Since I was a kid, I’d always heard about the HBO Comedy Festival. It’s ~a week in Aspen, where funny people come together and show off: movies, short films, stand-up, sketch comedy, “alternative comedy”, and short plays. Ever since I was a kid, I’d always wanted to go. This year, I had a really good excuse: Jihad, the short I did back in '03 was going to be in the festival. My co-lead Navid and I decided to go together, and meet up with our director & his wife. (a note on the pictures – I didn’t shave during my trip. And as I grew more and more stubble, I realized it made me look really scuzzy in picturesif i smiled, so I started to make funny faces to distract from the actual scuzzy-ness, and make it seem like a put-on. I hope it worked).
Here’s how the trip went:
Wednesday Feb 9
Burbank to Denver on a 60-seat plane (yipes!), then rent a car to Aspen. We are gonna go for an SUV, in case it’s snowing, but Mr. Enterprise persuades us to get a 4WD Benz. We pay $50 extra for the week, but save money on gas, and in case we give a ride to someone interesting, it’s nice to roll in the Benzo. The drive to Aspen is an absolutely breathtaking 3 hours. We arrive in the late evening, and first drop off our cargo with our host, a generous friend of Navid’s. She lives in Carbondale, about 30 miles from Aspen. She gives us a little din-din, then we decide to finish the drive up to Aspen to see if we can catch any late shows. We go to the St Regis hotel to get our passes, but the pass desk is closed for the night. But, because our film is in the festival, the important people give us some tickets for the night’s shows, and tell us to come back in the AM for our festival passes. OK, I have to thank the Festival people profusely at this point. Before this, I had never even BEEN TO a festival let alone been IN one. And they made my first festival experience truly awesome. Their courtesy and graciousness was above and beyond the call, and I couldn’t possibly appreciate it more. So thank you Tamara, Melody, Danielle, and Getto.
Tonight, we decide to see one of my favorite comics, Patton Oswalt. If you only know him from King of Queens, you don’t know him. (Interesting story about Patton Oswalt and me – I was once at a strip club in Vegas (sorry mommy) and Patton was there with a bachelor party. I tapped him on the shoulder to tell him how awesome I thought he was, and as soon as he saw I was a guy, he pulled me on his lap, put his hand up my shirt, and exclaimed “Yes! I do want a lapdance!”) Anyway, his set was political and hilarious. After Patton, we go see a group called the Civilians, a talented, versatile group of NYC theater actors. Outside, I have my first celeb (or at least semi-celeb) encounter, Paul Provenza, who I first saw in the national tour of Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile, and who I later sorta worked with in LA. Then Navid and I go see Midnite Chat, basically a live version of your standard late night talk show. The guests are Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder of Air America, Greg Behrendt, and the highlights of the festival for me, Flight of the Conchords, who bill themselves as New Zealand’s 4th most popular folk parody duo. Let me tell you, that name doesn’t even begin to describe how hilarious they are. I really really hope they make a name for themselves over here, because they’re awesome. Anyway, after the show, I tell Greg I enjoyed seeing him on Oprah plugging his book, He’s Just Not That Into You. Now, I haven’t read it, but from what I can tell, I imagine I’d agree with some of its critics, who call it a little one-sided and more than a little bit reductive. But, I think that for pop-psych self-help, it seems relatively incisive and definitely entertaining. And if it opens a few eyes, I’m not surprised. At the very least, it’s coming from an honest POV, and it says something original, so I think the book is a good idea. Anyway, I tell Greg that though he wrote the book for women, I could definitely relate to some of the things he discussed on Oprah, about getting your hopes up when you shouldn’t. I expect Greg to say, “I get that all the time, thank for saying it” but instead he is thrown deep into thought, after which he finally says, “Um, I’m going back on Oprah next week, and I was thinking about bringing a guy, to show that guys go through the same thing. Would you be interested in coming if I did that?” Now, I’m not too thrilled about the prospect of being nationally known as the perennially single chump who gets his hopes up over women who aren’t interested in him, but then I think, it’s a cool enough book, I’d love to meet Oprah, and hell, my mom would be beside herself to see me on that show. And who knows, maybe some gorgeous audience member would stand up and yell “I’ll date you Amir, I’ll date you!” So I tell Greg sure, and I give him my card. Really nice guy.
