Comedian comes to Vail to get serious about mental health

Eagle County police officers and other first responders gather at the Donovan Suite in Vail for a special screening of boulder comedian Vinnie Montez, who talks candidly about his mental health issues as a longtime police officer.
Kelly Duncan / Phil Daily

Comedian Boulder Vinnie Montez He came to Phil Wednesday to break down the stigma around mental health in the best way he knows how – by being open and open.

Montez, the old cop and proud Mexican man who “puts his heart on his sleeve,” hasn’t always been open about his mental health, he said in an interview on Wednesday.

During his first 10 years in the Boulder County sheriff’s office, he kept his head low and worked excessively, ignoring the impact of constant exposure to trauma that comes with a career in law enforcement.



“Mental health wasn’t really at the forefront of everyone’s mind during that time,” Montez said. “You don’t really realize the different kind of trauma you’re going through, not acute (traumatic) shock, but over a long period of time.”

He was forced to confront the reality of his mental health after an incident late one night in 2008 when a woman informed him while driving in Boulder Canyon. Montez was off duty, but a young man had just hit his car and wasn’t breathing, the woman told him.



“He was having trouble breathing. He wasn’t conscious,” Montez recalls. “There was no cell phone coverage, so it was going to be a while before we got help.”

Montez immediately got down to business in an effort to save the man’s life and continued until support arrived. Despite their efforts, the young man breathed his last that night.

“The supervisor at the scene pulled me from the scene and put me in his warm Tahoe,” Montez said. “I had a moment where I broke down and I’ve never felt like this or the feeling of being overcome during an incident like this before. I really kind of hit a wall.”

After that night, Montez said he realized he needed to step back and spend some time looking inside. He started going to counseling and comedy as an outlet to talk about his mental health.

Now, he only wished he had reached this comfort point sooner.

Unfortunately, it’s all too common for men to avoid talking about their mental health, said Erin Ivey, executive director of local suicide awareness organization SpeakUp ReachOut.

“We know that men are significantly less likely to come for help. In Colorado, the middle-class man of working age is more likely to die by suicide and that is also true here in Eagle County.”

For this reason, SpeakUp ReachOut wanted to host a more fun and accessible event aimed at local men, she said.

“We wanted to bring a serious conversation to that audience, but also get some of those people in the room who wouldn’t be attending standard suicide prevention training because they don’t necessarily want to have that conversation,” Ivey said. .

Montez was the right man for the job.

Boulder comedian and longtime policeman Vinnie Montez performs in front of a crowd at the Donovan Suite in Vail on Wednesday, December 1, 2021.
Kelly Duncan / Phil Daily

The free event, held in the Donovan Suite in Vail, began Wednesday evening with appetizers by The Grazing Fox followed by a buffet of food from Moe’s Original BBQ.

Then, Avon Police Chief and mental health advocate Greg Daly took to the stage to welcome a home full of attendees, many of them fellow law enforcement officials and their families.

“One of the things I really appreciated was the number of husbands and support networks for our first responders there as well,” said Ivy. “I just think this is very valuable because they need to know what these things are like as well to be able to support their law enforcement spouses.”

Daly spoke of the importance of setting aside the strongman and treating mental health as if you were a physical illness, as something necessary to monitor and treat.

“I highly encourage people to connect with others and don’t be afraid to connect with them,” Daly said. “We all go through tough times in life, whether it’s personal or work-related situations.”

When Montez took to the stage, he spent some time sharing his journey with mental health before he pumped the audience and transitioned into stand-up comedy.

Montez has a certain amount of high-energy physique in a comedy that instills a sense of sincerity, authenticity, and love for his profession. He looks for ways to connect with the audience in new and dynamic ways, makes big gestures and breaks into the song automatically.

Many of his jokes targeted Coloradans, specifically those who wear Birkenstock who feel a strong moral obligation to stop Subaru Outbacks for small rodents crossing the road. It was punctuated by slapstick jokes like the story of a particularly unfortunate hot yoga session after a trip to Taco Bell.

And then, there were a few parts of what Montez called “dark humor” that pointed directly to the first responders in a room in which there were many members of the local police and fire departments, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and even the Fifth District Attorney’s office.

“We, as police officers, are compelled to see, taste, smell, hear things that are not normal for the average person to see and experience,” Montez said. “But we have to address these, we have to move past them, and we use this black humor sometimes in order to do that.”

“It’s not that we’re making fun of the situation,” he said. We use it as a coping mechanism. …even in the most bleak and complex of situations, this is a way to release some of that stress.”

Sgt. Detective Aaron Feldher of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, front left, laughs at a joke told by longtime Boulder comedian and policeman Vinnie Montez, who performed at the Donovan Suite in Vail on Wednesday.
Kelly Duncan / Phil Daily

Overall, the night was a huge success, Evie said, as audience members paused to remove the occasional tears from laughing so hard.

“We’ve really wanted to bring people together – it’s been several years – and have this opportunity to laugh and have a community and maybe be a little more cool than the past two years have allowed anyone to be,” said Evie.

At the end of his work, Montez returned to the topic of mental health, encouraging his fellow men, fellow first responders—anyone and everyone—to take advantage of local resources such as the Eagle River Valley Hope Center.

SpeakUp ReachOut also used the event to communicate information to Mantherapy.orgA popular and easy-to-use mental health resource designed specifically for men. The website offers a “20-point head check,” a questionnaire that can be used to find out how your mental health is doing from the comfort of your own home, Ivey said.

Local suicide prevention organization SpeakUp ReachOut hosted a comedy event that featured an “uncertain bar” of non-alcoholic specialty cocktails with creative names such as “Men Cry Too Marg” and “Stigmas are Old Fashioned.”
Kelly Duncan / Phil Daily

The event even included an “unconfirmed bar” with non-alcoholic specialty cocktails with creative names such as “Men Cry Too Marg” and “Stigmas are Old Fashioned.”

When people walked out of the booth at the end of the show, many rushed for a chance to shake hands with Montez and tell him how much they enjoyed the show, and the flickering smiles that lit up the night air as they walked to their cars back home.

“We have to be able to talk and communicate about this topic, and make sure this is no longer a taboo,” Montez said of what he hoped to be getting out of the show.

“You can’t just say, ‘We’re going to reduce the stigma, oh my God, it’s fading. He said. “It’s those incremental steps, slowly, over time, that reduce that because people see other people they respect who aren’t afraid to speak out.”

For more information on local behavioral health resources, visit EagleValleyBH.orgSpeakUpReachOut.org Or call the Eagle Hope Center at 970-306-4673, Colorado Crisis Services 844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255.

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