The Lampshades, ‘J. Edgar’ kick off Comedy Fest today

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Handing out awards to the likes of Mike Myers and Billy Crystal, and staging reunions of the Monty Python comedy troupe and the alumnus of “Saturday Night Live,” have attracted crowds and attention for the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.

But the producers of the festival have always said that the motivation behind the annual gathering in Aspen is to shine the spotlight on new talent and discover new comedy forms.

The Lampshades fall into these latter categories. A comedy team born in Chicago in the early ’90s and resurrected two years ago in Los Angeles after a lengthy hiatus, the Lampshades have invented a stage show that combines song parody, bad advice, satiric references, relationship humor and an abundance of irony.

The Lampshades plays tonight at midnight at the St. Regis Aspen ballroom.

The show stars Kate Flannery and Scot Robinson as the Lampshades, a lounge duo that has just come off a John Cougar Mellencamp booze cruise, where, if your name is Jack or Diane, your drinks are free. The male half of the Lampshades, Hori Pismo, is a nonstop boozer and smoker, which doesn’t stop his female counterpart, Cassie Chew, from developing a large, secret crush on Hori.

The Lampshades, said Flannery, is “about the relationship that unfolds between Cassie and Hori. Or doesn’t unfold. Cassie is hot for Hori. But no one will ever know this. She wears a red jumpsuit. She’s trying a lot too hard.”

The unfolding or not-unfolding relationship unfolds primarily in old, familiar songs given odd, new twists. There’s a segment that links Mister Rogers, Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and the “Sesame Street” classic “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.” There’s a sexy rap version of the theme song to “The Facts of Life”; another bit has the two Lampshades singing simultaneous versions of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” and Looking Glass’ “Brandy” to one another.

The Lampshades constantly give bad advice on romance to their listeners, though they are sure the advice will produce results. “One of the premises of the show is that everyone will go home with someone,” said Flannery. There is also lots of bitching about a rival lounge act, The Lambshanks.

One aspect of the show that is not meant to cause laughter is the quality of the singing. “We’re good singers,” swears Flannery. “That’s not the humor – we’re not going to put people through that.”

Flannery, a bar owner’s daughter from Philadelphia’s suburban Main Line, got a first taste of show business in the stage production of “Valley of the Dolls” in New York’s Circle in the Square. The show drew a cult following in Greenwich Village, and Flannery found herself with a niche.

“I ended up singing in every gay bar, every drag bar, because the show had a big gay following,” said Flannery, who also starred in the touring company of “The Real Live Brady Bunch.” “So I have a career as a drag queen.”

After moving to Chicago, Flannery joined Annoyance Theater and the Second City Touring Co.; Robinson was a fellow actor in both groups. In 1991, they created The Lampshades, which drew a loyal, repeat audience for its year-plus run.

The act folded when Flannery left Chicago to bounce between New York and Los Angeles. Two years ago, Flannery and Robinson were reunited in Los Angeles, and the Lampshades were resurrected. The show has been a Saturday night fixture at the Improv Olympic West for the past year and a half.

While The Lampshades are a duo, the show is hardly ever without a guest star. Guests for the Aspen performances are Janeane Garofalo, and John Flansburgh of the rock band They Might Be Giants, with whom Flannery used to sing in the New York group, Monopuff.

The Aspen dates will be performed without Artie Smitten, The Lampshades manager, usually played by Bill Chott. “He kind of comes in and out of the picture,” said Flannery. “He’s an unofficial Lampshade.”

@ATD Sub heds:Festival facts

@ATD body copy: The ninth annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival opens today and runs through Saturday, March 1, with theater, stand-up, alternative and film presentations each day at various Aspen venues.

Today’s schedule is capped by “J. Edgar!: The Musical,” a musical fantasia about the relationship between former CIA chief J. Edgar Hoover and his companion, Clyde Tolson. Written by Harry Shearer and Tom Leopold, and starring Shearer, Kelsey Grammer and John Goodman, “J. Edgar!” is set for 8:30 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House.

Also today are Off the Page, a special event featuring works by young New York playwrights (Raw Space, 7 p.m.); Women with Attitude, a set of stand-up acts by women hosted by Susie Essman (St. Regis Aspen ballroom, 8:30 p.m.); The NYC Hip-Hop Theater Festival, a series of hip-hop theater pieces, hosted by Danny Hoch (Raw Space, 9 p.m.); Stand Up Stand Out! featuring several male comics and hosted by Joe Rogan (Wheeler, 11 p.m.); and Sit n’ Spin, a collection of comedians telling the truth about their lives (Raw Space, 11:30 p.m.).

Also kicking off today is the USCAF’s Film Discovery Program, which includes 24 feature-length movies and several programs of short films, at the Isis Theater.

The film program begins with the Opening Night Feature, “I’ll Be There,” written and directed by Craig Ferguson, showing at 3:30 p.m. “I’ll Be There” stars Ferguson as a washed-up ’80s pop star whose life is shaken up when he meets his teenage daughter, played by Welsh soprano sensation Charlotte Church. The film combines a warm and fuzzy family tale with the darker side of the rock ‘n’ roll life.

Also on today’s film schedule are “Kiss the Bride,” a comedy about an Italian-American family, written and directed by and starring Vanessa Parise (1:15 p.m.); “Scorched,” a bank robbery comedy starring John Cleese, Woody Harrelson and Alicia Silverstone (4:15 p.m.); and several more films.

[Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is]