March 12, 2006

Impromptu gigs, comebacks cap Aspen comedy fest

By Georg Szalai

ASPEN, Colo. (Hollywood Reporter) - The 12th annual U.S.
Comedy Arts Festival wrapped over the weekend with talk of
Russell Simmons' "Def Comedy Jam" returning to the HBO
schedule, awards bestowed on performers and films and, of
course, dealmaking for rising comedy stars.

Among other highlights, Dave Chappelle and Chris Tucker
raised the temperature with surprise stand-up sets late
Thursday. Chappelle had been scheduled to attend the festival
to take part in the tribute to Simmons and "Def Comedy Jam,"
but his solo set was unexpected.

Tucker, who at one point joked about having put on some
pounds, hadn't been expected at all this year. He seemed to be
in his element among fellow comedians.

Similarly, Chappelle, who made headlines by walking away
from his hit Comedy Central sketch show last year, earned
raucous cheers and standing ovations everywhere he appeared.
"We miss you, Dave," one fan yelled out during an event at
which Chappelle appeared.

Stand-ups Mitch Fatel, Aziz Ansari and Kristen Schaal,
sketch troupe the Whitest Kids U Know and solo performers Rick
Cleveland and Eliza Coupe left Aspen with jury awards for their
stage work. Goldie Hawn also was feted during the festival's
AFI Star Award tribute.

In USCAF's Film Discovery Program, "Friends With Money,"
featuring Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener and
Frances McDormand, won the award for best feature. "Keeping
Mum," a Rowan Atkinson-Maggie Smith dark British comedy penned
by Niall Johnson and Richard Russo, was honored as best
screenplay. The audience award went to "Shut Up and Sing" with
Molly Shannon, a film about a group of guys who sang a cappella
in college and reunite 15 years later to sing at a friend's

Other films creating buzz included the Chevy Chase vehicle
"Funny Money," which several studios are eyeing for a possible
distribution deal, and the short "Angry Unpaid Hooker."

The talk about a possible HBO revival of "Def Comedy,"
which ran as a regular series on the pay TV network from
1992-97, began during the tribute to that Simmons-produced show
Friday when Chappelle suggested that it be brought back in a
format that could feature alumni such as himself in slightly
longer sets.

"I got 10 minutes I'm saving," Chappelle said to audience
cheers. "If you do it, I'll do it."

Fellow alumni Tucker, Adele Givens and Bill Bellamy, along
with "Def Comedy" director/executive producer Stan Lathan,
agreed that a revival show would make sense. "We're going to do
it," HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht said Saturday in an

The revival theme also surfaced during a tribute to HBO's
influential "The Larry Sanders Show," with star and executive
producer Garry Shandling and fellow cast members Jeffrey
Tambor, Janeane Garofalo, Rip Torn and Wallace Langham.

Asked by the audience whether the show ever could return,
Shandling said: "I have an idea in the back of my head for one
last reunion episode, but I really don't know if that's what I
want to do."

Tambor later told Shandling in front of reporters that he
would do a reunion if he got a phone call. But Shandling said
that such a show would need to be "special and meaningful" for
the people involved.

As for the festival's performer awards, New York
up-and-comer Ansari and veteran Fatel shared the award for best
stand-up. Ansari entertained Aspen crowds with stories about
his upbringing in South Carolina.

Coupe took home the breakout artist award, impressing
industry observers with her solo program, in which she
portrayed different characters in five shorts.

Schaal was honored as best alternative comedy act. She had
the audience in stitches with her imitation of a sexy
librarian, a "Law & Order: SVU" audition and sundry
off-the-wall comments.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter