Adam Cayton-Holland is an excellent human. I first heard about the actor, writer, comedian and author years ago when the Denver comedy scene went through a significant phase of growth, sending various performers forth to Los Angeles and New York where some attained further success. Cayton-Holland, Andrew Orvedahl and Ben Roy were the prime examples of hometown boys hitting it big. Their live comedy show, The Grawlix, became a requisite stop for touring comics going through Denver. It was particularly beloved by comedians who emerged from the alternative comedy scene that had its origins in New York and Los Angeles in the 1990s.
I started in stand-up and sketch in New York in 2005 and got into storytelling, radio, and acting a few years after that. I can recall chatting with friends in New York when we heard there was a flourishing scene in Denver. We were all surprised. Part of that was snobbery, and the delusion that New York City is the only place that matters, maaaaan. (This bubble pops soon enough, if you’re smart. Then you get rich, inherit Grandma’s apartment, go into tons of debt, or move.) But to be fair, Denver hadn’t exactly been a major player in the comedy world for long. It drew my interest, as did these much-praised mountain jester weirdos about whom I kept hearing such good things.
When I became an author for the first time in 2012, I wasn’t able to make it to the Rockies on tour. But when my next book came out, I made sure to hit Denver. First, though, I contacted this Cayton-Holland dude I’d heard so much about.
“You gotta hit up Adam,” people said. “Adam will show you around.”
“Oh, Adam’s a dope dude. Go find him and ask him about restaurants.”
“Adam can tell you about shows.”
“Adam will hook you up.”
“Do you need a place to stay? Ask Adam. He’ll know.”
I was like, “Who is this father figure/tourism bureau chief/comedy hero on whom some of these people clearly have a talent crush? I will find him and ask him where the best burrito is.”
He and comedian Mara Wiles were kind enough to tell stories to open for me on my stop at an incredible bookstore in town.
In addition, Adam gave me a fantastic tour of the city that made me realize he has a future in tour guide life if this whole successful actor/writer/comedian/producer/author thing starts to bore him.
Cayton-Holland, Orvedahl, and Roy had recently developed and filmed a pilot for Amazon that was later picked up by TruTV. That show, Those Who Can’t, is heading into its third season.
In the background of this success story lies a tragedy, and it’s at the heart of Cayton-Holland’s debut memoir, Tragedy Plus Time: A Tragi-Comic Memoir. His younger sister, Lydia, died by suicide in 2012, shortly after Cayton-Holland made a successful debut at the prestigious Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal. He discovered her body and wrote her eulogy, and as his close-knit family grieved, they encouraged him to keep a scheduled trip to Hollywood on the books. In the memoir, he writes of the insanity that comes when tragedy and victory are paired so closely together:
I kept going to meetings. Including one with Amazon. They liked our script enough to give us money to make a pilot. In Denver. Just like I always wanted. So there was that. I called home and let my family know. They were thrilled. And proud. I had sold a TV show. This was a worthy distraction. The trip could be called a success.
I was elated. And I didn’t care at all.