voice and business. I thought business was so stupid. It was textbook management.

You’re reading like Peter Drucker and stuff like that.

I thought it was bad. I wanted to be an actress. I’m going to be an actress on Broadway. I don’t think that I could take that brutality, the rejection. I don’t think my psyche can take it honestly. I don’t know where I would be.

Send me an email if it comes to. It’s clear what you’re doing. You own arguably the best comedy club in the nation, which arguably then becomes the best comedy club in the world. She’s flexing her muscles right now. Adam Cayton Holland, when I was working on The Humor Code, we did a bit of promotion where we surveyed comics about their favorite comedy clubs. Adam suggested Comedy Works here, but also like the list of comics who love Comedy Works is long. Dave Chappelle talks about how this is one of his favorite rooms to work on.

Joe Rogan, Ari Shaffir, lots of them.

INJ 54 | Comedy Room
Comedy Room: The magic recipe starts with the physicality of the room.

 

Does anyone not like this room?

If they don’t, they’re silent about it.

They still want to perform here.

This is magic. It truly is magic and that’s what they love about it.

How many seats is this?

It’s 280.

This is one reason why I wanted to talk to you. This is a magical room. People love this room. I want to talk about why. One thing is clear, I’m a Comedy Works customer. I’ve come to shows here. One thing that is obvious if I take my behavioral economist hat off for a moment, my scientist hat off for a moment, is this place is super well-run. It’s easy to buy tickets. You show up. The queues run efficiently. The staff is friendly and helpful. They hustle. It’s professionally run. That’s obvious to me. That matters because you have customers who want to laugh, but they also want to have a good experience. Comedians want to get paid, but they also want to have a good experience. That matters. It’s beyond just that it’s a well-run club. What is it?

The magic cookie recipe starts with the physicality of the room. It is unique. There are tiers. People are smashed together.

There are about four tiers, more or less. It may be more than in other places.

Four or five. You’re packed in here like sardines. It keeps people compact and laughter is contagious. That’s part of it. There’s also the history of the room in the last 37 and a half years that we’ve honed great smart audiences. Think about some of the people to be here for 37 and a half years. Many customers on any given night weren’t even born when the place started. If they’ve lived in Denver, grew up in Denver and/or whatever, grew up in their comedy life in Denver, they know nothing else. This is what they know, which is smart comics, smart opening acts and well-run rooms in the showroom. We don’t permit heckling. We try to get on that right away. A good time of a four top doesn’t interfere with a good time of 250 people or whatever on a given evening. There are all of those things. You said well-run. I do think that we are well-run. We are passionately run. There are many people that work here that have drank the Kool-Aid. They love comedy. They love the reputation of this room. They’ve bought into it. They’re a part of it. Maybe they’re just slinging drinks. Maybe they’re just serving them and busing tables or seating people, but they bought it. That has been a huge game changer where I don’t feel like I’m out there all alone. I haven’t for a long time.

Your bartender wouldn’t be as happy bartending at a hotel down the street. They’re excited to be the bartender.

They’re proud to be here. Many of them are super comedy fans and/or have become super comedy fans. There’s a bit of prestige with this room. They hear it from every comic that comes through. I hear it after the fact or when I stopped by on Saturday night or a thank you note or a text message while they’re here, “This room, I’ve heard about this room. I had no idea. I imagined it.” I get these all the time, whether it’s a quick email or a text or something on social media or they send an after thank you note or whatever. They love this room. We do treat them well. They’re hungry. What are you hungry for? Do you want some sushi? Here are our options. You can go 30 seconds in any direction from our back door and you can have anything you want to eat. If they’re hungry and they need something to eat, we feed them.

