Category: Aspen Comedy Festival
Aspen and comedy will keep their somewhat surprising association thanks to the Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival, which fills in for the recently abandoned U.S. Comedy Arts Festival run by HBO. The new fest takes place at the end of this month on the 30th and 31st.
I’m not sure about keeping up a comedy fest in Aspen, other than the sentimental and promotional reasons. The place is still expensive. But on the plus side, the fest is not being held during ski season which should help. it also kind of ensures that the people coming are there for the talent, not as an excuse for a ski vacation on the company dime.
A part of the fest will be the culmination of Rooftop’s National College Comedy Competition, where the winner will be crowned from four finalists in two categories:
- Stand-up: Kathleen O’Brien, Tim Ball, Reid Faylor and Mary Sasson
- Short Film: Icescraper! by Mark Potts, The Breakup by Amos Vernon, Actor Hunters: Ep. 1 Pt. 1 by Matthew Schwartz and Car Phone by Dan Perrault.
Previously, there was the suggestion that the stand-ups would perform in a show at the Wheeler Opera House in a show headlined by David Brenner, but no schedule has yet show up. (The other piece of news at the time - that this might be a cleaner festival that the HBO one - is also not clear as well.)
While all the details aren’t clear yet, the invite I received from Rooftop did make one thing clear. Right after the award ceremony, they listed “Games & Cake.” Yea! and Yum!
The news that some folks in Aspen are continuing with comedy, post U.S Comedy Art Festival is great. Always welcome for people to push and promote the live art of stand-up. But one quote stood out to me which probably underlines a fair amount of the troubles with the previous Aspen fest. Here’s what show organizer Gram Slaton has to say about the new event, to be called “What’s So Funny”:
“We want to make it appropriate for kids 16 and older, which the Comedy Festival almost never was,” said Slaton, who sampled several hundred comedians on the Rooftop site. “A lot of what we saw at the Comedy Festival was shock material: ‘How rude can I be?’
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to be Walt Disney night at the Wheeler. But we made the comedians aware that we want teenagers to be comfortable here.”
The US Comedy Arts Festival, which was industry-centric, was always looking for fresh talent. And a lot of that is naturally playing in rougher areas, places where comedy may not tread as often. So the comedy that the people were coming to see weren’t necessarily ever going to be the family friendly stuff that a well-heeled community might want. Not that Aspen is filled with “squares”, but a town with the most jewelry stores I’ve ever seen in a couple block radius doesn’t seem like a home for introducing stand-ups like Brent Weinbach or Aziz Ansari.
Part of me always drew that up to it being best to see how these guys perform in a crowd that’s out of their element, that’s how you can really measure them as stand-ups. But shows where everybody’s having a great time are always a good thing. The first ventures you’d put comics like these in aren’t necessarily going to be for that audience anyway. Why test them for broader appeal when you’re narrowcasting in the first place?
Another note: I don’t know what 16-year-olds Slaton is hanging out with, but a fair amoung of the comics who they are into are a little “rude.” Comedy that you’d feel comfortable taking your 16 year old to is one thing, but what they’ll enjoy and be excited about is another. The organizers don’t want the teenagers to be comfortable, they want the parents of teenagers to be. (Well, maybe they would be uncomfortable seeing “rude” comics with their parents - but only because its a bit icky to laugh when mom and dad are watching you.)
Still, Aspen taking it upon themselves to establish a fest which is perhaps more fitting with the town is fantastic. What is that exactly? David Brenner will close each of the four planned upcoming shows.
Variety reported earlier this week that the U.S Comedy Arts Festival, previously of Aspen, isn’t going to move to Santa Barbara. Or anywhere else for that matter. At least, right now. HBO folks say the fest is on the “back burner” and when you visit the website for the festival, you get a redirect to the Vegas event coming later this year. That kind of says to me that the back burner might not even be in the “on” position right now.
With the ability of young talent to really get themselves out there over the web and the number of Sketchfests and Improv fests that bring young troupes to cities where talent reps can see them in person, I’m not convinced that the U.S. Comedy Arts Fest is necessary. Particularly when you consider how Montreal attracts much of the continent in the first place to the Just For Laughs festival.
So assuming the point of the Aspen fest wasn’t the skiing (which I’ve heard some argue in the past), where’s the best place to put the fest so it does the most good? Here’s some considerations:
- Climate One of the biggest problems with the last Aspen fest was the snow pretty much made everyone drive in from Denver. In 2006, I was on the last plane that got out of the Aspen airport before a storm came. Someplace warmer would be nice.
