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.