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If they want bad cheese food in the nacho flavor or the fried flavor, we’ll feed them from our own kitchen. We treat them with respect. I don’t think anybody else in the country puts them up in $1 million condos. Grand wealth is made off of real estate. I felt like I’m going to sell the little condo that I put them in. I’m going to get a bigger condo and a nicer condo. I’m going to get an amazing condo. I wanted a loft. I manifested what I wanted. I found a two-bedroom, two-bath, 2,200 square feet with a 600-square foot private patio. It’s two short blocks from here. They still have 24-hour concierge service. I love all of these comics, but they’re like nine-year-olds. They lose their socks or they’ve got to have this fixed or whatever. They can get anything done they want down here and/or eat anything. When they walk into that place, they go, “Oh.”

I’ve spent my share of time in green rooms and doing events at comedy clubs. I have friends who are comics. Sometimes when I’m in the city, they’re like, “Come on by the apartment.”

They’re flophouses, aren’t they?

They often are flophouses. You can get some chicken fingers in the green room, a cheese plate but not sushi.

You can get those things here too. If they’re hungry, we got one so close by. We’ve got Capitol Grill.

The comics get treated well. You said people are packed in. I like to think of it as like it’s arousing and comedy plays on arousal and benefits from it. The ceilings are very low. Comedy club owners talk about that idea of what it does is it helps contain the laughter. It runs through the room. Even when someone’s laughing in the corner, it doesn’t dissipate. It sticks.

It bounces right back at you. I’m a performer. I’ve been on this stage and I get it.

You get great feedback. What’s interesting about comics are the folks who were coming and headlining here are making good money. I’ve only had this happen to me a couple of times in my life where I’m standing on a stage and I managed to say something truly funny. There’s a big enough audience that you get that. It’s like a wave of laughter that washes over you. It feels incredible.

You get the addiction. You get what they get and go, “I want more of that. That’s amazing.” That’s why some of the new talent people that only perform here, it’s like, “No, this is not the norm. This is the Primo stuff.” This is what you hope for one day that this is what you’re doing all the time. You need to go out and play every gig because it’s not the norm that you’re going to grow up in this business with rooms like this every night.

We’ll get back to the room in a moment, but I want to ask about that. It’s famous in Denver, this Tuesday night newcomers show.

The New Talent Night.

This is designed to host and hone young talent, showcase them, let them get a taste of the big leagues.

 

Everybody starts somewhere. It’s New Talent Night. Prior to Adam Cayton Holland and his generation, but him specifically, there was only this room and only our New Talent Night that was a place. There was very little if anything else out there. Adam Cayton Holland is single-handedly responsible for there being other mics popping up. He said to me, “Do you care if I start as an open mic wherever it was?” It wouldn’t compete. It wouldn’t be on Tuesday nights. It wouldn’t be with Comedy Works. I go, “Yeah, I’ve got widgets.” If I put widgets up here on this stage, I would love to have them better developed. I’m only devoting one night a week. There’s only a 90-minute show. That’s not a lot of time to develop widgets. When Adam Cayton Holland did that, other club owners around the country were like, “What are you doing? You’re nuts. Why would you do that?”

Why would you introduce competition?

Because they’re getting on my stage faster. Theoretically, this is still it. They have to be at this level, at this bar. They have that much more time. In any given week, they can be working multiple mics a night and every night of the week. That’s a lot of stage time if they play it right.

This town has come a long way. I live in Boulder. There’s even now a Sunday Night Boulder Show.

That’s been doing very well for a while now.

It was standing room only. No offense to the guys who run it. It’s a bit of a remora fish. For the audience who doesn’t know what a remora fish is, a remora fish attaches itself to another fish, like a shark.

I’m so glad you explained that for the people out there because I know what a remora fish is.

They have this symbiotic relationship. It follows in the slipstream of a larger fish. That Sunday Night Show regularly will have people who were performing here on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They’re already in town. Rather than fly out on Sunday, they might fly out on Monday and now Boulder gets a taste of good comedy and God knows that town needs some good comedy.

They could use some good comedy.

