Comedian Stephen Agyei has reached a feat in Denver that other comedians dream to achieve. He headlined Comedy Works in Greenwood Village July 23 and Downtown Denver August 3. From his humble beginnings performing at the University of Colorado–Boulder to performing around the nation and South Korea, Agyei’s comedic career is just getting started.
Watching the Greats
Agyei is a Colorado native who found his calling in comedy through watching the greats.
“In second grade I spent the night at my friend’s house and his mom used to take us to Blockbuster and let us get whatever,” Agyei says. “I got Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain, because I seen him on TV and thought he was funny. Went home and watched it and I didn’t get all the jokes. I was seven.
“But the things that I got, I’d repeat the next day at school,” Agyei says. “But what hit me was, ‘Oh, that’s a thing you can actually do.’ From then on I was like, ‘I wanna do standup.’”
Agyei’s comical influences include Bernie Mac, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, Robin Harris and Redd Foxx just to name a few.
“Bernie Mac is straight attitude. Chris Rock is political and his analytical abilities are amazing,” Agyei says. “Dave Chappelle for his storytelling.”
Agyei’s Joke-Making Philosophies
Agyei says the best inspiration for writing jokes is living life. He explains that some people can sit down and force jokes. But his best jokes come from real things that happen to him.
“Whether it’s something that’s happened to me or I’m just thinking about something weird, I’ll try to make a joke out of it,” Agyei says. “There’s no better way to come up with jokes but living life–trying new things, going new places, meeting new people.”
Agyei takes time to write at least one joke a day.
“I for sure write at least a joke a day, whether that joke is good is or not,” Agyei says. “It takes such a long time to craft a good joke. Even if I come up with an idea, I might let it sit for a while and then rewrite it and try it out a bunch of times before it gets to a place where I’m like, ‘Ok. This joke is good now.’”
Bottom line: Agyei likes telling clean and dirty jokes, but he feels more natural with his dirty material.
“I’m more on the dirty side. If I’m specifically trying to do dirty stuff, I have very dirty stuff,” Agyei chuckles. “I really don’t think of my jokes as dirty or clean as much as I think of them as jokes that I like to do. But there’s definitely a line between my dirty and clean jokes.
“Dirty is a lot more fun,” Agyei continues. “I think why I say that is because it’s natural to me. I don’t feel like I’m trying to be in a classroom and not make the teacher angry. I just feel like I’m in the living room at a dinner party and we’re just messing around. There’s no malicious intent.”
Tales of Bombing
In June 2010, Agyei took his first baby steps into comedy by performing stand-up at the University of Colorado–Boulder’s Hale Building.
“I was running track at CU-Boulder and I quit. I told one of my friends I wanted to do stand-up,” Agyei says. “Three days later this kid, Brandon, saw the sign for that stand-up and called me. He sent me the information and that next week I was trying to figure out jokes and watching comedy. The next thing I know, I did that show and never looked back.”
Agyei says he did well at the show, especially since all his friends were there to cheer him on.
But he got a different tune from the audience at his second show.
“It was at the Mercury Café in Denver. It was an open mic for everything. Not just stand-up,” Agyei recalls. “There was a guy walking around in a wizard costume, tall hat and everything. He gets on stage with his wife, who’s playing the piano, and he’s playing the guitar. They’re singing and stuff. I go up next.
“I start telling jokes and bombing. It is not going well. It’s quiet in there,” Agyei adds. “Then I said, ‘Oh. Maybe you guys just didn’t get it.’ Then the wizard guy says, ‘No. You just wasn’t funny.’ So then I was like, ‘Oh no, you weren’t funny.’ And I started clowning on him playing piano with his wife and saying, ‘Y’all trying to fix your marriage or something?’ The crowd started laughing. Then I tried going back to my material and bombed again.”
This was not the first time Agyei bombed. His second unpleasing crowd was about 300 people in New Jersey.
“At this point I had seen enough shows to kinda sniff out whether or not it was going to be a good show. We get in there and it’s in a ballroom of a La Quinta Inn. I’m like, ‘Ok, this is not going to go well,’” Agyei says. “Walk in and everybody is dressed in white. They weren’t there for comedy. They were there for this little dance party.
“I saw the MC get up and he’s killing it. I just knew with the material and the stuff he was doing, I thought, ‘They ain’t gonna like me. I am not that guy,’” Agyei says. “I got up and proceeded…to bomb. There was one table of three or four girls that I saw laughing. At this point, I thought they were laughing because the jokes were funny. In retrospect, they were probably laughing because I was dying up there. I was supposed to do 10 minutes. I looked at my recorder. I was up there for like three minutes, 45 seconds. That felt longer.”