- Midwest I think it’s a good idea to keep the thing roughly equidistant to the coast fulcrums of comedy - New York and Los Angeles. Makes it more likely everyone will show up.
- No Rich Playgrounds Aspen has a mystique yes, but I know from a few sketch groups who are invited by the festival to perform that the festival doesn’t even pay for all the members in the troupe to come. That’s insane. Yes, it’s an honor and people find a way to get there, but I think it’s a necessity to be able to put up all of the talent you want to show off.
- Comedy TraditionI think it’s great to put a fest someplace where there’s less comedy regularly, because it makes for a unique event. If you stuck the big industry fest in Chicago, it’s just a funnier-than-average Friday to Sunday.
My first thought after listing all of these was Austin, Texas. I’ve never been there, but it has a nice reputation for incubating rising talent. To my mind, the only thing missing from SxSW is comedy. (A funny thing: there is a comedy fest going on down there this Labor Day weekend The Out of Bounds Improv Festival with a nice whimsical touch of having a miniature golf tournment attached to it.) But maybe Austin has too many fests and events already and adding another would be less than special.
So if they do it again, where should America’s big industry comedy fest be? Show your work.
Update: There isn’t going to be a 2008 fest, according to HBO spokespeople. Kind of makes answering the question even more rhetorical.
Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival
I got a bunch of round-up to do of the fest to come later tonight/today. But here’s the Jury Awards for the live performances:
- Best Stand-up: Kirk Fox & Shane Mauss
- Breakout Award Male: John Oliver
- Breakout Award Female: TastiSkank (Sarah Litzsinger and Kate Reinders)
- Best Alternative: Tim Minchin
- Best Sketch: Summer of Tears
- Best One Person Show: Nilaja Sun for “No Child…”
Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival
Unfortunately readers, I just couldn’t swing Aspen this year. Two reasons for this:
- It’s mad expensive there. Tickets are free for me, but hotel & flight are not cheap. And I’m saving that cash to go to Montreal to cover Just For Laughs. Next year, back in Aspen hopefully.
- Time. I’m working on a redesign and new feature for the site to launch in April. If I jaunt off to Aspen, I’ll lose a weekend I know I’ll need.
However, this does not mean no US Comedy Arts Festival coverage. First up, I’m pretending I am going. Here’s what I’d be doing if I was there:
Last year, I spent a lot of time going to films and I missed out on a lot of performances. So particularly, today I would have focused on making sure I saw all the groups of up and coming stand-ups. So three shows today: Stand-Up Groups A & B, sandwiching a performance by George Carlin.
- First, since I’m a web guy I’d want to check out some fellow compatriots at the Broadband Theatre. I’m always curious to see how the viral stuff plays to an audience and maybe Olde English might premiere one of the many things they’re doing for SuperDeluxe. Plus, it’d be a good to sing along again to Jonathan Coulton‘s Zombie song “Re: Your Brains.”
- Alan Zweibel: The History of Me - This is a bit of a cheat since I did catch this in NYC at the PIT prior to the fest. It’s a really enriching and enlightening tour through of a great comedy writer’s career as he shares stories from working on SNL, The Garry Shandling Show and, um, North. Don’t worry, he has a lot fun with that one - reading Roger Ebert’s infamous review of the film. The joy of subverting and debating the censors of the 70s is also entertaining and demonstrates that the push and pull with standards then was equally as insane as the fights contemporary comics have with them today.
- After seeing Don Rickles in Vegas, how could I skip John Landis’ documentary “The Rickles Project”. From the brief conversation I had with Landis in Vegas, it’s obvious the affection he has for the man. It sounds like a very personal film. I’m very disappointed I’m going to miss this.
- Steven Wright - I don’t think I need to explain why I gotta see this show.
- I’d end the night by continuing my comittment to see all the rising stand-ups by checking out Group C. Though I don’t know the performers in this group. It might be the best show simply because it’s not at the notoriously difficult venue “The Belly Up.” And it’s at midnight, which might make for a looser and hipper crowd.
- I’d check out the storytelling show The Moth. Of the three shows they’re doing, this one seems the most interesting to me with an appropriate Aspen theme (“On Thin Ice”) and great talent including John Oliver and Marc Maron.
- Follow that up by seeing my last group of stand-ups, Group D. Yea, alternative dimension me!
- Since I’m rarely in Chicago, I just have to check out “Windy City Sketch” featuring Moist , KevINda and Misled. I need to see what the Bastion is raving about.
- I’d be a bad American if I didn’t celebrate Stephen Colbert the 2006 Person of The Year..