You have a new talent. You also then host specials. Joe Rogan did a special here. I have conversations with them. They’re working on a special. I’m like, “What room are you going to do it in?” It’s interesting to hear the reasons that they do this. Oftentimes, they’re looking for an audience. They’re looking for the right audience that matches the nature of that special. As a club owner, it’s great to have specials but is there anything special about doing specials?

It’s another feather in our cap. It’s another credit. Dave Attell didn’t shoot a special. He recorded an album, Skanks for The Memories. I love that. I love saying that. That in and of itself is funny. He did another album here that he didn’t release. That was a huge thing years ago. That was one of those first big things that were like, “Look at this room.” The specials are great because you want publicity.

You’ve got the Comedy Works in the background.

You give yourself a chance to bloom. Click To Tweet

You’re not going to see that because they’re going to put a setup. They’re going to cover up your logos and stuff. Everybody in the business knows where it was shot. If you look the back of it somewhere, it will say that. I don’t care if my name is there or anybody else’s name. That’s what I want there. The brand is what I want.

Give me some inside information. What’s the hardest part of your job at this stage 30-plus years in?

The hardest thing, honestly, now it’s at a personal level for me is that I’ve done everything in this business. I’ve got two places and I can’t be in two places at once. I know I’ve had two places for ten years now. That’s still a difficult thing. I can’t work Monday through Friday, 45, 50 hours and be in the rooms all night every night. I can’t. There was a time when I did do it. I’ve worn myself ragged consistently. This was week after week after week. That was definitely 70 hours a week. I was in my twenties, in my 30s, in my 40s. I’m still 27 but you can’t do that forever. You also can’t build any a life, which I never had before. I swear to you I never had any normal existence because it was here. This was it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I still love it. I wouldn’t change a thing. At a certain point, I need to grow and evolve a little bit. I’ve got to figure out if something ever happens, what the heck am I going to do for a living? It’s been great and amazing, but I don’t know what else I would do. I can’t do it at that pace any longer. I don’t desire to do it at that pace honestly. I bet you all of my previous therapists are dropping dead right now, “What? She doesn’t want to work than much anymore? That’s nuts.”

It’s interesting that you say this because I was down the street having lunch with a friend. This friend and I are very similar and that we worked very hard. We had to work very hard. Now we’re in our 40s. It’s paid off. Life has changed. There’s a level of security that never existed before. Yet it’s hard to switch off. Does this sound familiar?

It sounds so familiar. I’m only 27 but yes, it sounds so familiar.

For twenty-plus years, you learned a certain way to interact with the world. It was rewarding. It is doubly rewarding. It’s rewarding because now you’re not worried about being homeless. I had no cushion. I got no one to fall back on.

We weren’t part of the lucky sperm club.

Most people never get there where you’re not living paycheck to paycheck anymore. That’s very nice. The other one though is it’s rewarding because when you work hard at something and you get good enough at it, it can become enjoyable. It’s engaging. It can be fulfilling. A lot of people who work don’t understand that. It’s the nature of the work, especially any work that’s creative. This problem solving, which that’s as a club owner, you’re constantly problem-solving. That becomes rewarding also. Suddenly like you go, “I don’t have to be doing this, but I’ve never thought about another way to be doing this.”

Did you look at my journal or something? Have you talked to my former therapist?

You go, “How am I going to do this new life? Do I want to do a new life? I do want to enjoy myself. I want to reap some of the benefits.”

Who am I? Because I feel like this is who I am. Honestly, I’ve spent many years trying to untangle that. This is all I’ve ever done. I have no children except my four-legged child, Lucy. She was the most precious child in the universe. There’s nothing like that, just this. This is my legacy. Now that I’m not in the trenches checking IDs and hiring everybody and doing schedules and ordering booze and yakking with the comics and making sure I know what they want. If they want and what time do you want and where do you want your lie? When I’m not in the trenches micromanaging every detail, it did a number on my head. I’m no longer. I don’t need to do this. I don’t know what to do anymore.

