From open mics to world tours
Sam Tallent talks touring life, Denver's comedy scene and earning his degree after a 12-year hiatus
Sam Tallent loves the road. His grueling tour schedule has taken him everywhere from regional restaurants to hotel bars, dusty bookstores to vacant downtowns haunted by yesterdays.
Born and raised in Elizabeth — “the forgotten part of Colorado” — Tallent enrolled at Metropolitan State University of Denver for the first time in 2005. As soon as he could pay his rent as a standup comic, however, he left to follow the road’s calling, which included a stint living in an anarchist commune in Ithaca, N.Y.
“What I’ve learned is that if you sacrifice a sense of security and comfort, you can have the freedom that comes with doing your own thing,” Tallent said.
The lauded comic’s path has taken him far. Tallent has been a guest on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast and landed a special on Amazon Prime, “Waiting for Death to Claim Us.” He also published a book, “Running the Light,” which includes a foreword by fellow comic Kyle Kinane and has been blurbed by comedy heavyweights such as Ron White, Doug Stanhope and Chris Gethard. The bleak portrait of a road-worn comic was optioned for film production and is on its second screenplay draft.
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Eventually, though, Tallent wound his way back to his Front Range home — and, this graduation season, a Metropolitan State University of Denver diploma he began pursuing 17 years ago.
“Denver is special — it affords the space to create, specifically because there isn’t the kind of industry pressure you find in places like New York or L.A.,” Tallent said. “That gave rise to a real sense of community, which has saturated and supercharged everything I’ve done.”
To that end, Tallent served as a force behind the legendary Denver DIY performance space Mouth House. The unsanctioned Curtis Park venue/residence recorded over 100 out-of-town bands and hosted Tallent’s band, Red vs. Black, before being shut down in 2013 by “hilariously undercover cops who came in wearing Social Distortion and Dropkick Murphys shirts, looking for a drug operation but who just found us throwing these loud punk shows instead.”
Tallent has continued that do-it-yourself ethos, “doing the Black Flag thing” as his own agent, manager and distributor and shipping his merchandise from his garage in Fort Collins, where he now lives. And though the days of stringing together open-mic gigs at the Squire Lounge for $100 are gone, that spirit of entrepreneurship never left.
Tallent’s advice for comics just starting out:
“Be kind to yourself. Don’t feel like you have to be high on stage. Take any gig that comes your way. Hit open mics to hone your material. And enjoy the first three years — they’re the most fun you’ll ever have.
“So stay out late and make new friends. Be patient and have fun, as there’s plenty of time to be petty and jealous, and it only gets worse.”
His current Denver comic recommendations include:
Tallent reenrolled at MSU Denver in 2021 to complete his degree, this time to as an Individualized Degree Program major in Public Address and Rhetoric. He gave credit to Individualized Degree Specialist Lisa Kirscht for her help in making sense of his “often vulgar and long-winded ramblings.”
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As an increasingly recognized comedy presence, Tallent has been approached by several institutions to serve as a visiting professor, but his lack of a degree was an issue.
“(My teaching was) a tough pitch to a department chair, since the literary world isn’t exactly kind to a self-published author,” Tallent said.
An even bigger factor, however, was Tallent’s mother, who passed away last September, the day after his Amazon special was released.
“She would come out to my shows and supported me in everything. I loved her dearly,” he said. “And Mom always wanted me to graduate, so I’m finishing the degree in her honor.”
For Tallent, graduation is a substantial mile marker in a story filled with them — and one more stopping point before getting back on the road.
“I love touring. I love seeing America,” he said. “I gotta admit, though, I do like sleeping in my own bed, too.”