Sizing up and relating to people are must-have skills for Boulder County Sheriff Sergeant Vinnie Montez (PolSci’15).
His sideline as a standup comic also helps.
“I believe the essence of a good cop is being a great performer,” said Montez, who knows the pressures of hostage negotiation and the bright lights of the comedy club stage.
The dramatic aspects of law enforcement can make for tense moments. A way with jokes helps diffuse stress during arrests, investigations and in the squad car.
“Laughter breaks barriers,” said Montez, 41. “Police officers are regular people.”
He came to law enforcement early, initially as a fan of CHiPs, the TV drama of the 1970s and 1980s about a pair of California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers.
“They were always doing what was right,” Montez said of the fictional duo. “There was always a lesson in the show. They talked to people and resolved problems.”
At 14, after a ride-along with the Lafayette Police Department, he became an explorer cadet — kind of like a junior apprentice without law enforcement powers — first with Lafayette, then with Boulder County. In 1994, after high school, he was hired as a sheriff’s dispatcher, and he’s been in law enforcement ever since, rising through the ranks.
Along the way, he attended CU Boulder, doing most of his degree in the 1990s and finishing later, in 2015, while working full-time as a detective sergeant.
“I didn’t sleep much,” he said.
In 2007, as a counterweight to the stresses of his day job, Montez turned to comedy, making a two-minute “newbie” debut at Comedy Works in Denver.
“I like to tell stories involving my mom, my Mexican heritage and cops,” he said. “I’m still perfecting my law enforcement routine.”
The shtick has been working. Since 2013, Montez has been promoted to Comedy Works’ “almost-famous list,” as he called it, a role in which he opens for bigger-name comedians when they come to Denver, folks like Caroline Rhea, Chris D’Elia, Bobcat Goldthwait and John Crist.
Whatever natural talent Montez has, he attributes to his late father, a hardworking, genial man who could “talk to anybody in any situation.”
At any sort of social gathering, “It would take him 15 minutes to make an exit,” Montez said. “That rubbed off on my brother and me.”
Still, comedy takes work.
“I never think, ‘I’m just a hilarious guy,’” said Montez, who does as many as six shows a week, always aiming for a laugh within the first 30 seconds. “It’s trial and error.”
When not performing at comedy clubs, he often takes the stage at benefits for fellow officers and at law enforcement conferences.
“Comedy has kept me from becoming jaded and overly cynical in a profession which has a tendency to drive officers in that direction,” he said.
Photo courtesy Vinnie Montez