- I’m a little curious what they came up with for the online comedy contest Accidentally Famous - but it may be one of those shows I’m hanging in the back, ready to dash if its cringe-worthy in a bad way. Of course, Andy Milonakis, who’s cringe worthy in a good way, will be hosting. So that’s may be worth sticking around.
- I’ve never seen Mary Lynn Rajskub performing stand-up live, so I think I gotta end the night with her. Michael Showalter and the afforementioned John Oliver aren’t slouches either.
- Much as I’d like to see Jamie Kennedy go halfwit y halfwit with hecklers in his documentary “Heckler”, I think I’d have to check out a screening of Rob Corddry‘s upcoming sitcom “The WInner.” Besides, after that crack, I might be qualified to appear in his documentary.
- Next, I think I’d check out the double bill of Summer of Tears and Pete & Brian’s One Man Show. I’m not really up on either show and I actually kind of like that. Comedy’s all about the art of surprise. I worry sometimes I’ve seen so much comedy that it’s hard to surprise me anymore. Going in blind can be a great way of revive that feeling.
- After a break to eat a real dinner or check out some party, I’d dash over to see stand-up from both Marc Maron and Daniel Tosh. Tosh was the highlight of the Vegas fest for me, so I’m pretty bitter that I’m going to miss this.
- Then I’d finish off the evening by checking out the Dave Hill “Explosion” and Charlyne Yi, who I enjoyed late last year when I saw her taunt an audience to punch her at the Andy Kaufman Awards.
Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival
More announcements about next month’s US Comedy Arts Festival. Here’s some more of the upcoming programming:
- Stephen Colbert, in an event that’s sure to be featured in “Who’s Honoring Me Now” segment on the Colbert Report, will receive the 2007 Person of the Year Award. Colbert: “I am humbled to be part of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival’s tireless efforts to bring joy to the wealthy.”
- Blake Edwards will get a Filmmaker Tribute for his body of work which include The Party, S.O.B. and multiple Pink Panther films.
- Hosts have been announced for the previous nebulous roundtable Gaggle. They include Marc Maron and Time’s Ana Marie Cox. Wasn’t too interested in this before, but Marc Maron always a fascinating performer to watch.
- Supposedly the film program will be partly programmed by the online audience, who can both submit content and rate it. All that will take place at funnypictureshow.com, but so far it seems pretty much a placeholder. More to come I’m sure.
Also part of the festival will be the NYC based sketch group Olde English, who are also part of my new favorite obsession Super Deluxe. They are contracted to create a lot of installments for the website (trust me, it’s a lot), the first is the sure-to-be-viral “Writers of Lost” (featured below), which is probably more accurate than fans would like to admit.
They’re also a San Francisco this week for the Sketchfest performing a show that they wrote on the cross country van trip from NYC to the event. They’ll also perform the same show in NYC when they get back. Get all the details of when and where from this post on their blog.
Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival
Some of the big shows have been announced for Aspen. Here’s a rundown of the highlights:
- Stand-Up performances from headliners like George Carlin (who is apparently in his 50th year in comedy), Steven Wright and Katt Williams, who’s probably prepping his “I’ve never seen so many white people in my life” material right now.
- A screening of The Rickles Project, a documentary by John Landis on the life of Don Rickles. Both the subject and the director will be on hand for the Q&A and Rickles will receive the first ever USCAF Pinnacle Award (his second award in two festivals, the first being the also-first-ever Caesars Palace Laurel Award). When I saw Landis in Las Vegas, he mentioned the film wouldn’t be done until he captures Rickles’ run at the Golden Nugget, which is just a few short weeks before Aspen
- Since the festival is organized by HBO, it should be of no surprise that the entire cast of Entourage will be on hand for a behind the scenes show.
- A preview of the new comedy show “The Winner” which features Rob Corddry, a succussful man in his forty who looks back at when he started to mature, at 32. Corddry and series creator Ricky Blitt will be on hand for a Q&A as well.
- There will also be a show called The Gaggle, of which there’s very little details, save for it’s a discussion roundtable featuring comedian, journalists, politicos and bloggers.
- And separately will be an event called Blogging: Buzz vs Bizz with folks like Mark Lisanti of Defamer. Harvey Levin of TMZ and Jessica Cohen of Vanity Fair who will obviously discuss the snarky voice of the space, when they aren’t making fun of the panel, that is.
Plus, another young comic heading to the fest will be Michelle Buteau, as mentioned by the site for the regular downtown show Chicks and Giggles. I suspect that every spot has been filled yet, so we may yet see more announcements on the web as comics hear themselves.
The US Comedy Arts Festival will be February 28 to March 4, and of course passes are on sale now.