Then we go home to Carbondale and sleep.
Thursday Feb 10
We get up, break fast, then go Aspen to get our passes. A miscommunication almost costs us the chance, but the festival people help us work it out, and in a way that actually ends up saving us money! Thank you again, Tamara, Melody, and Danielle!!! With a pass package you request tickets for all the shows you want to see. If they can’t fulfill your request, they’ll give you tickets to another show. Then, all week, you trade tickets – “I’ll give you a Greg Behrendt for a Patrice O’Neal” … "I’ll give you 2 Sarah Silvermans for a Jim Carrey." It’s actually really fun.
I spot Eugene Levy, one of the funniest guys on the planet, so I wait for about 15 minutes for him to finish a conversation so I can get a picture with him. I’m ready to leave, but then I spot Cheech Marin. “Cheech, I’m sure you don’t remember me, but my first TV job was the last episode of Nash Bridges, and it was a real pleasure working with you. You were so kind and interested in me, it was really a blessing.” After asking exactly which character I played, he actually remembers me, and offers to introduce us to his partner Tommy. Yikes – I’m so focused on Cheech, I don’t even notice Chong standing right there. Tommy asks what we’re doing in Aspen and what our backgrounds are. “You’re Persian? You do comedy? Yeah? Hm… ‘Cause… our next movie involves middle eastern people… mmm… do you have cards, some way we could get in touch with you?” uhhh, YEAH! So we exchange info, and head off. What the heck? Is it gonna be like this all weekend?
Then it’s time to go get interviewed by the local PBS affiliate to promote the movie and the festival. I’m so excited, my first on-air interview!! We’re driven about a mile away and the interview goes really well. Actually the regular host isn’t there, so his brother is filling in. But never fear, the regular host does call in DURING the interview to check up on him. It’s really funny, and several people come up to Navid and I during the week to tell us how much they enjoyed the interview and how they think the call-in was hilarious. They also confirm that contrary to the shit Navid gives me, I didn’t talk way more than him during the interview.
Okay. Then it’s off to the Isis movie theater to see the shorts program. It’s so cool to sit in an audience full of people I don’t know (plus Paul Provenza – good man) and watch my own movie. It goes really well, we get plenty of laughs, and after the show lots of people come up to us and tell us how much they loved it. Awesome!! In the lobby, I run into Tom Green and Gary Marshall, two incredibly funny men who have movies playing right after ours.
After that we have some free time, so we go to see Garofalo and Seder broadcast live from the lobby of the St Regis. It’s so awesome that I listen to this radio show all the time, and now I’m 5 feet away from them recording. During a commercial break, I even get to take this picture.
Then we go to see Rode Hard and Put Away Wet and Freestyle Love Supreme (most of the smaller acts are combined with another act, with each act getting a half-hour). RH&PAW is a sketch show starring 2 cute NYU grads, and FLS is a hiphop/R&B sextet that improvises their songs based on audience suggestions. The show is fantastic. I was skeptical about how funny the girls would be, cuz I can tell from the PR photo that they’re really cute. But, they totally deliver. And they’re really sweet when I meet them later. And FLS not only impresses with their music-improvisational skills, but they flat out impress musically. The songs I would actually pay to have on CD. The multi-ethnic sextet is made of 2 rappers (one white, one latino), one beat boxer, one singer, one singer/pianist, and once keyboard/sax player. Just awesome. In fact, they’re playing LA March 23, I’m really looking forward to seeing them again. These are exactly the types of shows I’m excited to see at the Festival. Other people are excited about the standups, and don’t get me wrong, I love stand-up, but I see it on TV and in LA all the time. When else am I gonna see New Zealand’s 4th most popular folk parody duo?