To me, there seems like you have three options. The first one is you keep doing what you’re doing. That’s the status quo. The challenge with that is that deviating from the status quo is very difficult. That’s hard to do. Yet it sounds like you would benefit from breaking away from that.

INJ 54 | Comedy Room
Comedy Room: You need to go out and play every gig.

 

Probably my organization would too.

This one is a little counterintuitive. The next one is to get more involved again.

My young managers are probably cringing.

I’m sure they are. The idea would be to take on some new challenge that would cause you to get your hands dirty again. What does that look like? I don’t know. Colorado is booming.

I’ve got lots of ideas.

Comedy Works Colorado Springs is on its way. That’s going to be a whole set of challenges because of the conservative nature of the town. You get your hands dirty. It would be a new set of challenges. You get to work old muscles and so on. The last one is you step even further away. You let go of the apron strings, whatever metaphor you want to use. You find someone who is competent and you trust. You do the contractual work. You maybe pull some equity out of this and take a sabbatical. You take a year and you travel, you read, you write, maybe you write your bio. I read Bud Freeman’s improv book. Maybe you write your book, maybe start a podcast. Maybe you go to the Galapagos where you’ve always wanted to go to. You take a sabbatical while you’re still young. It’s not retirement. It’s like a mini-retirement. You give yourself a chance. You journal, you read, you write, you think, you see old friends.

You give yourself a chance to bloom.

I bet at the end of that time you go, “I know what I wanted next,” because you’re still young. It’s clear you have energy. Maybe you step away from it. You disrupt your life a little bit.

I don’t know about that. I’m definitely in a weird comfort zone. I’m in the most brilliant room in the world and I don’t know what to do. I’m selling my condo out south that I house comedians in. I’ve got a lovely one-bedroom. I wanted two or three bedrooms. I want a big one as I have down here. That is a little bit of a new project. I’ll put my little one on the market. I’m looking for a new one. If you’re looking for a one-bedroom in The Landmark, I’ve got a very famous one where many comedians have slept. I will even sell it to you furnished. I’m not sure that’s the selling point.

Knowing what I know about the habits of comedians, you’re probably going to want to scrub that place down.

Every one of them, they’re angels. If they work here, they’re all angels.

I want to ask about some other things. Do you have a rival, a frenemy or even an enemy? You were in the business world. You have competition.

INJ 54 | Comedy Room
Comedy Room: If you want to be in the business of show business, you get in the business of show business.

 

When the improv came to town many years ago, I guess you could say that maybe I looked at them as a rival for a bit. It very quickly became that they were never a blip on our radar.

It’s different customers, not competing directly.

The bad location that I told them was a bad location, they went there anyway.

For the audience, this is in Stapleton, which is used to be the airport here. It’s like one of these new developments with strip malls and tract housing.

It’s a lovely area. It’s so far off the beaten track for so many people in the metro area. It’s difficult to get there, thus if you’re trying to attract people from all over the metro area, it’s what I consider to be a bad location.

It’s not centrally located. It’s up in the north and a little bit east.

It was a great place for an airport, but it’s not a great place for it.

I missed the location of that airport. No enemies, no frenemies, no rivals, your rival lists?

I don’t think so. I’ve done so well.

You’re like the Jeff Bezos of comedy clubs.

I don’t mean to brag, but yeah.

I’ve been asking that question because it’s an interesting, puzzling question. I also think it’s a question that’s hard for people to answer. When people have an enemy, they’re not willing to tell the world they have an enemy.

You can't manage what you don't know. You can't evolve and grow what you don't know either. Click To Tweet

I truly think that in the beginning, I think, “They were coming to town. They’re after me.” It didn’t work out that way.

You’re a female. You own a club, two of them. How many other female club owners are out there?

I don’t know. I’m sure there are a couple. I can’t think of who they are. I know that there are a couple.

You don’t have a convention, the three of you. Has that been an advantage? Has it been a disadvantage? Does it matter?

