I'm a simple man. I like comedy. In particular I like comedy that makes me laugh.
The 2016 Aspen Laff Festival presented by The Wheeler Opera House provided some very funny moments this year. The highlights for me were Steve Byrne's set on Saturday night and The Second City comedy troupe's opening night show. Many of us in Aspen fondly remember the days of yore when the HBO Comedy Festival was based in Aspen. Those days are gone, but The Aspen Laff Fest is here to fill in the laugh gaps at The historic Wheeler Opera House, a fantastic venue for stand up.
The festival started on Tuesday night with a free Local's "open mic." Many of the same funny local faces we've seen over the years participated, and there were a couple of new jokers too. It's always fun to see every day people get out of their comfort zone, get on stage and lay down some jokes. I can only speculate, but for some of the amateur comedians...10 minutes probably seems like an eternity. It was a full house at Justice Snow's and the audience seemed to enjoy the neophyte comics. Glenn Smith, Jonny Israel and Beth Brandon led the way.
THE SECOND CITY: Since 1959, The Second City comedy troupe has been making the world laugh. Second City may be the most influential and prolific comedy theatre in history. At Aspen Laff Fest, 6 young, energetic Second City performers lit up the Wheeler stage. Their sketch comedy and improvisational style was topical, timely, fast paced and very funny. It was a great way to kick off the festival. The comics riffed on everything from Donald Trump's hair to on-line dating in 2016. Their "yes and" style provided an unscripted and unpredictable show. I loved it and the audience seemed to also.
The Second City performers also provided Aspen with a series of free improv workshops. AspenSpin's A. Party participated and may have found his life's calling. Party's natural sense of humor, quick wit and gift of gab allowed him to shine in the workshops, according to him. "A. Party is a funny guy" shared a second city under-study.
HEATHER McDONALD with Will Weldon:
You know Heather McDonald from Chelsea Lately and her highly rated podcast Juicy Scoop. Her amusing observations on being a mommy and living with her frugal husband and cruising to Target scored her a headliner spot in Aspen. In all farness...the audience seemed to like her show a lot. I asked around after her set...a lot of people really enjoyed the Heather's comedy stylings. I...the founder and editor of AspenSpin, on the other hand did not. Yeah...I laughed a little. I caught myself smiling. It was mildly amusing. But I also kept looking at my watch...and I dont wear a watch. Heather took all the mundane, day-to-day musings of a modern day mommy and turned them into a few laughs. It's clear that I'm not her audience...but the Aspen crowd seemed to dig her. Her warm up act Will Weldon is from Canada...nuff said. Just kidding he did a nice job of warming up the crowd.
GILBERT GOTTFRIED w/ Jerry Rocha:
Full disclosure...I was not a Gilbert Gottfried fan going in. After seeing him in person I can honestly say...he's not very funny. Maybe in short spurts or in his former incarnation as the voice of the Aflac duck he can get me to laugh...but not last night. I don't relate to his whiny, squinty-eyed, sand-paper voiced delivery. His act seemed stale. Even if his material was new...it felt like we had a flash back to 1985. He's been at it for a long time... so apparently some people enjoy GG's stuff...other people (like me) walked out. I made it 3/4's of the way through his hour before I bolted. When he announced that he was about to get raunchy...I hit the stairs. Warm-up Jerry Rocha made 10 minutes feel like 40 minutes in an unremarkable performance.
STEVE BYRNE w/ Gareth Reynolds:
To me...this show was the highlight of the festival. Byrne is edgy, young, hip, timely and very quick on his feet. He's obviously a trained professional and his set was tight. It was Saturday night, and the crowd loved Byrne's irreverent commentary. I remember laughing a lot...that is...until he called me out of the audience to join Aspen's boy band..."Sausage Party". Yes---right there on the Wheeler stage I had my comedy debut and I actually got a few laughs. I can't really remember any of Byrne's jokes...all I know is...it was funny as sh*t. Warm up Gareth Reynolds (also a member of Sausage Party) was funny too.
PETE HOLMES w/ Brett Sullivan:
Pete Holmes closed out the Laff Fest with a great set. He's happy, he's funny and he's kind of funny looking too. He is perhaps the tallest stand-up working today. His rasor sharp humor had a positive effect on the crowd. Lots of laughs. Brett Sullivan, the warm up...yeah he was funny too.
In summation Aspen Laff Festival 2016 was a rousing success. The Wheeler was rocking and the people were laughing. Aspen Laff Fest 2017 is already on the calender for next year...so get ready to laugh.