Aspen Continues with the Comedy, But Cleaner

Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival, Stand-Up Comedy

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.

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Posted by Jesse Thorn on 12/20  at  02:11 PM

Seriously?  16 and over?  What comedy is inappropriate for a 17-year-old?  Are the 17-year-olds to which he’s referring retarded?

Posted by Aaron David Ward on 12/20  at  04:34 PM

Now that the U.S. Comedy Art Festival has left Aspen, Colorado, a new mini-festival is starting at the Wheeler, which the organizer says is designed to be “appropriate for kids 16 and older.”

So in other words it will be “family friendly” comedy in a nation where more than half of the first marriages end in divorce and in a world where millions if not billions of babies are aborted, terrorists kill innocent civilians, and war remains ever present.  The rest of the world seems relatively content to ignore “family values” so why is comedy subjected to an obtuse standard.

To me those who judge what is and what is not family friendly define that kind of material much the same way they define pornography, they have no clear definition but they “know it when they see it.”

Comedy is a big tent.  There is room for everyone, clean, dirty, or otherwise.  One of the worst things to force comedians to do is to water down their ideas for the sake of “family.”  Have you met some of the “families” in this country?  I’ve met families who have no right being related to each other.  And I’ve met others who renew my faith in the human ability to love unconditionally.  Who cares whether the comedy is dirty or clean, is it funny?  But then again one person’s funny is another person’s “shock” material.

Besides have you ever talked with a 16-year-old in today’s world?  A significant number of had numerous sexual partners, sampled various illegal drugs, and risked death in such a way that they care not one wit about what is family friendly.  Some 16-year-olds do but a good number do not.

And then there’s the double standard of the industry, which claims to be searching for truly original talent yet somehow always seems to favor middle of the road safe for the family acts on which to make money.

Apparently no one in the industry has read the book “Small Is The New Big.”  We have become a nation of niches which means there is a profitable niche market for every kind of comedian, dirty, clean, political, prop, family, religious, gay, straight, bi, trans-gendered, and those who use live animals in their acts.

Why not market comedy to all segments by rating the shows you offer in your festival and those who want edgy, dirty, smart, clean, or something alien will find it?  They rate movies so people can decide what they want to see so why not rate shows.  I’ve worked comedy clubs where they do just that.  And I can work clean or with some vulgarity so does that make me “family friendly” or not?

Our intrusive federal government bent on enforcing the “nanny state,” because it knows how to live our lives better than we do, has created this need to “protect” people.  Protect people from what?  Words, ideas, “inappropriate material.” 

Give people choices and let the audiences decide what they want to see.

Posted by Johnny Quaguophni on 12/21  at  11:27 PM

I think that’s a typo. Gram Slaton must be referring to 6 year olds.

Posted by Rachael on 12/23  at  03:22 AM

Having had the unfortunate task having to entertain a “young audience” here and there I find that the only comedy they are comfortable with is of the “shocking” variety. They are not comfortable with comedy that discusses, life experience (because they don’t get it). They haven’t been married, they haven’t really dated, their sexual experiences might be plentiful but still naive, many of them have no interest in politics so how would they get jokes about it. They haven’t yet worked in an office, or any full time job.

This isn’t their fault it’s just a fact of not having many years on the planet and not having many legal choices for their own fate. What they do get is rebellion because that’s what teenagers and those in their early 20s are striving for. So rude, xxx comedy, stuff that would piss their parents’ off is going to appeal to them.

I agree with Mr. Ward’s comments about niche markets and tastes.  I don’t think if you can kill in any room to prove you’re a good comic. Metallica is going to walk a room of septgenarians, but they still sell out arenas.

Posted by Gram Slaton on 12/25  at  01:34 AM

Hey guys - it’s easy to misunderstand what I meant by comedy that’s acceptable for an audience of 16 and over.  You would have to have experienced the last few HBO comedy festivals, as I did.  One comic went on for twenty minutes in extremely graphic detail about how he double-teamed a porn actress in Vegas with porn star Ron Jeremy - graphic to the point that adults were walking out.  Some kinda funny to the comic, and just scuzzy self-indulgence to the rest of us.  The comedy that Brenner and I are producing actually uses and engages the brain.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t graphic images or the use of graphic language, and yes Aspen’s 16-year-olds and the parents can be in the same room together and handle it.  How much intelligence does it take to write a blowjob joke?  Not much. There’s a place for those comics, but the series that we’re putting on isn’t it. 

It’s unfortunate that the legacy of true geniuses like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor are misconstrued to mean get as graphic and tasteless as possible.  These men used language and imagery to break down walls, not sploodge them.  I’ve also watched George Carlin over the course of many live concerts and when he hits big, it’s because his brain is really packing some goods behind the coarseness.  When he flops (and yes, he can flop), it’s because he’s meandered away from his throughline and substitutes garbage that can temporarily pass for funny. 

No one would ever mistake David Brenner for being a clean comedian (although David can play that way, if necessary).  David’s a product of the mean streets of Philadelphia and he doesn’t hide it in his stage material.  But David knows, as I do, that any idiot can be funny for thirty seconds saying “fuck” onstage.  It’s one of the main reasons Richard Belzer never got a career for himself outside of Manhattan - he could’t find the follow-up to “fuck.”  Bill Cosby once told me that he didn’t use four-letter words onstage because they didn’t fit with his material.  In the six shows of his I presented, only once did he ever use one four-letter word, and it was so incredibly appropriate and unexpected that it brought down the house.

Don’t sell us short because we’re looking to get past body-function and sexual-practice humor.  It’s not that we object to it so much as that it’s been done to death.  It’s over, and it’s lame.  I can hear all that crap for free standing in a lift line or waiting at the bus stop.  Time to find that new thing.

Posted by personxz on 12/25  at  01:58 PM

I beleive that comedy is a way to express yourself, and Aziz Ansari and Brent Weinbach express themselves. After all they Aspen comedy festival is for young alternative comics to shine, not some lame clean comics to make church (I do not hate christians).All I am saying is that the Aspen comedy festival promotes alternative comedy not corprate comedy, Aspen needs to keep the tradition of alternative comedy.But dirty comedy can be pointless at times (I am talking about Andrew Dice Clay)

Posted by Ravi on 12/25  at  09:14 PM

The only thing worth “getting past” is *bad* comedy, whether clean or dirty.  Clean comedy can be just as hacky as dirty comedy.  Support good comics of both varieties and rate the shows according to content, like Aaron suggested.  I’d hate to see some terrible dirty comic give a bad name to the next Chappelle or Louis CK.

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