I’m sure that it ever mattered. That goes back to my beginnings. My parents had two girls. My dad raced cars, raced motorcycles and coached peewee football. We did what my dad did. I didn’t race cars. I raced motorcycles. I Enduroed and I Motocrossed when I was a kid. My sister became part of his pit crew later when he had a dragster as did my mom.

Where was this?

Here in Denver in this regional area. He raised what they called Super Comp because my mother swore that she would divorce him if he ever did alcohol or top fuel. It’s 128 miles an hour in a quarter mile, less fast and much less dangerous. We grew up around that. I was never told, “You’re a girl.” There are things that you can’t do. You can be a nurse, but you can’t be a doctor or anything of the sorts.

You can swim but you can’t race motorcycles.

I was born in the year that Kennedy was assassinated if that tells you anything, if you need to figure that out though. My parents were very young. My mother was seventeen, almost eighteen when I was born. My dad was nineteen. They worked. My mom always worked. She worked in banking to become a senior vice president of a bank here in town, a large bank here in town. I never knew. I never felt like because I’m a girl, I’m any different. I never knew it. We were never treated as such. I had friends that had their mom stayed at home. I had friends that didn’t. I had aunts that stayed at home. I had aunts that worked. I had grandmothers that worked. My grandmothers on both sides ran my grandfather’s business on both sides.

You sound very egalitarian. You’re a little bit of a tomboy.

A girly tomboy.

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

The idea that you’d be working in an industry that has more men than women is no big deal.

No, it was the business of show business. Remember, I wanted to be an actress. That was attractive to me. It could have been concessions at DCPA. It could have been anything, honestly. I was attracted to it. When I found out Comedy Works, I was finishing my degree in acting and directing it. I found out Comedy Works was opening in Fort Collins. I called here all the time. They never had any information. Nobody knew, “It’s going to be opening in a few months.” I happened to see the help wanted in Fort Collins in Colorado. Thankfully in the two days, they had it listed or something, I saw it and went down and filled out an application. I said, “I’ll do anything.” I meant it. I would’ve done anything.

You were talking about your staff and how they’re fans of comedy. There’s a long history of comics working at comedy clubs. I remember the Neal Brennan thing. He worked the door at a comedy club. Have you had staff who have become comedians?

Two-thirds of the Graulichs, Ben Roy and Andrew Orfedal.

What did they do? Do you remember?

Both of them were doorman. They booked birthday parties and stuff online. Was Ben a doorman or did he book parties? He did data entry and stuff while he was doing other things too because they keep their fingers in it.

You get to meet these comics. You get to see shows for free.

They got to see shows while they’re working. That’s a cool deal.

Do you want to see the best or if Dave Chappelle’s coming in here, you want to be able to see how close you can get to maybe chat with him?

I don’t think it can be any smarter.

These two tracks, one is a talent tracking at others and management or ownership track. If you were going to give people advice, there are young audiences who are interested in one or the other. What would you tell them to do?

If you want to be in the business of show business, you get in the business of show business. That is again concessions. I don’t care what it is, working the front of the house, working the box office and doing whatever. I learned it from wait staff. I expanded from there. I learned all of it from the ground up and up until a while ago. I can perform any task you need to know. I believe you can’t manage what you don’t know. You can’t evolve and grow what you don’t know either. I could not leave here and go buy some sheet metal business and be successful at it. I’d have to get a job and work my way up and figure it out. That’s how you know. You don’t know what you don’t know. Those that walk in and think that it’s about numbers and all that, I go, “I know who you are and that’s not right.” I believe that you’ve got to get in the business.

Before you answer that about being a comic, most of your senior staff, they’ve moved up through Comedy Works.

Managers. Twenty some years and a lot of fifteen, twenty years, ten, fifteen. My executive assistant is seven years out of college. They’ve worked their way up as I worked my way up. That’s how you intimately know. There is no corporate. We are corporate. We now have a world headquarters. That’s what I call it. I go, “No, this is the world headquarters.” I don’t know how big we’re going to get, but it could be across the world. It’s the world headquarters from the get-go.

