New comedy fest coming to Aspen |

New comedy fest coming to Aspen

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen Co, Colorado

ASPEN Aspen can once again claim to be host of a comedy festival. Its not as big or as star-studded as the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival (USCAF), the HBO-backed extravaganza that was launched in Aspen in 1995 and pulled up stakes after the 2007 event. But Gram Slaton, executive director of the Wheeler Opera House, is hoping that cheaper tickets, greater accessibility for local audiences, and a more opportune time of year will all make the Wheeler-produced Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival a Memorial Day weekend institution.The inaugural Aspen Rooftop festival, produced in partnership with the San Francisco-based Rooftop Comedy agency and content website, will debut Memorial Day weekend, May 30-31. The festival will pack six events, including the finals of the National College Comedy Competition, into two days, with all events taking place at the Wheeler.The partnership between the Wheeler and Rooftop kicked off this past winter with the Whats So Funny? series, four nights of stand-up comedy built around former Aspenite, comedian David Brenner. The collaboration continues with the Aspen Rooftop festival, which Slaton says is intended to fill the comedy void left by the absence of the USCAF, but is not meant to replicate the defunct festival.Were looking at an annual festival, to take place this time of year, said Slaton. Its unclear whether any other group will pull together an HBO-type festival. Thats not going to be quite as easy as it used to be. Two years will have passed by, and a lot of those connections are gone.Slaton said the new festival will have some resemblance to the earliest versions of the USCAF: A comedy festival for an Aspen audience, before it turned into an industry event, with the locals cut out of the picture, said Slaton, referring to the difficulty in getting tickets to headlining acts about which local audiences sometimes complained. The comedians arent coming to make deals. Theyre coming to get in front of an audience and deliver their goods to a sophisticated audience that will let them know how theyre doing.The most obvious difference between the two festivals is the name recognition of the acts. The USCAF was built on the notion of being a place where comedy insiders could discover new talent. But to lure TV producers, agents, writers and the like, the festival dangled big-name events, with Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Dave Chappelle, The Simpsons cast and many more. Among the biggest names to be presented at the new festival are Jimmy Dore, a writer and performer of the Off-Broadway show The Marijuana-Logues, and Tig Notaro, who has appeared on Comedy Central Presents and The Sarah Silverman Program.In other words, no one will be drawn here Memorial Day weekend in the hopes of seeing Steve Martin and members of the Monty Python troupe roaming the streets. But Slaton has a different audience in mind.People Ive talked to love the idea of a comedy festival, he said. The fact that its not Don Rickles, George Carlin and Dave Chappelle doesnt seem to bother them. They like the idea of a locals pass for $55 that gets them into all six events.And theres a screaming need for the tourist industry for that weekend. Weve got people who want to come over the pass, but they get into town, go see the Bells, and theyre ready to go home.Apart from the finals of the National College Comedy Competition, which will be broadcast live on the Internet, the festival will have such events as Best & Brightest, After Dark, and The Big Show, featuring some of the more prominent comedians. Slaton expects that some industry people will be in attendance, drawn by the simple facts of a comedy festival and the Aspen location. And if it generates no buzz in Los Angeles and New York, Slaton doesnt seem to mind.Weve hit a much happier model, focusing on comedians no ones ever heard of, he said. Its all about getting comic in front of crowds, and getting comics talking to one

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