Comedy to kick off Aspen Art Museum’s Roaring Fork Open exhibition
November 3, 2009
ASPEN – Alexa Fitzpatrick has determined the natural arc of the stand-up comedian’s career. You get one night of beginner’s luck – “an angel sits on your shoulder and makes it a magical experience” – followed by two years of steady bombing. Then you hit that other magical point: utter indifference to whether the audience laughs or not.
“And once you stop caring, it gets a lot easier,” she said.
For just more than a decade, Fitzpatrick has been performing stand-up on and off – first in New York City, then in Los Angeles, and for the last five years in Aspen. Tuesday evening, the 37-year-old takes a step into the next stage of her career – as a video comic.
Fitzpatrick is curating the first in a series of performance events at the Aspen Art Museum that are tied to the museum’s current exhibition, the Roaring Fork Open. Fitzpatrick decided to incorporate a video element into the event, so the four sets of stand-up comedy – by Beth Brandon, Don Cheney, Mark Thomas and Fitzpatrick – will be broken up by interstitial video pieces. The evening will have the feel of a TV show; in fact, one of the videos is a faux promo for Prune TV – “a play on Plum TV. For old Aspen,” Fitzpatrick said.
One of the videos features Fitzpatrick as an Aspen High School student waving a banner for local government critic Marilyn Marks. “We learned about her in history class,” Fitzpatrick’s character says of Marks. Another video has Brandon spoofing the clueless eco-righteous.
The video phase of Fitzpatrick’s career got off to a false start earlier this year. She made an eight-minute film, “Bombed: A Romantic Comedy,” that played on the New Year’s Eve bomb scare in Aspen and on romance, Aspen-style. She entered it in Aspen Film’s Local Filmmakers’ Showcase; the event was canceled, and “Bombed” has never been screened.
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“That’s OK,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s not ready for anything other than a local filmmakers’ competition.”
Fitzpatrick never figured she would even get as far into comedy as making a so-so film. Growing up in the New Jersey suburb of Montclair, she was too quiet to be the class clown, even if she did have some good jokes kicking around in her head. “I was the person who came up with the funny thing, and said, ‘Hey, you should do that,'” she said.
In New York City, she had a job that required a sense of humor. Fitzpatrick went around to doctors – mainly plastic surgeons – and tried to teach them how to incorporate alternative medicine techniques into their practices.
“It was the mid-late-’90s, a time when people were freaking out. They were freaked out about doctors not being able to make millions: ‘Nobody wants to spend money on medicine!'” she said. Alternative medicine was an add-on that doctors could charge more for: “‘While I’m giving you excessive growth hormone, I can also give you something that will be good for you, inside.'”
Talking herbs and diet and natural remedies with Manhattan surgeons was no laughing matter in itself. “There is nothing worse than being a mid-20s woman, walking into an arrogant doctor’s office, and knowing way more than they do on a subject, and trying to teach them,” Fitzpatrick said. “When all they want to do is pump people full of growth hormone.”
Fitzpatrick took comic relief by pulling out the ad for a comedy school that she had carried around for a year. “It was a way to get out of work early once a week,” she said.
After her training, Fitzpatrick had her one night of stand-up bliss, followed by a steep downhill drop. The nadir came one night when members of the audience were hushing somebody in the venue. Unfortunately, the person they were hushing was Fitzpatrick, trying to get through another subpar performance. That was the start of the uphill swing: “I figured, it’ll never be as bad as that one night,” she said.
Her fortunes rising, in 1999 she moved to Los Angeles. “I was going to get off the plane and get a sitcom for sure. They’re handing them out at the airport,” she said in self-mockery. “Doesn’t work that way.”
Still, L.A. was a high point. Fitzpatrick had a behind-the scenes job at the Groundlings, an improv theater troupe whose alumni include Will Ferrell and the late Phil Hartman, and studied at Second City. Prodded by her roommate, a devout fan of comedy, Fitzpatrick spent a year not just watching stand-up, but methodically analyzing the art.
Five years ago, lured by an offer of a rent-free place in Aspen, she headed to Colorado. She was part of the Laugh Your Aspen Off collective that had a solid run a couple of years ago. A longtime bartender whose current job is at Zane’s, Fitzpatrick says she specializes in ski-bum/bartender humor, which allows her to reach her artistic goal of presenting a personal brand of comedy.
“Seinfeld’s brilliant. But I have no desire to do observational humor,” said Fitzpatrick, whose comic idol is Christopher Titus. “I like going away from a stand-up performance saying, ‘Oh, I know something about that person. I like that person.'”