Alas, comedy fests in 2008

We may not have Aspen this winter, but we still have Aspen. You follow? Allow me to explain. After years of rumoring to do so, HBO finally pulled out of Aspen and its sponsorship of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, the nation’s main event for the comedy industry to scout new talent and pay tribute to the best in the funny business. That left many wondering whether anyone would enter the scene and fill the void left behind by HBO. Would there be a U.S. comedy festival? Or would we have to make do with Montreal? Well, neither of those questions have been answered quite yet. But we will have opportunities to gather and make merry, starting this weekend in San Francisco.

SF Sketchfest: The San Francisco Comedy Festival opens tonight with a variety show and party hosted by Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal, and featuring Aimee Mann, Paul F. Tompkins, Todd Barry and Rhys Darby. That fest runs through Jan. 27 with several big events that suggest it’s more than just a fest. If anyone wants to fly me out there and offer me a place to stay, I’d be much obliged!

Next weekend (Jan. 16-19) marks the return of the South Beach Comedy Festival, sponsored by Comedy Central, with headliners Louis CK, Kathy Griffin, Katt Williams, Stephen Lynch, Jeff Dunham, Susie Essman, Andres Lopez and Dave Attell. Something for everyone. But nothing outrageously special for people who live outside Miami and South Florida to rush out and get a plane ticket for, necessarily. But good news for the locals and anyone who happens to be visiting that weekend, to be sure.

And then there’s Colorado. Aspen, specifically, will trudge on without HBO and the St. Regis Resort (which conventional wisdom was saying could no longer play host for USCAF because it was going to be converted into condos, but online today was still offering me hotel rooms…for $1,100 a night and up!). The Wheeler Opera House tonight offers Laugh Your Aspen Off, a free event with local comedians. Next month sees a four-part series (Feb. 2, Feb. 14, March 1, March 14) called What’s So Funny presented by David Brenner with different themes each time out. The first show features "newcomers" Bryan Gutmann, Karen Rontowski and Ryan Stout. The Valentine’s night grouping has Joe Bronzi, Whitney Cummings and Dana Goldberg. Then African-American, Latino, and Asian comedy with Billy D. Washington, Felipe Esparza and Kevin Shea. Lastly, "made for TV" with Dan Gabriel, Tim Northern and Tom Simmons. Not exactly USCAF-caliber by any stretch, but it’s something for Aspen locals and skiiers who still want to see comedy.

Over at Beaver Creek, though, The New Yorker swoops in during the regular Aspen timeslot with Humor On The Slopes, Feb. 28-March 2, featuring performances by Lisa Lampenelli and Jim Gaffigan, New Yorker cartoonists, a comedy film and more.

Alas, we shall have comedy festivals in 2008. It just won’t be the same this year, that’s all. Unless the two New York festivals, the New York Underground Comedy Festival in October, or Caroline’s larger-scaled New York Comedy Festival in November, can do the trick.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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