That could be your next big hairy audacious goal. There are cities out there that are lusting for a ground crown jewel.

You should pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get that good old hardcore work ethic going. Click To Tweet

Somebody suggested Dubai to me. Somebody else suggested read Escape from Dubai and that squashed that. That was it. I go, “I’m not doing Dubai.” It’s beautiful but it’s hot, and read Escape from Dubai. I would never go into business in Dubai. I would like to conquer this country.

The American West is a nice place to live. I grew up in New Jersey. The western living is where it’s at. There’s this, “Go west, young man.” The gold rush idea, it still exists. There are still opportunities. It’s nice. Boise?

We had a club there. Comedy Works 100 years ago had a club. When I first started for a short period of time, they had one and it wasn’t open for very much longer, but somebody else is doing a club there or something.

I’m sure there’s competition. For people who want to do the entertainment side, who are young comics, what advice do you have for them?

You should work in a comedy club. You need to see as many possible shows as you possibly can. You need to get on stage. There’s nothing. You can’t watch it. You’ve got to dip your toe. You’ve got to get wet. You’ve got to find a mentor. You’ve got to write. You’ve got to find somebody that’s doing it. What does Tony Robbins say? Find somebody that’s where you want to be and listen to them and do what they’re doing. I believe that about anything. In this business, you could have 100 mentors. You can have all different kinds of mentors. It’s hard work. There’s so much more opportunity now for performers, given all the different mediums, it’s not television and it’s not film anymore. Certainly, since I’ve been in this business, standup has exploded. It’s amazing. If you gave me an hour or two, I could probably write down about every comedian out there. I can’t do that anymore. There’s a lot more opportunity. It’s not easy. There’s so much more competition. You got to be good. It depends on what you want to do. If you want to work here and you want to headline here, you’re going to be good. You should pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get that good old hardcore work ethic going.

First of all, the average person in the audience has no idea how the sausage is made. That’s probably for the best. I know how the sausage is made and it affects my enjoyment of the shows as a result of it. What’s interesting is that oftentimes comics, especially standup comics, become standup comics because they’re not good at playing by the rules. They don’t excel in a classroom environment. They don’t want a 9 to 5. They don’t want all these things. Yet to be successful, there’s a little bit of factory work that goes into being a good comic. Being regimented in writing and being regimented in going out. I was reading The Improv book by Budd Friedman. It was talking about Richard Lewis. Richard Lewis probably is as close to a natural as you’re going to find. David Brenner lends him $1,000 so he could quit his job and do comedy. Richard Lewis’ first year, he performed 340 out of 365 nights. They don’t want a regular job. The irony is that you have to treat it like a regular job if you want to become elite. If you want to say you’re a comic, you don’t have to do that. If you want to be a comic, it seems like you have to do that. That’s what you’re suggesting. There are nine things you’re supposed to be doing simultaneously in order to get good at that.

It’s hard in the beginning when you do have your day job and you’ve got to battle that 40 hours or whatever to make a living. You do all this other stuff and have the energy to be out there.

The lifestyle can be rough.

They slip into having a couple of cocktails everywhere they go. It’s like, “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”

I’ve had this where I give talks. I used to teach in the evening. Class wrapped around 9:00 PM or so, maybe 9:30 not much later than that, which would seem to be great because if I timed it right, I could be in bed by 10:30, which would make me happy. Even if I got into bed at 10:30, I was not falling asleep. I was buzzing for two hours after that. You do your last set at midnight. You’re wide awake. It’s hard to live a healthy lifestyle, I suspect.

Running a club too. If you’re ADD like me, you’re not doing your paperwork and your stuff to get the deposits and all that stuff because you’re off like doing some a spreadsheet on what Tuesday nights have looked like for the last twenty years. You get home and it’s the middle of the night.

I could see why you’d be looking for a bit of a change. You had mentioned your journal. Do you journal?

INJ 54 | Comedy Room

 

Yeah.

