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Aspen Rooftop Comedy expands into summer slot

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Published: Stewart Oksenhorn The Aspen Times
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ASPEN – Gram Slaton, executive director of the Wheeler Opera House, has not been overwhelmed by the turnout for the first two years of the Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival, an event co-produced by the Wheeler and the San Francisco-based Rooftop Comedy. But he isn’t distressed by the numbers, either. Talking with other presenters of local events, Slaton has come to believe that it takes five years for a festival to establish itself to the point where you no longer need to bombard people with the fact of your presence.Still, Slaton is putting his chips on year three. The third edition of the Rooftop Comedy Festival, which opens Wednesday, expands from three days to five; spreads to venues outside the Wheeler, including a downvalley component; and bumps up the profile of the talent, with appearances by cast members from the TV shows “30 Rock” and “The Office.” Perhaps most significantly, the festival moves closer to the heart of the summer season: After hitting town around Memorial Day in its first two years, this year’s event comes a week before the hugely popular Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.”I feel that this is the make-it-or-break-it year for this time slot. This is a big step forward, a big stretch. We made the leap. For the Wheeler, we’ve exploding at the seams,” Slaton said. “We’ve got to get it into people’s minds that Aspen’s summer doesn’t necessarily start with Food & Wine. There’s no reason this shouldn’t be the start of the summer.”The third Rooftop Comedy Festival starts with a splash that should get the community’s attention. Wednesday’s events are all free, beginning with a brats-and-potato salad picnic at 5:30 p.m. on the Hyman Avenue mall across from the Wheeler; running through a Local Laughs program featuring stand-up comedians from the Roaring Fork Valley; and finishing with a preview screening of the feature film “Daddy Longlegs,” Ben and Josh Safdie’s story of a divorced father facing parenthood and his own adulthood.”I wanted us to celebrate being locals, trumpet the fact that we’ve got good local talent, and get people interested in the fact that we’re doing a festival,” Slaton said.Another obvious way to raise the profile of the festival – the route that worked for the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, which was held in Aspen from 1995 through 2007 – is to book some big-name acts. But Slaton isn’t interested in merely bringing in a high-profile comedian; he wants someone who will further the goal of making Rooftop Comedy a place where new talent can be developed and exposed.”This year I wanted to have a headliner, and I was thinking of Lewis Black,” Slaton said. “He got his break real late in life and never forgot where he came from. So he’s become a real mentor, and we see ourselves as a big mentoring opportunity – not just a place where big talent comes in and goes out, but a place where growth can happen. We want someone who will come to town, stay a few days, be a part of the community and really get what the festival is about.”Slaton believes several of the better known acts appearing this week fit that description. Michael Ian Black, who has starred in several TV series, leads the program Witstream Live on Thursday. The show involves tweeting the comedy as it happens on the Wheeler stage. Theme Park Improv, on Saturday, features Oscar Nuez from “The Office” and Scott Adsit from “30 Rock.” Slaton said that those performers will be in town for much of the festival. Also scheduled to play a big role this year is Marc Maron, a frequent guest on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” who appears Saturday afternoon at Belly Up in a show titled WTF, and in Sunday night’s closing show, Last Laughs.The festival has a downvalley presence for the first time with shows Thursday and Friday night at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale. A film component has been added: along with the screening of “Daddy Longlegs” on Wednesday, “Meeting Spencer,” written by Aspenite Andrew Kole and starring Jeffrey Tambor as a failed Hollywood director returning to Broadway, has a free screening on Sunday. Also new are open-mic nights, Thursday and Friday at the Cantina in Aspen.It is enough of a festival to capture national attention. Slaton said that crews from Sirius XM Radio, Comedy Central and the Onion will be covering this year’s comic action. Now, he says, he has to get the interest of the local audience. He thinks with the expanded schedule and the kick-off picnic, as well as affordable prices – $99 for a full festival pass, $50 for a four-event pass – he’s giving the festival his best shot.”We need a big bang to start off the summer,” Slaton said. “We think we’re providing that bang, and there’s no reason people shouldn’t turn out for this.”Go to http://www.wheeleroperahouse.com for a full schedule and more information.stewart@aspentimes.com


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