`With an eye toward original comedy’ | AspenTimes.com

`With an eye toward original comedy’

Stewart Oksenhorn

It doesn’t take much digging to see that the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, which opens in Aspen today, goes beyond set-up, punch line, set-up, punch line.

Among the headlining acts appearing at the sixth annual USCAF, which runs through Saturday, are a filmmaker as well known for his dramas as his comedies; an actor whose finest movie moments have routinely been in more serious roles; a comedy duo whose television show was reportedly canceled under pressure from President Nixon; and a TV cartoon that makes barbed satirical observations on politics, sex, alcohol and Hollywood.

Filling out the roster of funny people are philosopher-comics, poet-comics, ballerina-comics, social commentator-comics, playwright-comics, Oklahoma comics and loads of comic filmmakers.

“There’s an eye toward an original voice, maybe the type of humor we haven’t heard before,” said Judi Brown, producer of festival talent.

“We’re looking for a one-of-a-kind, someone with a unique voice, a distinct take on the world – a George Carlin or a Chris Rock,” said Brown, who has spent much of the last three years bouncing from city to city, holding open calls in a search for new comic talent.

Among the lesser-known comics hoping to fill the bill as that unique voice – who are performing today – are Brandon Bowlin, Sarah Jones and D.C. Curry. Brandon Bowlin, “Return of the Underground” Brandon Bowlin’s alternative show, “Return of the Underground,” reeks of the high road to comedy.

The 31-year-old Pasadena native is backed by a three-piece jazz combo; his act consists of everything from spoken word performance to Shakespeare dialogue to a video presentation.

“It’s my way of showing how all things classical can come together – jazz, hip-hop and Shakespearean verse,” said Bowlin, who earned a scholarship to study at the London Shakespeare Studio.

To Bowlin, his way of socially conscious thinking is part of the underground in the modern world. “It’s about politics; it’s about getting back to an idea of humanity and respect, which is really underground thinking,” he said. “The fact that we still have problems in recognizing one’s humanity shows that we haven’t evolved much.”

Bowlin, whose act began as a showcase at a space next door to Los Angeles’ Improv club, sees little difficulty in finding humor in such serious issues.

“Laughter tends to work hand in hand with dealing with a situation,” he said. “Finding humor in painful or uncomfortable situations is just what I do.” Sarah Jones, “Surface Transit” Growing up in New York City, Sarah Jones’ parents limited the amount of television she could watch. So she developed an interest in words.

At Bryn Mawr College, Jones focused her attention on hip-hop music, but when she realized just how nasty the hip-hop words and world were, she turned to poetry.

“The hip-hop scene wasn’t for me,” said Jones. “The misogyny was starting to hit the scene. But the lyrics – “Bitches ain’t shit/But `ho’s and tricks” – blasting from every stereo, it made me feel like I was bashing myself.

“There was an alternative scene, and an urban, funky vibe with a consciousness, a political consciousness, in the spoken word scene.”

In “Surface Transit,” Jones creates eight characters “who will wax neurotic for a few minutes each,” she said. The characters range from a suburban Jewish chain-smoking mother to a ghetto teen-ager proud of her intact virginity. Though Jones acknowledges that poetry isn’t typically associated with humor, she says “Surface Transit” is more fun than pointed.

“In the performance poetry arena, anything goes,” she said. “I try not to take it too seriously. I’m trying to speak my mind and also have a lot of fun. Humor was always part of everything I do. I’m a silly person. And these days, it’s hard to take anything seriously.” D.C. Curry, appearing with Jeff Altman D.C. Curry, who was raised on his grandparents’ cattle farm outside Atlanta, sees himself as more of a comic social commentator than a joke-teller.

“It’s a lot of current events,” said the 41-year-old Curry, who cites as his favorite comedians Redd Foxx, Dennis Miller and Richard Pryor. “I try to voice my opinion in my material. I talk about my upbringing, the state of the world. And there’s a lot about my kids – I have two daughters, and they’re real funny without knowing it.

“And unlike acting, where I may take a role I may or may not really identify with, in stand-up, I really try to take it to heart.”

Curry has a refreshingly candid take on himself and his projects. One of his recent film roles was in the recent comedy “Next Friday,” which pulled in routinely bad reviews. “You have movies that will save the world,” said Curry. “And then you have `Next Friday,’ which depicts what the world will be saved from.” Other stuff Among today’s other highlights are “Radio:30,” a theater piece about the king of the radio voice-over, written and performed by Chris Earle; and the multicharacter one-person show “Where Did Vincent Van Gogh,” created and performed by the voice of Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta.

Also opening today is the Film Discovery Series, a program that includes 17 feature films, three documentaries and 27 short films.

Topping the Film Discovery Series are two special presentations: Director Aileen Ritchie’s “The Closer You Get,” a film about single men in a small Irish village, shows tonight at 8:30 p.m. at the Isis Theatre. “Me Myself I,” director-screenwriter Pip Karmel’s examination of a career woman re-examining her life, screens at the Isis on Friday at 9 p.m.

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