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.