The focus is on funny these days in Aspen |

The focus is on funny these days in Aspen

Stewart Oksenhorn

On any given day, tourists can provide a load of belly laughsfor Aspenites – their dress, the way they act, their floutingof local mores.But the out-of-towners who parade through town today through Saturdayare the sort who get paid good money to make people laugh. The fifth annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, a presentation ofHBO, begins today. And with it comes enough funny people – fromJerry Seinfeld to Janeane Garofalo, Ben Stiller to Conan O’Brien- that Aspen will be the center of the comedy industry for thenext four days.”To me, it’s probably the most prestigious of the comedy festivals,”said Stu Smiley who, along with Brian Murphy, is co-founder andco-executive director of the USCAF. “There aren’t many – the NewYork Comedy Festival; Montreal, which has been a big one; andthe Edinburgh Fringe Festival.”But while names like Seinfeld, Stiller, Neil Simon and Garry andPenny Marshall – all of whom are appearing at the USCAF this year- and past headliners George Carlin, Dennis Miller and the MontyPython troupe draw national attention, the festival’s raison d’êtreis the scores of relative unknowns looking to make names for themselvesbefore the assembled industry insiders.”That’s the primary purpose – we’re introducing new faces, newtalent, to the industry and to the audience,” said Smiley, whois also producer of the television program “Everybody Loves Raymond.””Eighty or 90 percent of the shows are that. And then there arepeople like Ron Silver, who is more established, doing a new worklike `Bill Graham Presents.'””It’s off-beat, things that wouldn’t be seen otherwise,” addedJohn Moffitt, who, along with Pat Tourk Lee, is executive producerof the festival. “Things like `The Trials of Monica Lewinsky,’those are things that would not have an existence without thisfestival.”Both Smiley and Moffitt know what kinds of things are possiblewhen the comedy industry gathers in Aspen. “Everybody Loves Raymond”grew out of the appearance of its star, Ray Romano, at the firstUSCAF. (Romano was slated to be a headliner at this year’s festival,but had to cancel due to scheduling problems.) And Moffitt, directorof the HBO series “Mr. Show,” saw his program come into existencewhen its stars, David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, also appeared atthe initial USCAF.”Bill Graham Presents … A One Man Show,” about the groundbreakingrock promoter, and “The Trials of Monica Lewinsky,” a piece presentedby New York’s New Dramatists and featuring dialogue taken directlyfrom the testimony of the notorious intern, are two of severaldozen events outside of the stand-up mainstream. Other cutting-edge acts include: Andy Prieboy’s “White Trash WinsLotto,” a musical comedy that traces the ascent of Guns ‘n’ Rosessinger Axl Rose; former Paramount studio head Robert Evans readingfrom his autobiography, “The Kid Stays in Pictures”; and a livepresentation of the National Public Radio show “This AmericanLife,” with host Ira Glass and guests Garofalo, Stiller and SarahJessica Parker.New this year to the USCAF is the Film Discovery Showcase. Whilepast festivals have all included a film program, they were mostlyfocused on retrospective works by comics and filmmakers featuredat the festival. This year’s program, coordinated by program directorKevin Haasarud, includes 19 new feature-length films and 19 shortfilms. Among the films are “Go,” the new film by “Swingers” directorDoug Liman; five world premieres; and three U.S. premieres. Amongthe world premieres is “The Sex Monster,” directed by Mike Binderand starring Mariel Hemingway.Feature events include: the presentation of the AFI Star Awardto Jerry Seinfeld and “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David, moderatedby Bob Costas; the presentation of the AFI Filmmaker Award toJames L. Brooks, moderated by Jeff Greenfield; and the presentationof the USCAF Writers Award to Neil Simon, also moderated by Greenfield;”The Ben Stiller Show Speaks Out,” with Stiller and former castmembers Cross, Odenkirk and Garofalo; a reunion of the cast of”SCTV”; and a screening of “Cheap Date with Harvey Miller,” dedicatedto the late writer Miller and introduced by Penny Marshall.

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