Fly fisherman by day, comedian by night

DENVER — Scenes of cramped apartments and poorly lit bars tend to come to mind when thinking about the domain of a local comedian. Denverite and stand up comic Eeland Stribling defies the stereotype. He likes to spend his days off deep in the Colorado mountains, fly fishing in some of the nation’s most scenic locations. 

His life’s story attracted the attention of the PBS show, “Roots of Comedy with Jesus Trejo”, which features six rising comedians from across the country. Stribling is the subject of the latest episode, which you can watch here.

Stribling started his comedy career during his time at Colorado State University where he studied conservation and wildlife biology. Since then, he has made a living between his two passions working as an environmentalist by day and a comic by night.
Rocky Mountain PBS recently spoke with Stribling about his career and the lasting impacts of his work. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Rocky Mountain PBS: You're working as a comedian while occupying this environmentalist role. How have you been able to hold those two identities and make a career out of it?

Eeland Stribling: I was born and raised in Denver, and so, just a part of my growing up was always seeing the mountains. My grandfather was a biologist and a birder, a real outdoor enthusiast, and so I used to watch “The Crocodile Hunter” with Steve Irwin, which is where I got the “Black Steve Irwin” from.

So, I went to school to be a veterinarian and that didn't 100% connect with me. I switched to conservation and wildlife biology and then just fell in love.

Also in college, I started doing stand up and it's one of those things where I love connecting with people. I love being able to share stories. Standup is sharing stories, connecting with people and of course making people laugh.

I call it my superpower, because during the day I get to be like Clark Kent and then at night I get to be Batman, not Superman, but Batman, because I get to be a little bit of a vigilante.

RMPBS: You mentioned the “Black Steve Irwin” title. How have you made that work for yourself? Has it resonated with people?

ES: Steve Irwin is just one of the coolest people that I think has ever lived and one of the people that got a lot of people to care about nature and care about the environment. Growing up, besides my grandfather, I didn't really see that many people of color as environmentalists, as biologists, as nature people.

All I did was take someone who I believe is an absolute legend, and then just put a new perspective on him of being Black in the space. It connects with a lot of people. Environmentalism, at least in America and in a lot other places, hasn't been represented well by a lot of different types of people.

I'm going to change the name soon because I feel like I've grown enough out of it. It's been my Instagram name since I was in college.

I continue to respect his name, but I sort of have built a niche for myself and sort of elbowed my way into some really unique places with really cool people. So, I think it's time for the “Black Steve Irwin” to retire.

RMPBS: As you were alluding to, Colorado and experiencing nature in general has been advertised as predominantly white. Could you explain the importance of expanding that demographic and relate it to why you do the work that you do?

ES: I think everyone should be allowed to do whatever. So if you want to do standup, you should be able to do standup. If you want to be a fly fishing guy, you should be a fly fishing guy. If you don't want to be a guide, but just want to get out on the water and enjoy nature, you should absolutely do that.

When I was in college, I saw that not many people looked like me in my degree and in my program, which isn't a bad thing, it's just like how the world has worked.

My small part is trying to just make sure that people are aware that if you are Black or brown or don't fit the original stereotype, you're still more than welcome to join the space. So that's what I try to do with groups like Brown Folks Fishing.

Like not telling people, ‘Hey, come do this.’ but just, ‘Hey, here's an opportunity for you. We have all the resources, we have everything you need, all you need to do is show up.’

RMPBS: It sounds like your grandfather was really your role model. Do you try to emulate him a little bit in some of the work you do? Do you try to be that model for other kids potentially growing up in similar situations?

ES: Yeah, absolutely. He opened the door for me. He was one of the first Black biologists in the state of Colorado. He opened the door for so many other people to follow.

I don't think I'm going to change the world, but hopefully, I can inspire someone to change the world. Like if I can open the door, make a little elbow room for someone else to come in, I want to do that.

I always say I want to create a safe space for people to explore, and that's it. I don't care if you want to fish or not fish. You just put your feet in the water.

RMPBS: What are your major goals going forward right now, both with comedy and environmentalism?

ES: I want to just become better at supporting groups who are getting people outdoors. I mean, that would be my dream. Someone gave me $1,000,000 and a lot of that is going to, ‘How can I make other groups and communities better?’

I was born and raised in Denver, so if I could do something to pay homage to this wonderful city that has given me so much, I would do that. I want to keep making people feel good.

Or just win the lottery and move to Mexico and fish. Open a comedy club on the beach so I can fish during the day, free on the ocean, and then at night run a comedy club and get to watch amazing comics.

That would be the ultimate dream, but that's a million miles away.
Stribling acts out a fly fishing story involving an angry moose mother.
Photo: Seth Jahraus, Rocky Mountain PBS

RMPBS: Do you feel that one world — nature versus comedy — presides over the other? I thought you answered when you said if you win the lottery you would go fishing, but then you immediately brought up the comedy club.

ES: I'm always going to add comedy to the fishing thing. Denver is perfect because it's so easy to do both of those things. It's so easy to be fishing in Estes Park during the day and then perform at night at one of the great comedy clubs we have here. So I've been very spoiled being in Denver, being able to do my two passions together.

Some days I go, ‘Man, I only want to do comedy’, and some days I go, ‘I only want to fish.’

So there's a pretty healthy balance that I'm still figuring out. But I think comedy is just, I think maybe like 51% versus fishing – that's like 49%. But then some days I go fishing and I go, ‘I can just do this every day of my life.’

But then I miss the comedy club. And then I come here and I'm like, ‘Man, there's probably carp out here.’

RMPBS: Do you think you have found a secret fishing spot that is maybe the best in the state?

ES: I've been blessed to fish in a lot of places around the state and around the country. I mean, we have like so many gold medal waters where the trout are massive.

I don't even have to go far to have secret spots. You can put this in if you want, but every once in a while, I may sneak onto a golf course and stick a couple of fish and run away before anybody sees me.

So, you know, if you do see me on the back nine, I am not there to golf. I'm there to catch a couple of fish and run.
Stribling recently joined Carlos Lando and Abi Clark on KUVO JAZZ's "The Morning Set." You can listen to the segment in the audio player below.