By: Steven Hayward – Springs Magazine December 13, 2018
It’s 7 o’clock on a Friday, the regular crowd has shuffled in—and they’re killing themselves laughing.
This is Loonees Comedy Corner on North Academy, Colorado Springs’ longstanding comedy club. Chris Cesar, the featured act tonight, has just stepped onstage. About 60 people are scattered around the darkened room at tables, with beers and bar food in front of them.
Cesar gets the crowd laughing early with some material about the Springs.
“Did you lose your mind when Trader Joe’s opened up here?” he asks. “I know I did.” He pauses a moment and seems overcome with emotion. “It’s like we’re a real city now.”
This gets a chuckle.
“Anybody from Manitou?” he continues. There’s some applause from the back of the room. “That’s a strange place. Seriously. Where else do you smoke a joint and then climb a mile of stairs?”
Next he pokes fun at the much-advertised gentility of the Old North End. “Anyone here from Tejon Street?” He waits for a response—and hears a single person admit to it. “Thank you so very much for joining us,” he says, in a faux-British accent.
Chris Cesar and comics at Happy Hour Stand-Up. Photo Courtesy of Chris Cesar.
Originally from El Paso, Texas, Cesar—who also hosts the comedy nights at the Fine Arts Center—moved to the Springs some five years ago. Like a lot of comics, he got his start after impulsively stepping onstage at an open mic. “I did five minutes and was terrible,” he tells me. “But people laughed—and I was hooked.”
After that it was a stint in Los Angeles, then Boston, a USO tour, a sitcom pilot that nearly took off, and a series of day jobs to pay the rent. It was one of those day jobs that brought him to the Springs, where he soon got busy breathing new life into the comedy scene.
“Comedy is actually booming here,” says Dan Raney, another local comedian. He’s just finished opening for Cesar with a hilarious, kinetic set of his own. “A few years ago, there’d be an open mic at Loonees and no one would show up. Now it’s huge.”
A look around the room gives evidence that he’s right. There’s something of a comedy boom taking place in the Springs—thanks, in no small part, to Erik Hawkinson, owner and frequent bartender at Loonees, now in its 27th year. Hawkinson took over from his father a decade ago, and in recent years has skillfully used digital media to get the word out.
“It’s Erik who builds the room each week,” Cesar tells me. “He pulls the acts in, puts the whole night together. It’s a great place to play. There’s a lot of love in it.”
As the early show ends, the crowd, still half-laughing, makes its way out the door. A couple sees Cesar and I sitting at the bar and come over. “That was hilarious,” the woman says. “That bit about how your truck can either go fast or have air conditioning.” She laughs. “That’s him,” she says, pointing to her husband. “That’s his truck.”
It’s a tiny, perfect moment. Behind us Hawkinson and his staff are getting ready for the late show, and there is much to be done. But he pauses for a moment and listens as the woman says how much she loved tonight. “See you next week,” he tells her.
“I’ll be here,” she tells him, and then, remembering something else from the night, is laughing again as she walks into the parking lot.