David Rodriguez wanted to be a comedian, but the only ones he knew were the ones everyone knew, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, and those guys were as big as rock stars. He didn’t think there was a place for him — he hadn’t even heard of an open mic night — until he moved to Fort Collins.
The comedians there were warm and supportive, like a book club with jokes, and they practically pushed him on the stage, where he finally did tell a few himself. He got a couple good laughs, and he was hooked.
Rodriguez’ first set, more than five years ago, was at Hodi’s Half Note, the beloved FoCo rock club which recently announced its closing. He believes it’s fitting, then, that he will open Comedy Fort in the Hodi’s building, probably sometime in January.
Hodi’s last day was a month or so ago – yet another victim of COVID-19 – and Rodriguez was truly just as sad as you were about that death. He didn’t even mind when the announcement of his dream of opening a comedy club turned into a Facebook wake for Hodi’s instead of a ton of “attaboys” for him. He even assured one commenter that the vibe of Hodi’s was a true priority for the new entertainment venue at that address.
“When this opportunity came about, it just felt perfect,” Rodriguez said. “I want to maintain the hip, artsy culture there as well as highlight the history of old-time Fort Collins. “There were brick walls [at Hodi’s] and I want to keep those walls behind the performer,” Rodriguez said. Construction is well underway to remove the Hodi’s stage and erect a new one along what was the brick side wall of the space, essentially pivoting the audience 45 degrees to the left, now utilizing the existing brick as a classic comedy backdrop.
Rodriguez got to know comedy in those aforementioned five years, both as a working, touring comedian himself — he won the New Faces of Comedy competition at Comedy Works in Denver, acting as a host there now — and as a host and producer for comedy shows in Fort Collins, including the Colorado Room, where he’s put on a regular show with comics for nearly three years. He named Comedy Fort after the Facebook page he started, and he’s proud to have helped grow the scene in Northern Colorado.
“When I got to Fort Collins, there were maybe 20 comics working regularly,” Rodriguez said. “Now we have almost 100. Usually you get funny and you move to Denver, but now this city is a destination for Denver comics who want a different audience.”
Therefore, he believes it’s easy to book local talent as well as some larger national acts, and with good reason: his productions were in high demand before COVID-19 shut everything down. But the lockdown has provided Rodriguez with some development time for the venue while he maintains as normal a life as possible for his family. He’s busy working as a stay-at-home dad to his two young kids, while his wife, Alea, works as a counselor.
People are still mourning Hodi’s, however, after Dan Mladenik, the owner of the building, shut its doors.
“I literally had some of the best times of my life in that building,” said Bri Long on Facebook. Long is the owner and founder of Longevity Productions, which hosted a weekly Tuesday night event at Hodi’s. “Made some of my best friends,” Long continued, “Started my career. Met the love of my life.”
Mladenik said he thought about it for a while before finally closing the doors, even before the pandemic. “But when COVID hit, it just made it that much more serious where I had to figure something out,” he said.
On the new side of things, Rodriguez isn’t worried about Comedy Fort making it. He has time and patience to wait it out, even if he has to go beyond his planned soft opening in January and grand opening in maybe March. He’s leasing the Hodi’s building, and although it’s for sale, Mladenik understands his situation all too well, according to Rodriguez, and isn’t expecting income right away.
So the shift of venue identity at 167 North College Avenue is amicable, and though sad for some, it’s an exciting, even practical opportunity for Rodriguez and the NoCo arts and Comedy scene at large.
“If there was something else here in Northern Colorado, I’d probably be an employee of it,” Rodriguez said. “But there’s not, so I just thought I’d create my own.”