Comedy festival kicks off laughter today |

Comedy festival kicks off laughter today

Stewart Oksenhorn

Dave Diamond doesn’t care if people think he’s gay. And as he dresses well, reads fashion magazines, likes figure skating and speaks in a high, excitable voice, Diamond – who is often compared to fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi – sets off a lot of people’s “gay”-dar.What gets Diamond’s goat, however, is when people won’t accept the fact of his heterosexuality. Being thought gay is one thing; having people assume that he simply can’t face or acknowledge his sexuality is another.”It doesn’t bother me to have people think I’m gay. It just means they think I have good clothes,” said Diamond, who presses the point of his heterosexuality again and again. “But it annoys me that people would see me, at 38, and think I’m afraid of saying who I want to have sex with.”Diamond represents the comfortable acceptance with homosexuality, or perceptions thereof, that can be seen most everywhere in pop culture. Watch “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” enough, or the recent Gay Ski Week Downhill in Aspen, and homosexuality can seem like a cause for celebration rather than alarm.That idea is taken to the extreme in “Partner(s),” the debut feature film written and directed by Diamond. “Partner(s)” has its world premiere at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival’s Film Discovery Showcase, with screenings Thursday, Feb. 10, at 1:45 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 12, at noon, both at the Isis Theater.”Partner(s)” stars Jay Harrington as Dave Denally, a handsome, well-coiffed attorney whose sexuality has become a stumbling block in his career track. An important client of the law firm wants Dave to represent it in an employment discrimination suit brought by a gay man. The client figures it will earn tolerance points if represented by a homosexual of its own.The problem is that Dave isn’t gay. But any stigma of being falsely thought gay is less a concern than his partnership ambitions. So Dave happily embraces the misconception, dodging such obstacles as Katherine (Julie Bowen), the fellow attorney – and Dave’s one-time bedmate – who is battling Dave for partnership. An even bigger problem is Lucy (Brooke Langton), the client’s hot daughter, on whom Dave has a legitimate crush.”Partner(s)” goes past the bland observation of how acceptable, or even advantageous, homosexuality can be. In a scene where Dave gets schooled in gayness by a group of experts (scoop out the inside of your bagel; improve your physique), the film points out that homosexuals trade in stereotypes as much as anyone.”We’re beyond where it’s thought horrible to be gay,” Diamond said. “But we’re not past the point of thinking certain things about people because they are gay. And it’s not just the stupid straight people who stereotype – it’s everybody.”The main thrust of “Partner(s)” may be that sexual preferences, and the whole realm of sexuality, don’t mean as much as we have commonly thought. There are gay athletes, straight ballet dancers, bisexual accountants. “Partner(s),” thankfully, doesn’t preach tolerance, but it does advance the notion that we can be more thoughtful in our assumptions.”Sex and sexual orientation are just one aspect of everyone’s life. But we’re so focused on sexual orientation above so many other things,” Diamond said. “It doesn’t bother me to have people think I’m gay. But it annoys me that people would see me, at 38, and think I’m afraid of saying who I want to have sex with.””Partner(s)” is one of six films having its world premiere at the USCAF. That number is down from last year’s eight, but to Kevin Haasarud, who has directed the Film Discovery Showcase since its inception in 1998, it still shows the appeal for filmmakers and distributors.”If what you’re looking to do is premiere your film in front of an audience that has a real passion for the business of comedy, this is the place to show the film,” he said.In the performance documentary “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic,” stand-up comedian Silverman raises such touchy subjects as racism, the Holocaust and sex. But Silverman never gets political or even serious about the topics; instead, she uses such edgy material to poke fun at herself, or just to shake up the audience. The material is strong, her delivery even better, and the unexpected side trips into music video and faux backstage scenes make “Jesus Is Magic” an eye-opening comedic experience.A feature-length film of someone simply telling stories around his house doesn’t sound like a recipe for stimulation. That’s the entirety of “Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party,” and it’s to character actor Tobolowsky’s credit that he can make this idea even passably entertaining. Tobolowsky’s stories of being held hostage in an armed robbery and auditioning to be the first Ronald McDonald just clear the bar.Rounding out the program of world premieres are director Gary Sinyor’s “Bob the Butler,” starring Tom Green as a buffoon working his way alphabetically through the phone book to find a career; Scott Marshall’s “Lucky 13,” with Jeremy Piven and Garry Marshall as members of an eccentric family preparing for a bar mitzvah; and “Tennis, Anyone?” about two struggling actors who become regulars on Hollywood’s celebrity charity tennis circuit.New to the Film Discovery Showcase this year are the Critic’s Choice: Unsung Comedy Sidebars and Surprise! Screening series, and the Fireside Chats.In Critic’s Choice, Entertainment Weekly film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum will present three features – Blake Edwards’ “The Party,” Mel Smith’s “The Tall Guy” and Bryan Forbes’ “The Wrong Box” – plus the Mel Brooks short “The Critic,” followed by a Q-and-A session. Heading the Surprise! Screenings are “The Aristocrats” and “Kung Fu Hustle.” “The Aristocrats,” directed by Paul Provenza, features an array of comedians – including Snowmass Villager Eric Mead – all telling the same very off-color joke. “Kung Fu Hustle,” a Chinese action comedy by “Shaolin Soccer” director Stephen Chow, will show as the opening night film (today at 5 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House). The series also has “Dirty Love,” starring Jenny McCarthy and directed by McCarthy’s husband, John Asher; and “Happy Endings” by director Don Roos and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, which showed as the opening night film at the Sundance Festival.Also to be screened: “Kontroll,” set entirely in Budapest’s massive subway system; “Goodnight, We Love You,” a chronicle of Phyllis Diller’s final stand-up performance; “The Thing About My Folks,” a father-son road pic starring Paul Reiser and Peter Falk; and “Dreamship Surprise,” a German, gay-themed musical spoof of “Star Trek.”Vintage presentations include Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke” and the 1952 Japanese film “Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice.” There will also be 23 films in the Comedy Shorts segment of the program.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.comThe 11th annual U.S. Comedy Arts festival opens today and runs through Sunday, Feb. 13, with performances at various Aspen locations. For a detailed program of events, times and venues, go to

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