Does the Industry Still Need an Aspen Comedy Fest? If So, Where?

Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival, Live Events

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Comments

Posted by Shannon McCormick on 08/31  at  12:43 PM

Todd, thanks for noticing us. Did you find out about us from Jesse?

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 08/31  at  03:53 PM

I actually saw it the interview on the Austinist and then Jesse’s excellent site reminded me. Have a good fest this weekend.

Posted by Shannon McCormick on 08/31  at  04:01 PM

Thanks. We’re off to a good start.

Posted by Sean L. McCarthy on 08/31  at  05:53 PM

Todd, I posted something similar yesterday myself, but after reading your thoughts and those of Shecky, I began thinking more about how to answer your question. Take a look at my work and let me know what you think. Thanks.

Posted by Phil Oppenheim on 09/05  at  04:30 PM

So if we’re pretending that the USCAF isn’t dead: what about New Orleans?  Meets all of your criteria, plus you’d be helping out a place that could use a laugh or two.

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 09/05  at  06:35 PM

Phil -

New Orleans would be a great place to hold a fest. They could use the influx of money and funny a comedy festival would bring. Plus, the atmosphere would definitely be great for the well lubricated socialization that comedians like to partake in.

Plus, considering it has a lot of French influence - it’s kind of an interesting counterpoint to Montreal, Canada’s French-est city and home for Just for Laughs.

Posted by Nick on 02/08  at  07:15 PM

Hey y’all, I run a comedy theater down in New Orleans and we are doing NOCAF (New Orleans Comedy Arts Festival) this April.  Its gonna be small since this is our first shot at it and we don’t have HBO backing us, but I agree with all of the above.  New Orleans is in need of some laughs not directed AT us or our local government.  I know we have comedians from LA, NYC, Austin and New Orleans already geared up and on board including some of The Whitest Kids U’Know.  If y’all have any thoughts on how to help please let me know.  http://www.LaNuitTheater.com

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