Performing comedy isn’t easy. Creating a comedy scene, and keeping it going, might be even harder.
For some years — 13 to be exact — Aspen had one of the great comedy scenes going, though just for a few days each year. The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, presented by HBO, brought in the world’s funniest people for four days of events late each winter. Since the festival ended in 2007, a variety of people and venues — the Wheeler Opera House, restaurant owners, locals wanting to see how their material went over in front of an actual audience — have stepped up in an effort to keep the laughs coming.
Todd Hartley came in on what he calls the second wave of the post-U.S. Comedy Arts Festival surge. A year or so after Clifford Fewel launched the Laugh Your Aspen Off band of comedians, Hartley (who writes the humor column I’m With Stupid for The Aspen Times) was called in to try his stand-up routine at the Eagles Club in Aspen.
“That was interesting,” he said. “The regular Eagles were there being drunk and loud, not changing their behavior at all, along with some people to see comedy.”
Hartley estimates he has appeared at some 15 local venues since, from the Wheeler Opera House to the First United Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs. He remembers the short-lived Aspen Comedy Club, where he appeared regularly for open-mic nights and emceed for headliners like David Alan Grier and Michael Winslow, and being part of a Mothers of Preschoolers’ Harvest Lunch.
Hartley notes that the local comedy scene has hit a low ebb as several regular stand-ups, including Alexa Fitzpatrick and Glenn Smith, have moved away. But Hartley and a few others aim to revive the laughter with the Sunday Funnies series at Heathers in Basalt. The series begins today at 8 p.m. with Hartley as host for a slate of comedians including Gail Mason, Michael Robinson, Chris Kelly and Steve Skinner. The evening also will feature the King of Mt. Funny contest, with five audience members doing jokes up to one minute long. The series is planned to run on the third Sunday of each month for five months, with the five contest winners to appear at the finals in June. Weekly contest winners will get a $25 gift certificate; the winner of the finals will get a $100 gift certificate. There is no cover charge.
Hartley says the payoff for appearing in and organizing comedy events is simply the opportunity to be the center of attention. And maybe get some laughs.
“You know that feeling of being a baseball pitcher — you’re standing on the mound with the ball in your hand, and nothing happens till you make it happen,” Hartley said, adding that his comedy is of the standard observational variety. “There’s a power there. Everyone wants some attention from other people. And there’s nothing more immediate than getting in front of people and having them laugh.”
Hartley believes that there is a decent amount of comedy talent in the Roaring Fork Valley, but it might not be at its sharpest at the moment.
“We have talented people,” he said. “But they’re rusty because there haven’t been a lot of opportunities. We just have to get people onstage.”