Aspen doesn’t have corner on comedy
The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, which has been held annually in Aspen since its 1995 inception, is roundly acknowledged as the biggest and most prestigious comedy festival in the country.But for all its superlatives, the Aspen event can’t claim to be “the” comedy festival in the country any more. That distinction falls to … The Comedy Festival, which makes its debut in Las Vegas this week. The Comedy Festival – presented by HBO, which has sole ownership of Aspen’s festival, and AEG Live – is set for Thursday through Saturday, with events staged in the Flamingo and Caesar’s Palace hotels.Despite the addition of a second comedy festival to HBO’s portfolio, Bob Crestani, the CEO of both events, said the Las Vegas festival isn’t meant to muscle in on Aspen’s territory. The 12th annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival is set for March 8-12 in Aspen, with the first round of programming announcements expected to be made soon after the conclusion of The Comedy Festival.”It’s just a different market,” Crestani said from his office in Los Angeles. “We love being in Aspen and we hope we can continue doing a festival in Aspen. We haven’t done the festival in Vegas yet, but since I’m the CEO, I can say they both have their own personalities. It doesn’t mean that one usurps the other. We feel there’s an opportunity to do both.”There is a decent amount of overlap in programming between the inaugural Comedy Festival and past U.S. Comedy Arts Festivals. The Vegas festival will feature the presentation of The Comedian award to Jerry Seinfeld, a past recipient of the Comedy Arts Festival’s AFI Star Award; and Inside the Writers Room with the writers of the TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” duplicating a recent Comedy Arts Festival program. Vegas audiences will see a screening of the performance film “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic,” which had its world premiere in Aspen last year. Other past Comedy Arts Festival performers scheduled to appear in Vegas this week include Seth MacFarlane, Greg Behrendt, Dennis Miller, Jon Stewart and Carlos Mencia. Many top U.S. Comedy Arts Festival staff members – including executive producers Pat Tourk Lee and John Moffitt, supervising producer Nancy Kurshner and festival director Craig Minassian – are also working on The Comedy Festival.Crestani said, though, that the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival should retain its unique niche as a showcase for up-and-coming comedic talent. Las Vegas, he said, is more “consumer-oriented,” meaning it sports a higher percentage of well-known acts. “We’re happy with what we do in Aspen, and we’re always trying to do something different,” said Crestani, adding that last winter’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, with the exception of a few ticketing glitches for headlining shows, was a high point in the festival’s history.Still, comedy lovers shouldn’t get overly giddy over Aspen’s prominence in the world of laughter. The Comedy Arts Festival, as it has been throughout its history, is scheduled on a year-to-year basis. Several years ago, producers acknowledged that they had considered relocating the festival, with Park City, Utah, mentioned as a possible alternate site. The Aspen event, Crestani said, doesn’t turn a profit, nor is it expected to. Crestani said the cost of doing business in Aspen, plus the lack of big venues, means the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival inevitably costs HBO money. The Comedy Festival, with Vegas’ big rooms and cheap hotels, is planned as a money-maker.”We evaluate the [Aspen] festival every year; there’s no plan to do it long term,” Crestani said. But he added that Chris Albrecht, the chairman of HBO, has been committed to the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. “It’s Chris’ gift to the industry and the community.”While Crestani offered no assurances beyond 2006, he said he can envision a future where HBO continues to participate in two annual comedy festivals.”I would hope we can keep both of these things going and happening, and each with their own identity,” he said. “The idea that we’re doing another festival is a compliment to Aspen. We think Aspen is special.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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