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Steamboat Magazine

Kyle Ruff - Curator of Steamboat Comedy

03/28/2023 08:00AM ● By Julia Ben-Asher
(Photo: Once he realized his passion for comedy, Kyle Ruff founded Steamboat Comedy, bringing humor to the Yampa Valley. Courtesy of Kyle Ruff.) 

From Steamboat Magazine Mountain Edition 2023. 

In hindsight, Kyle Ruff’s early years are an obvious opener for his current position as Northwest Colorado’s comedy curator. As a kid, he participated in theater; as a student, he was the class clown. 

But Ruff was always where a comedy scene wasn’t. He grew up in rural Ohio, attended college in northern Michigan, and then spent a few years working seasonally in Steamboat and Montana’s Glacier National Park – hours from the comedy clubs and classes of a larger city. Then, in 2018 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Kyle Ruff Ruff found a comedy open mic night. 

“I saw a lot of pretty great comedians and some really bad ones,” he says. “I thought, ‘even if I’m terrible, I’ll be better  than that guy!’”

Kyle Ruff

By January 2019, Ruff was in Steamboat year-round, his comedy itch along for the ride. When he and some comedy-minded pals saw that the former BrauHaus would be hosting an open mic night, they wrangled friends to fill the audience and “crashed” the event, one stand-up set after another, to a positive response. To keep the momentum going, they brought their sets to open mics at The Press. Then, with only a few shows under their belts, in what Ruff calls “a very bold move,” the rookie comedians organized a show at Old Town Pub.

Ruff realized he was serious about comedy and decided there was a legitimate opportunity for it to grow locally. So he bought a PA system, had a logo designed and t-shirts made and he formed an LLC, thus taking responsibility for what is now Steamboat Comedy. The group hosted weekly open mics and shows, and launched its first podcast in July 2019. Group members came and went but Ruff was constant. The core crew alongside him grew to include Matt Newland, Kalynn Smith and Drew McElhany.

“I have worked in a lot of positions that require creative compromise yet organizing a bunch of solo artists to create and sustain a shared artistic performance is one of the most difficult tasks demanded of a leadership role,” Smith says. “Kyle manages to accomplish this and still keeps us all laughing. That is why  this group is one of the best communities I’ve ever been a part of in Steamboat.”

Ed Andreoni, owner of The Press, has witnessed the group’s shows over the years. “Getting up on stage every week, that’s tough, yet they just keep on going,” Andreoni says.

All the while, Ruff has invited increasingly well-known talent, from L.A. to New York, to be part of Steamboat Comedy’s shows and podcasts. “Bribing people with ski passes helps,” he quips.

New York-based comedian Sean Patton has performed across the world, appeared on Conan and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and his special, Number One, premiered on Peacock in December. In early 2020, Patton was in Steamboat when Ruff reached out to him, invited him onto the podcast and offered to show him around town. In Patton’s words, those were a “magically awesome” few days. Patton is now a semi-regular collaborator with Steamboat Comedy.

“I love the little world of comedy Ruff and his buddies have assembled,” Patton says. “It’s rare to find little enclaves of people who love [comedy] so much that they don’t care about anything else [like] industry reps in the audience or TikTok followers.”

Steamboat Comedy has also collaborated with Shane Torres, Sammy Anzer, Steve Gillespie, Stephen Agyei, Eddie Ifft, Cipha Sounds, Mike Stanley, Robbie Bernstein and MK Paulsen. “I think a lot of local folks don’t understand how big these names are,” Ruff says. “But it’s something I’m really proud of.”

Then, right as Steamboat Comedy was hitting its stride, the pandemic hit. 

The group hosted free outdoor shows and limited-capacity open mic events. Over one particularly memorable weekend, they hit max capacity of 50 at four sold-out shows in two days. 

They diversified their shows, performing at corporate events and private gigs. 

“It’s unique being in a small town with more of a bluegrass, jamband scene,” Ruff says. “The opportunities are different.” With only so many folks interested in performing, Steamboat’s aspiring comedians get 10 or even 20 minutes on stage, compared to the three they might get in a city venue. And Steamboat’s steady stream of tourists makes for fresh, eager audiences. 

“These kids don’t have any competition to keep them honest. What keeps them honest is the love of the game,” Patton says. “An education of comedy is very important, obviously, but passion is the most important thing and Steamboat Comedy has it in droves.”

It’s what keeps the group going through the fun parts and the tough parts. 

“Comedy is hard,” Ruff says. “When someone’s on stage telling a funny joke, what you don’t see is that they’ve tried it 50 times before that, fine-tuning it.”

“Sometimes you’re in front of 100 people, a sold-out crowd, and it’s electric. Other times, you’re in front of four people and they don’t like you and you’re just up there drowning,” he adds. “You gotta be OK with all of it.” 

Keep up with Steamboat Comedy at @steamboatcomedy and at