Agyei was embarrassed about bombing. But looking back on it, he can’t help but laugh at it.
“It sucks while you’re doing it, but then you walk out and it’s so funny to look back like, ‘Holy shit! I was doing so bad!’” Agyei says. “I’m always good with processing things. It was like, ‘Well, I just gotta get better and do it again.’”
Opening for Dave Chappelle, Headlining and Other Milestones
While bombings occasionally showed up on Agyei’s comedic record, he gained epic accomplishments and milestones.
Agyei headlined at the Liquid Laughs Comedy Club in Boise, Idaho, independent shows in Colorado and even South Korea. His first headlining show for Comedy Works was at the Greenwood Village location July 23.
“It felt good to be able to deliver, invite people and headline finally. It was unreal,” Agyei says. “When you start stand-up, you’re like, ‘Man, one day I want to headline Comedy Works. That’d be great.’ Then you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m headlining at Comedy Works.’ That’s my name on the sign. That’s my name on the site. They’re all here for me.”
Wende Curtis, CEO of Comedy Works, gave a hand in developing Agyei into the comedian he is today.
“Stephen was easy to help develop. He’s teachable. He’s humble, he’s hungry, he’s eager to learn,” Curtis says. “He listens to anyone that has something to say about the business and that’s rare, rare, rare in young comedians. He reminds me of myself when I was young in the business on the other side of the stage.
“Too many people let their ego get in the way. If you want to be successful at this or anything else, you’ve got to let it go,” Curtis adds. “You have to be ready to learn, ready to bomb, ready to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and do it again. Stephen had that quality.”
“She’s truly a mastermind when it comes to developing comics,” Agyei says. “She gets you to develop and gets you in the right space at the right time.”
Curtis says Agyei went to her about headlining at the Comedy Works and she saw that he was ready.
“He was ready. He’s got a charisma where, even if he wasn’t strong, he’s so likable. But he is strong,” Curtis says. “He holds his own up there, and he’s going to be an amazing headliner one day. He’s going to sell out arenas!”
One of the best gigs Agyei had was his first time opening for Comedian Dave Chappelle at the South Comedy Works in 2014.
“I went down just to watch the show with my friend, Troy Walker, and Wende peeped out of the green room and waved me and Troy over,” Agyei says. “She knew Chappelle was going to ask us. She probably facilitated that a little bit. Chappelle starts talking. He’s the nicest dude I’ve ever met. He asked if we wanted to open up and we said yeah.”
The show sold out and Agyei killed so hard that Chappelle was laughing.
“It was amazing. He watched our sets too and he said, ‘You really funny, man,’” Agyei says. “When he says you’re funny, it was a cool thing. But I was like, ‘He didn’t watch it.’ A lot of comics say that but they never watch your set. But I was walking out and the staff said he was standing there watching the whole time and laughing. It was kind of a surreal thing when you’re a few years in stand-up. I think I was three and a half years in at that time.”
Agyei has also performed at the Denver Improv, Loonees Comedy Corner, the Bellco Theater with Mike Epps and other Colorado cities including Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Fort Collins and more. He’s also been to Nebraska, California, Wyoming, Nevada, Virginia, Washington and other states. He would love to do comedy in Europe and Australia one day.
The future looks bright for Agyei in the comedic and entertainment worlds.
“I want to get on TV. I would love to be on Saturday Night Live,” Agyei says. “I want to have my own sitcom or sketch show. I want to be one of the best stand-ups/entertainers of my time.”
Curtis says Agyei has the potential to go into TV and film and also return to stand-up.
“He’s very charismatic, handsome and likeable. I can see him on television and film,” Curtis adds. “I think he will stay to his stand-up roots even if he ends up going in one of those directions just like a lot of comics. They may follow other paths but their hearts really lie in stand-up. So they’ll always go back to where they started.”
As a comedian and human being, Agyei wants to be remembered as a good person who loved to make people laugh.
“A lot of people specifically remember me by my smile. They always say I have a good smile,” Agyei says. “I just want to be remembered as a fun guy who’s nice and generous.”
Editor’s Note: For more information about Stephen Agyei and his next performances visit: www.stephenagyei.com.
This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of the Denver Urban Spectrum.