Daily?

No.

What’s your journaling process?

Probably once a week. It’s almost like a download. I know I should be doing it more often so that I could use it as a creative outlet. It’s more like I’m letting it all out.

You’re finding it as a way to let go of it. I started journaling. It’s a fascinating thing. I wish I’d done it for a long time.

I had friends in college, actors and that one in particular that had been journaling since he was thirteen or so. He started one every day. At that time, here we were like sophomores or juniors in college and he had pad after pad after pad and it was like, “Oh my gosh.”

David Sedaris published a book with entries from his journal going back to his 40s. He has 30 years of journaling there. There’s a goldmine of stories and memories. Is it any surprise that David Sedaris is good at writing as he is if he writes every single day about the fun, weird, strange, upsetting things about David Sedaris’ life? You’ve had hard years at times. How do you deal with that stuff? You obviously have journaling. You have therapy. You go to therapy.

When those hard times hit and that was after we opened the South Club because we opened in October of ’08, which is ironically the same month as the largest bankruptcy in the history of this country when Lehman Brothers went up. I’m like, “Those people have been in business for 150 years and I’m starting this new one. What am I thinking?”

Did you open the club or you broke ground?

We opened in October of ’08. To give you a little bit of an idea, we didn’t close on those loans. We’re up and operating for business, October of ’08, fulltime out South. We didn’t close on loans until July of ’09. They were a mess because when you’re building isn’t done that your loans expire in 90 days. They had all this opportunity when my building didn’t get done to not fund me. I had to figure out more creative ways to get funded.

Your solution was to problem solve?

The only thing that I know well and that was to pat up, put on my helmet, my pads and put my head down and go. What was I going to do? Quit? They could take my business from me. I remember one guy said, “You owe me money and there’s going to be penalties and interest.” I said, “Respectfully, I understand.” He was working for a father-in-law in a family business. I got it. I said, “You have to do what you have to do and I understand it and I respect it. I will pay you.” “I need you to sign here that you’re going to pay this amount, this much every month until it’s paid off.” I said, “I’m not going to sign something like that I don’t know that I’m going to be able to make that much money on that. You have my word. I will pay you everything I owe you.” I did. I paid everything, everybody, anything that I owed them if I was behind or whatever, I paid them with interests, with penalties, with whatever. I paid for it until it was done. Now it’s done. I look back at that and I go, “Yes.” Those hard times were the times that showed me truly what I’m made of. That is don’t f with me. I will do it. I don’t care what you say. I will do it. I can do anything I put my mind to. That’s what they’re there for because anything I never touched before turned to gold truly. It was good for me.

I have a saying that anything worth doing is going to be difficult.

If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

There would be a lot of comedy clubs out there.

They’d be brilliant and they’re not. It’s not hard though. Let me tell you, it’s not hard. It’s common sense.

I wanted to ask about this. I’ve got one other question and I’ll let you go here. I came here, the staff put my phone into a sealed bag that I could not open. It was left in my possession, which I appreciated. I’m not big about phones in general. I know about the challenges of people recording acts and the distraction that they cause. Someone next to me is texting and now I’m annoyed by them when I should be listening to the show.

Somebody is pulling it out of their purse simply to look at the bed that’s below. You’d simply do look at the time and the light. It’s all of those distractions.

How long have you been doing that and would you say you were early to do this?

We were the first in April of 2015 or ’14. That’s when Dave Chappelle was coming in. They told me that I had to do this Yonder thing. It was about cell phones and whatever. I go, “Okay.” I’m trying to understand it. We’re cutting this deal between midnight and 3:00 AM. On a Sunday morning, he texted me. I go, “Yeah.” I get on the phone and go back and forth via email with his agent, one of my favorite people on the face of the planet. I didn’t get it. With all of the words that they used, I didn’t get it. I knew what I had to do. It came right off the top of the deal. It came out of the proceeds. I didn’t have to pay anything extra for it. Dave was here for four nights in both rooms. I knew by night too, this is different. I need to look into this. I called Graham in San Francisco at Yonder. I go, “What’s it going to cost me to keep this?” I literally did keep all that inventory. They left me everything. They sent me more. They sent me a couple of bills. I bought them for both clubs because it was a game changer. You could see it. That first night is a Monday night late show that they booked at the last minute. They didn’t plan to take that night off or the next day off or whatever. They’d been up since 6:00. They’re tired. They were so attentive. It was tangible. You can feel it.

