Comic lift lines in Aspen

HBO comedy fest creates buzz

ASPEN — One-man play “Lackawana Blues” by Ruben Santiago Hudson, standup Dwayne Kennedy, Brad Hall’s musical “Otis Lee Crenshaw” and Clare Kilner’s feature “Janice Beard” were among the winners at the eighth annual HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, which wrapped Saturday.

While no deals were signed, buzz over various acts is expected to snowball into deals over the next few months; last year saw a record high of seven TV talent deals come out of the fest. CAA was the most active seeker at the fest, with many potential signings in the works. The events carrying the most heat among potential TV buyers included the following:

  • Shocking foxy, femme duo Dana and Julia from Chicago. Their perfs caught the attention of Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison.

  • USCAF theatrical award winner “Lackawana Blues.” One-person show wowed Whoopi Goldberg to the extent that she urged HBO suits “to pick up, otherwise you’re doing a disservice to your great institution.”

  • Michelle Krusiec film “Made in Taiwan,” about a young Chinese woman growing up in America.

  • In Slamdance-like fashion, sexual gross-out sketch group Sitcoms Blow lured industryites to their non-USCAF event at the Aspen Youth Center, to great laughs.

Festival award winners included poet Taylor Mali for best one- person show; Brad Hall’s “Southern-fried” musical “Otis Lee Crenshaw” for best alternative act; and Dwayne Kennedy for best standup.

Film winners included Claire Kilner’s “Janice Beard” for best feature; Bill Weber and David Weissman for director for “Cockettes”; actor Torkel Petersson for his perf in Swedish pic “Jalla! Jalla!”; Rachel Griffiths, actress, “Very Annie Mary”; and Sara Sugarman, screenplay, “Very Annie Mary.” Short film kudos went to Trent Cooper’s “The Comeback,” while Jeff Daniels’ “Super Sucker” won the Cinemax audience award.

Over 50 development broadcast and cable toppers went to Aspen to track talent. In an effort to raise the fest’s significance, theme this year was free speech.

Protecting First Amendment rights was of utmost concern to honorees and fest participants as they discussed the impact of the Sept. 11 tragedy on comedy.

On Friday, writer-director David Steinberg led a “Freedom of the Arts” panel in which Norman Lear, Oliver Stone, cartoonist Garry Trudeau and “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker discussed how their art had been censored.

“It’s really become more now about economic censorship,” said Matt Stone, referring to how “South Park” came under fire recently by advertiser Subway, who protested episode “Subway Sandwiches Gave Jared AIDS.”

Matt Stone and Oliver Stone also voiced their dismay over the MPAA ratings system.

On Saturday, the fest honored five comic practitioners of free speech: black rights activist Dick Gregory, Bill Maher, George Carlin and the Smothers Brothers. Fest ended with a comedic symposium “Regarding 9/11,” led by Maher.

In accepting her AFI Star award Saturday, Goldberg said, “I saw the evolution of Sept. 11. This is the new sound of comedy, and it’s no longer cutesy-pooh. It really has something to say.”

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