The idea started out innocently enough — or relatively innocently, anyway. The Denver-based comedy game show Uncalled Four would accept nominations for “Denver’s Worst Person,” give the “winner” a one-way ticket out of the city and give the person who nominated the “winner” $300 in prizes.
“Is it that guy who keeps jerkin’ it in the alley behind your apartment?” the call for nominations asked. “Janet in HR who ate your yogurt last month? Mayor Michael Hancock?”
What host Jake Browne didn’t expect was for the submissions to be heartbreaking.
“They’re so varied. I look at it and, you know, there’s an email from a guy who hasn’t talked to his dad in 16 years and flies out to Denver to surprise him for Father’s Day and the dad doesn’t even acknowledge that he knows who the kid is,” Browne said. “And the email says, ‘At least when he dies I’ll know I tried.”
Among the more than 500 nominations, which Browne thought would be nothing but politicians, people’s bosses and joke entries, are horror stories about exes, broken families, vulnerable people taken advantage of and more.
And now the crew at Uncalled Four, which also includes producer Samantha Sandt and executive producer Zac Maas, have their work cut out for them. How will a comedy show deal with such serious subjects?
“I feel like we all kind of go through life, and no one escapes without a few scars along the way, and people see this as an opportunity to kind of purge some of that,” Browne said, “and our challenge now is to figure out how to do this and honor what that person is going through without depressing a room full of people.”
“Denver’s Worst Person” contest was born out of Uncalled Four’s regular show: Four comedians write answers to audience questions like “What does Hickenlooper’s hair smell like?” or “Dad went out to buy _____ and never came back,” and audience reaction determines the winner of each round. In the end, the winner is declared “Denver’s Worst Person.”
Naturally, Uncalled Four turned that into a T-shirt.
“We created these ‘Denver’s Worst Person’ T-shirts a couple years ago as kind of a gag,” Browne said. “And it was kind of a conversation starter, especially if you’re walking on Colfax. People would come up and say, ‘You’re not Denver’s worst person, I know Denver’s worst person.’ Or they’d ask you what makes you Denver’s worst person.”
And so the show finds itself in a tough spot. They need to be cautious, understanding that there are two sides of every story and taking care not to slander anyone.
“I think what we’re going to try to do is get a bunch of post cards and everyone that had serious responses, send them a postcard that says they’re a runner-up and make it kind of tongue-in-cheek but also let them know that there’s somebody out there who knows what’s going on with them.”
“Basically anybody who wrote us a quasi-serious entry, we’re saying, ‘Please come to the show for free,’ ” he added. “I want to meet some of them now, but that doesn’t feel appropriate. Just because I read their internet form submission doesn’t make me a licensed therapist.”
To find out how they’ll handle it on stage, you’ll just have to see for yourself. At 8 p.m. Saturday, Stephen Agyei, Adam Cayton-Holland, Zach Reinert and Rachel Weeks will face off on stage at the Oriental Theater, 4335 W. 44th Ave., and the contest “winner” will be announced.
That person will get a one-way ticket to a not particularly desirable location and his or her name will be included in the next edition of Uncalled Four’s The Worst Card Game. (The national version of the game, by the way, will be on sale at the show.)
The person behind the nomination will get that $300 prize package and, Browne said, “hopefully a theater full of people giving them a big round of applause, because they need it.”
Tickets are $6 in advance and $10 at the door.