Day 1: Denver comedian adapts acclaimed memoir into stage play about suicide
Since leaving his comfort zone, Denver comedian Adam Cayton-Holland has brought comfort to tens of thousands affected by suicide.
Cayton-Holland, a 39-year-old graduate of Denver East High School, has headlined at comedy clubs throughout the United States and co-created the Denver-based TruTV comedy series “Those Who Can’t” with fellow local comedy stars Andrew Orvedahl and Ben Roy.
Cayton-Holland got real last year when he published an unsentimental and heartbreaking memoir called “Tragedy Plus Time,” a Colorado Book Award winner about growing up in Denver with two sisters. Cayton-Holland considered Lydia to be his best friend and earliest comedy collaborator. When he wrote his darkly funny book about her suicide, it was hailed as “an unforgettable work of genius” by Booklist.
After the book came out, Cayton-Holland felt the urge to talk about the story more on stage. “And I wanted to challenge myself in comedy,” he told Westword last year. So he adapted the book into a one-man play called Happy Place. But even when you have performed stand-up in front of thousands, it takes a whole different kind of courage to stand up in a room of breathing and often grieving strangers and perform a deeply personal play about mental illness, death, rage and the unending quest to find some kind of a … happy place.
Cayton-Holland workshopped Happy Place at five venues in Colorado in 2019 including Buntport Theater in Denver, the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder and the Moxi Theater in Greeley in preparation for its launch at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival in July. He’s since brought it to venues spanning the Amphibian Stage in Fort Worth to the New York Comedy Festival in Brooklyn. He’s poised to make an even greater impact in 2020 with Happy Place dates already set for the San Francisco SketchFest in January, Denver’s Buntport Theater on February 6 and Gilda’s Laughfest in March in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His goal is to bring the play to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.
“Performing Happy Place has been a really strange, painful, challenging, yet utterly satisfying experience,” Cayton-Holland told the DCPA NewsCenter. “Doing this as a one-man show in the theatrical world has really allowed me to open up about this really tragic thing that happened to me and my family. For me, there’s a normalization that comes with that. Almost like, ‘I’m not going to not talk about this because it’s on my mind a lot of the time; so if it makes you uncomfortable or if you haven’t gotten over your own stigma about it – that’s on you.”
Happy Place is laced with Cayton-Holland’s trademark acerbic comedy, astute in the knowledge that before you can hit people with you unimaginable sorrow, maybe you should ease them in with some comic insight into clubbed figure skater Nancy Kerrigan.
“People have really responded,” he said. “I think people like hearing other people just get up there and be honest, no matter how sad the story. And it’s been really interesting to see which parts I can mine laughter out of – it’s been way more than I thought. My sister Lydia was so funny, and we related through our shared weird sense of humor, so I guess the show is a reflection of that.
“And I’ve learned that when it comes to stuff like depression, mental illness and suicide, there are no six degrees of separation. There’s one degree. Everyone knows someone. Everyone. I know Lydia. And I suppose I just like talking about her.”
Since the end of “Those Who Can’t,” Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Orvedahl and Ben Roy, collectively known as The Grawlix, have brought back their popular monthly comedy show to the Bug Theatre. It takes place at 10 p.m. every last Saturday at 3654 Navajo St. Information on the December 28 show.
About The True West Awards: ’30 Days, 30 Bouquets’
The True West Awards, now in their 19th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2019 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre magazine in 2011. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org