ASPEN - Hey hey, my my, stand-up comedy will never die. At least, not as long as Gram Slaton is executive director of Aspen's Wheeler Opera House.
The Wheeler announced that it will launch a new comedy event - the Aspen Laff Festival, which will make its debut in mid-March. The four-day festival will have 13 featured acts, including Christopher Titus, who will close the first day, and Caroline Rhea, who closes the festival. Titus was the star and creator of the TV series "Titus," which was based on his stand-up routine about his dysfunctional upbringing; Rhea was host of the early seasons of "The Biggest Loser."
Other featured programs include The Stupid Truth: Comics on Religion; The New Faces Finals, a competition produced with Denver's Comedy Works Entertainment; and on St. Patrick's Day, The Stupid Truth: Comics on Drinking; and a show with Auggie Smith and Tom Simmons, both recent winners of the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. Simmons, who has performed several times at the Wheeler, is a co-producer of the event.
The Laff Festival follows several efforts by the Wheeler intended to fill the humor void left by the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Comedian David Brenner, a former Aspen resident, hosted What's So Funny?, which was staged just once, in early 2008. The Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival, co-produced by San Francisco's Rooftop Comedy and presented in late spring, followed, lasting from 2008-10.
Slaton remains convinced that stand-up comedy and the Wheeler are a match that can endure. Slaton arrived in Aspen just in time to catch the tail end of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival run in Aspen, which came to a close in 2007. Over the course of its 13 years, the festival had presented George Carlin, the Monty Python troupe, Stephen Colbert, the creators of "Family Guy" and numerous up-and-coming comedians. The festival and its roster of talent made an impression, but an even greater impression was made by the Wheeler itself, which Slaton saw as an ideal venue for comedy.
The Aspen Laff Festival ushers in a few new ideas. In Titus and Rhea, there are recognizable names. There are fewer comics overall than were featured in the Rooftop Festival, and fewer comedians in each program, with performers getting more stage time.
"We've tried a variety of festival formats with comedy over the course of the Wheeler's history," Slaton said in a written statement. "And what we've heard from both the comics and the entertainment industry is that they'd prefer to have fewer great comics doing more stage time, and they'd like a few surprises along the way. We think we're on the road to providing that - now it's time to see if our audiences agree, and we think they will."
Tickets for the Aspen Laff Festival will go on sale Dec. 20. Tickets will be available for individual programs, and passes will be sold for single days and for the entire festival.