Book review: Denver comic Adam Cayton-Holland digs deep, finds healing in “Tragedy Plus Time”

Adam Cayton-Holland has often seemed like one of those people who has all.

The 38-year-old former and live-in Westword scribe, who returns for Season 3 of his own truTV sitcom “Those Who Can’t” this fall, comes from a well-educated, well-off family in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood.

Following years of proving his ability and work ethic in the city’s DIY comedy scene, he broke through to a national audience and was able to remain true for his Mile High City origins, while cutting a course for other regional artists to follow.

That’s the version that is people .

As Cayton-Holland shows in “Tragedy Plus Time” (printed Aug. 21 on Touchstone), it all meant nothing after his younger sister Lydia committed suicide at the summer of 2012.

“I’m a comic from Denver who sold his very first Hollywood script,” Cayton-Holland writes five pages to the memoir, which crackles with his on-stage confidence and aches with his worldview. “I’ve never been devastated. ”

“Tragedy Plus Time” (named after the comedy axiom “Comedy is tragedy plus time”) might function as a memoir, however its own present-tense tone and trembling details provide it an in-your-ear immediacy.

Cayton-Holland’s parents instilled a sense of righteousness in their kids. A former journalist, a civil rights attorney his father, and his mom, educated their trio of legends — Anna, Adam and Lydia — to anticipate a lot from these and each other. As Cayton-Holland writes, this invited good accomplishment (Anna, the oldest, was nearly a professional ice skater) but additionally obsessive-compulsive disease and hypersensivity into the world’s ills.

Cayton-Holland is prone to broadcasting these memories in bright flashes, cutting between interwoven scenes you can picture on the huge screen. (Heor rsquo;so operating on adapting the novel into a film, according to an interview with Medium.) It amounts to a series of horrors and absurditiesas he sees inequity and death during the earlier chapters — much less foreshadowing into the alternately humid and noble atmosphere he breathed in the home than a peek.

But the care with which he approaches the topics not betrays their gravity.  That is simply how small Adam — painfully conscious of his luck, but also privy to matters most children will never see — seasoned the world: squeezed through episodes of “The Simpsons,” private-school culture, world travels, his parents’ hippie beliefs, the strange legal jargon. Not exactly typical.

Lydia, whose childhood can be recounted in flashes, was too sensitive. A vegetarian in age 9, she lobbied her parents to altering their landscaping plans since she feared the plants could have torn up. She spoke to them and kept a menagerie of critters. She lived in South America for a time. She felt.

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Cayton-Holland analyzes critters and this to magnificent degrees, an armchair psychologist. But it’s assembled to his personality, and you can quickly determine why to vandalizing his school campus at alcohol-fueled blackouts from discovering his class-clown potential his experiences in school, were spoiled brat than aesthete.

As Cayton-Holland catches his childhood in Spielbergian freeze-frames of ’80s youth, then traces his rise in Denver’s scrappy alt-comedy scene (he helped create) onto mainstream clubs like Comedy Works, he’s filled with all the sensation that something violent and defining will probably occur at any moment.

They wash, although sometimes you discover those things by looking for these.

Lydia, emotionally sexy and often joyous but intimidating within her intellect, became postponed. Shrinks and prescription drugs and living a Bohemian lifestyle — none of this helped. Adam invited her letting her run the door along with the tech rehearsals at Denver art spaces while he ran his own stand-up showcases.

(It’s a period I witnessed firsthand, chronicling Cayton-Holland along with his Grawlix comedy trio associates ’ climb locally and nationwide .  I shared discussions with Lydia external places and chatted with her media. She was an acquaintance, however the most gruesome areas of the book — in which she’s admitted to the psych ward at Denver Health after overdosing on pills, and also where she takes her own life with a gun, only to be found after in her bed by her own brother — were largely unknown to me)

“It made us laugh, the insanity of it all,” Cayton-Holland writes. &ldquoWe Cayton-Holland three at the way we had been suddenly seeming to exist at the gloomy works of art where we had been 28, tickled and puzzled. But those moments gave way to panic that was teary when we removed the indie-film lenses out of our eyes. This was our little sister. Struggling. At a psych ward. ”

These areas of the novel warrant the glowing praise. In prose, Cayton-Holland explores the tragedy which in many ways is still currently defining him. The process, including the anger and the self-blame. The speculation of a family that feared mediocrity more than failure. The information of Lydia’s decline and death. The drinking, professional aid and career triumphs that followed Cayton-Holland, also as Lydia was constantly on his mind.

It’s a lot however Cayton-Holland never chokes. Owing to some three seasons of sitcom writingthat he bandies around a lot of clichés occasionally. It never detracts from the narrative, but you could ’t help wishing he had used them given his clear command of speech.

Then again, this is a novel one can hear being read out loud (since Cayton-Holland did for the sound version), and readers familiar with his engrossing, conversational stand-up will hear his voice in their minds the whole time.

“Publishing that a publication was my dream forever,” he told The Denver Post at March, before the introduction of his very first half-hour special on Comedy Central. “I wish it was under different circumstances. Having said that, I had to write it.  It’s been part of me each day since, and it’s tribute to her. ”

Really. But “Tragedy Plus Time” isn&; rsquo;t a window to despair. It’s also a flag planted, signaling his family’so resolve. Cayton-Holland is doing well nowadays (his High Plains Comedy Festival, the region’s largest stand-up event, yields Aug. 23-25). Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper tweeted a movie a week out of Cayton-Holland’s book-release celebration at the Tattered Cover, lauding the “hilarious/heartbreaking” brand new tome.

That’s fine endorsement, however Cayton-Holland doesn’t want it. Not just since his work stands alone, but since his existential development, which stems from the last chapters, has seen him. He looks for meaning in also an & ldquo; empath & rdquo; buddy along with red-tailed hawks, often visiting with a bench in City Park that his family had committed to Lydia.

It amounts to an affecting portrait of a family struggling to contain its feral grief, and finding themselves the more united for it. An tower of feline hair and trampolines and jokes and laughter and blood, leaning crazily to one side. Gloomy and silly, clever and crude. And accurate.

Should you go

“Tragedy Plus Time. ” A conversation with Adam Cayton-Holland from Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner at Gates Concert Hall, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 2344 E. Iliff Ave. 7-8:30 p.m. on Sept. 13. Tickets: $12 through

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