That was night one. Night two when you’re now watching those people again in the showroom because they have to be present. We are no longer present. I sit at the dining room table with my boyfriend. I’m on my phone. I’m looking for emails or responding, whatever. We all do it. I have to try to disengage to not do it. We’re constantly doing that. We don’t wear watches anymore. We do use that as a timekeeper. It’s all of those things. Here we are in this amazing live moment and you’re paying $50 or whatever bucks to see somebody and somebody big like Chapelle or whatever. You’re present. What a concept. For those that think that because some people, a doctor on call, new parents out for the first time or their thirteen-year-old is home alone, whatever. You put it on vibrate. You simply put it in your pocket. You keep possession of the phone. If something happens like a vibrate, you step out of the showroom, they unlock it and you make your call or check your phone or whatever, it’ll slow you down twenty seconds.

It’s for the greater good. 95% of people don’t have that worry. Wende, that’s great. That’s super cool. I appreciate it. As a professor, I appreciate it. The last question I wanted to ask you is, what are you reading, watching or listening to that stands out?

I am big right now into Scientology.

The documentary?

The A&E documentary, but prior to that I had seen a couple like going clear a documentary. There’s the A&E docu-series that’s in its the third season. I find this fascinating. I can’t get enough of it. I’m reading several things. I finished Adam Cayton Holland’s book.

What was your big insight? What stuck with you about from that book?

It was heart-wrenching. Mental illness and depression, I know we talk about this. It is being talked about more. It’s not this thing that we shut away, we don’t talk about. We can’t talk enough about it because so many people suffer from it.

This is his memoir and his sister’s suicide.

I’m also reading The ONE Thing.

It’s a useful book.

It was a guy in one of the CEO groups that recommended that to me. I started that.

It’s a good reminder book. It’s about remembering what is the most important thing you should be doing in these different areas of your life and helping you make prioritize.

I’m anxious to put that together because it does seem like when I was going through it a little bit and maybe the first chapter, I thought, “Maybe this is where I need to be.” I finished reading three different biographies about Gloria Vanderbilt. That one fascinates me. I saw that Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper documentary, which is fabulous. I’ve always been intrigued by her. I started reading it. I’ve got a few more biographies that I’ve got on her.

Isn’t one biography enough?

No. It’s interesting to me the different angles that you can get and the different level of detail. You can get a lot more detail. That’s about the style of the writer. This is because probably because there’s so much out there. She’s been around a long time and had a very interesting and curious life. There are a lot of different things out there.

I remember many years ago doing a cross country road trip. This was when you would rent tapes to listen to do books on tape, old school stuff. I listened to an Abe Lincoln biography. It was spectacular. I never thought I would read. I was like, “Now I know it.” It’s an intro that I never would have thought too that you would pick a different one. The one sentence in one biography might be an entire chapter in another biography.

I’ve always been very intrigued by old Hollywood. That’s the whole thing is so fascinating to me and always has been.

Wende, this has been great. Thank you for opening your club during the day for me.

Thank you.

Resources mentioned:

About Wende Curtis

INJ 54 | Comedy Room

Wende Curtis started as a cocktail waitress at Comedy Works in Denver, moved on to general manager, and is now the owner and operator of comedy works in Downtown Denver and in South Denver. Wende expanded her business to include Comedy Works Entertainment, a concert promotion and talent management division, which has promoted such acts as Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia, and Brian Regan. Wende was honored with the Denver Business Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Women in Business.

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