Aspen's funny folk voice opinions; Brits also big at fest

See winnersASPEN, Colo. — Comics frequently draw from current events, so it was no surprise that hot political topics — most notably the threat of war in Iraq — were mixed liberally with the yuks at the ninth U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.

Among the comedians joining in the chorus against current American foreign policy were Janeane Garofalo, Julia Sweeney and the fest’s standup winner Loni Love.

Love, who was among the most talked-about talents at the fest this year, said her comedy was about “telling the real stuff.”

“Forget about the terrorists and stocking up on duct tape and plastic wrap,” she quipped. “I’m gonna stock up on gin and lipstick. If there’s going to be a tragedy, I’m gonna be drunk and looking good.”

Love, an electrical engineer by day, who’s been working on her comedy career for six years, said being chosen to perform at USCAF at an open call in Los Angeles was a big break. She’s been approached by talent reps in Aspen but says potential deals are likely to come after the fest. That’s the standard M.O. for dealmaking at the HBO-sponsored fest.

“Sometimes standups are just really good standups, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re naturals for a series or film,” said Kent Alterman, New Line senior VP of development and production. Keeping up with comedy’s cutting edge and re-establishing old contacts is another reason to be on hand, Alterman said. “And to get to watch an hour of Norm Macdonald is a treat whether you’re in Aspen or Podunk.”

Fest lineup was a mix of emerging and established talent, with Kelsey Grammer and “SNL” alumni such as Sweeney and Macdonald doing shows alongside new talent from around the globe. Newer to the scene were British standup Bill Bailey and U.K. sketch group Hollow Men, who took home the fest’s sketch/alternative award.

“The British acts were the big story,” noted USCAF executive director Stu Smiley, who said that while all shows were taped for broadcast, the decision whether to air programming on HBO Comedy (or AOL TV) will be made after the event.

Among other highlights of the fest, which wrapped Sunday, was “Inside the Actors Studio” host James Lipton’s chat with Mike Myers, who received the AFI Star Award in Aspen. The tete-a-tete made for some awkward but hilarious moments as a serious Lipton tried to get Myers to answer a few questions in character. Myers, clearly not eager to fully revisit his famous alter egos such as “SNL” character Linda Richmond, at one point threatening to “open up a can of Lipton whoop-ass.”

USCAF also unspooled a wide selection of comedy films in its fifth annual Film Discover Program. Pics ranged from American indies to foreign-lingo pics, docs, shorts and works-in-progress, such as clips from comedy troupe Broken Lizard’s upcoming Fox Searchlight release “Club Dread.” Among the world preems was Warner Bros.’ “I’ll Be There.” Pic, Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson’s directorial debut, won the fest’s audience award.

“Bowling for Columbine” helmer Michael Moore — who was in town to pick up the fest’s 2003 Freedom of Speech Award — didn’t shy away from speaking his mind.

In a fest interview with former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart, he touched on everything from his disgust with the current administration and apathy among the “so-called liberals” to his uneasy relationship with media congloms.

“What’s always kind of bothered me about this equation, this setup between the corporate masters that put my work out there — often reluctantly, but as long as the cash register is going — is that I think that they know that ultimately it’s not a dangerous act to put Michael Moore out there. They are so convinced that they’ve done such a good job of dumbing down and numbing the minds of the American public, that the public, when they watch (one of my programs or films), will laugh, they’ll cry and then they’ll turn it off and switch it to ‘Help Me, I’m a Celebrity,’ ‘Get Me Off the Island’ or whatever that new show is.”

At the awards post-party, HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht said he was pleased with this year’s fest.

“I wonder why we do it every year; we don’t make any money putting on this festival, but then I’m always surprised by the caliber of the talent that comes up here year after year. And, I figure, if we don’t do it, nobody else will.”

U.S. Comedy Arts Fest’s awards gala on Saturday night in Aspen revealed the event’s Jury Awards and Film Discovery Awards, which were chosen from live comedy perfs and films shown during the five-day gathering.

And the winners are . . .

2003 Festival Jury Awards (sponsored by HBO Comedy)

Standup

Loni Love

One-person show

Demetri Martin

Sketch/alternative award

the Hollow Men

Theater award

Sandra Shamas

2003 Film Discovery Program (sponsored by Variety) Award Winners

Jury award

“Bend It Like Beckham”

Director

Simeon Soffer (“4th and Life”)

Screenplay

Don Coscarelli (“Bubba Ho-Tep”)

Actor

Bruce Campbell (“Bubba Ho-Tep”)

Actress

cast of “Girls Will Be Girls”

Foreign-lingo film

“Autumn Spring”

Short

“Tim Tom”

College comedy short

“Jesus Henry Christ”

Audience award (feature)

“I’ll Be There”

Inaugural Comedy Film Awards (previously announced)

Indie comedy film

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”

Studio comedy feature

“About a Boy”

First-time director

Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”)

Entertainment Weekly’s audience award for comedy film of the year

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”

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