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Just like a married couple – without the sex

Pete Karinen and Brian Sacca perform "Pete & Brian's One Man Show" Wednesday at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. (Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen Times)
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ASPEN Pete Karinen and Brian Sacca, former classmates in New York University’s acting program, went through a lot together. Castmates in a really horrible college play that forced them to eat soggy pumpernickel bread. Nine months as roommates in an eight-bedroom apartment in post-9/11 New York, five blocks from the rubble of the former World Trade Center. Another really horrible college production, even worse than the first, had them eating balls of yarn.But it wasn’t until Sacca hit rock bottom that he finally made the desperate leap and invited Karinen to be his “comedy companion,” as the two refer to their relationship. In the spring of 2002, Sacca bombed in a solo set at the prestigious Caroline’s comedy club in New York. He was invited back – bringing 40 paying friends will do that, no matter how bad your act – and this time, he ditched Sgt. Stan Stanovich of the Buffalo Police Department, the character he had bombed with, and brought Karinen instead.In the month between appearances, Sacca had time to reflect on what he had done wrong the first time. There was the bodily shaking – “I was nervous, and I have this shaking thing,” the 28-year-old said – and there was also the nagging feeling that what he did lacked originality.

“It was like every other character-y stand-up thing,” said Sacca. “So it was, ‘How can I use this venue in a different way?'”Sacca and the 26-year-old Karinen came up with something they had never thought of before, and perfectly suited to the two-person format: two-man stand-up comedy, with Sacca and Karinen delivering the same jokes simultaneously.There was one small problem. Upon further research, it turns out that two-man stand-up had, in fact, been done before. Had, in fact, been done many times before. Had, in fact, been done by Dudley Moore, several decades earlier. Still, Sacca and Karinen’s take on the style went well enough – which is to say, it didn’t bomb – that they weren’t going to let a little thing like a lack of originality stop them.In the years since, Sacca and Karinen have worked together consistently: “We’re like a married couple – without the sex,” Sacca quipped. Over those years, the act that they mistakenly believed to be original has, in fact, become quite original. “Pete & Brian’s One-Man Show,” which shows Wednesday at the opening day of the 13th annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, features videos, sketches and the two-man stand-up bit, but all have been tweaked to give the act a fresh feel. For instance, they interact with their video selves.”Nobody’s seen this before,” Karinen said.

The show begins with the dual stand-up; at some point, it breaks into two separate comedians feuding over whose act it is. The audience then gets to vote on whether it wants the Pete Show or the Brian Show. Depending on the outcome, they carry on with one of two versions of their show. “Kind of a choose-your-own-adventure book for the audience,” Karinen said. The two versions are similar, though with subtle differences. Sacca tends to ham things up more.”Everything we do is based off the timing we learned in acting school,” Sacca said.Karinen interrupts, noting that, “Brian had learned very well how to upstage people. So I’m the straight man. Brian is incapable of being the straight man.”For the past year and a half, the two have been doing “Pete & Brian’s One-Man Show” at such spots as the Culture Project in New York, and at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatres in New York and Los Angeles. They have also teamed up as a writing team, having written a pilot for MTV (which was not picked up), and serving on the staff for “The P.A.,” a show on Fuse (“the poor man’s MTV,” Sacca called it).In all their projects, Sacca and Karinen bring that same sense of originality, imagined or genuine, that distinguishes “Pete & Brian’s One-Man Show.” The duo perform Wednesday at 11 p.m. in the Tent (Wagner Park), as well as Thursday, March 1 at 2 p.m. and Saturday, March 3 at 4 p.m., also in the Tent.



Also going on at Comedy FestThe USCAF’s Film Program opens today with a handful of films, including the world premiere of “Closing Escrow” (1 p.m., Isis Theatre). Co-written and co-directed by Armen Kaprelian and Kent Llewellyn, the mockumentary follows three offbeat couples, using three equally oddball real estate agents, in the quest for the perfect home. The formula strays hardly at all from that laid out in Christopher Guest’s work (“Waiting For Guffman,” “Best in Show”), but the formula works, thanks to the characters the ensemble cast created. Strongest of all is the Jekyll & Hyde agent played by Wendi McLendon-Covey; oddest of all is that McLendon-Covey also stars in another “Guffman”-style mockumentary, “Cook-Off!” which has its world premiere Thursday, March 1 (2:15 p.m., Isis), in the USCAF film program.Also showing Wednesday is “Delirious” (12:30 p.m., Isis), a comedic drama set in the world of contemporary celebrities and the paparazzi who stalk them. The film, by Tom Di Cillo (“Living in Oblivion”), stars Michael Pitt as a homeless, wannabe actor, and Steve Buscemi as the disillusioned photographer who both takes him in and abuses him. Co-starring are Alison Loman as a young celeb, Gina Gershon as an opportunistic agent and Elvis Costello as himself.Other live shows Wednesday include: George Carlin, performing a show of new material, “Still Bringin’ It” (9:30 p.m., Wheeler Opera House); “Windy City Sketch” (7 p.m., the Tent); and “JoeyandDavid.com,” showing with “Brendan Hunt: Five Years in Amsterdam” (9 p.m., the Tent).”The Waitress” is the Film Program’s Opening Night Film (6 p.m., Wheeler). The film was written, directed by and features the late Adrienne Shelly, who earned the USCAF’s Best Director Award in 2000, for “I’ll Take You There.” Also showing Wednesday in the film program are “Colour Me Kubrick,” starring John Malkovich as a Stanley Kubrick impersonator; (12 p.m., Isis); the Romanian political comedy, “12:08 East of Bucharest” (11 a.m., Isis); and the North American premiere of the French farce “The Valet.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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