After that, we go see The Moth. I’m not sure where the title comes from, but it's ~an hour of story-telling. The show is very popular in NYC. The stories are maybe funny, maybe not, but all very interesting. Rain Pryor tells a touching story about her dad Richard; Jeff Garlin gets halfway through a story before getting cut off by the time limit; producer Michael Patrick King tells the story of his relationship with Baryshnikov on the set of Sex & the City and defiantly goes way over the time limit. It’s wonderful.
After, Navid goes to see a Cheech and Chong special, & after running into the incomparable Catherine O’Hara, I go to see another one of my favorite standups, Dane Cook. I know I’ve seen him on TV and have his CD, so you’d think I’d have enough, but live, he’s just electric. So fun to watch him work. And because I’m smart like that, I can really see the craft in his work. And when I tell him that afterward, he’s really flattered. Unfortunately, my camera is out of batteries, so I don’t get a pic.
By now, Navid and I are totally exhausted, so we bail on the last show of the nite and go home. Navid says “We can’t go all day like that again.” I say yes we can, just that unlike today, we actually have to remember to eat.
Friday Feb 11
Get to Aspen by to see more movies. I’ve told Sam Seder I will try to see his movie, and because I actually have time this morning, I go see it. It hasn’t been publicized, so there are literally about 15 people in the audience. But it’s sort of cool to be sitting behind Garofalo for the screening. The movie is totally bizarre, but fun. Any movie that features Sarah Silverman talking about how she likes giving BJs is coming from a place of goodness. Then go to see our short again. Going into the theater, I run into Mena Suvari. Skin like porcelain. Then I have to choose between Provenza’s movie and Sarah Silverman’s movie. Tough choice, bc he’s an acquaintance who was cool enough to come see my movie, but she’s (another) one of my favorite stand-ups, and she’s hot, and she’ll probably be there. As it happens, Provenza’s movie is way sold-out, so it makes my decision pretty easy. Too bad though, bc his movie ended up winning best documentary. Sarah’s movie is hilarious though. If you see it advertised, watch it. It’s called Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic. Somehow, though, I managed to take the only non-hot picture of her in existence.
Outside the theater, I meet comic Paul Gilmartin and tell him how much I love his work. And then I meet one of my comedy idols, Conan O’Brien. I tell him he once called me an idiot, and he asks me when. “I was in the audience of your show, and you came up before the show and started dancing around, and then you danced with some guy, then you had the band dance with him, then you said ‘Everybody take off your clothes and dance’. So naturally, I took off my shirt and started dancing around. You stopped the music and said ‘what the hell are you doing?’ and I yelled ‘you said take your clothes off!!’ and you said ‘I tell 112 people to take their clothes off, and 111 don’t. You’re an idiot!’ It totally made my day”. Conan and his colleague Mike Sweeney said they definitely remembered that show. And, after I took this picture with Conan and said it looked great, Conan said “That looks insane… You’re an idiot!” It was awesome.
The day is a little more chill, and when we have to decide between one show and a meal, we pick the meal, which is especially nice bc it’s provided by HBO. Oh, speaking of free stuff, the random free stuff was great. Books, magazines, a Land’s End vest, ski caps, a flask that looks like a cell phone, mints, a Family Guy bottle opener… good times.
In addition to new and upcoming acts, the festival also features enormous stars onstage. After the meal, I go to the Waiting For Guffman “reunion” -- basically, the cast of Guffman all together being interviewed. Totally by accident, I run into and sit by my friend Nora, who works with Jane Rosenthal at Tribeca productions. As you may recall, Tribeca co-produces WWRY, and Jihad will be playing at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. The reunion was really great; seeing all the stars (minus Parker Posey) onstage together was a real treat. It was fun to hear about the conception and creation of the film, and especially because Campus Ladies is made in much the same way, it was very instructive for me to hear how those improvisational masters do their thing.
By now Navid’s lagging, but I want to stick around, because Catherine O’Hara is hosting what is billed as an “always unpredictable music and comedy revue”. Unfortunately, it starts at . So I decide to drive him to Carbondale then drive back. After parking the car, I run into members of the Guffman team, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, and Christopher Guest. When I asked Guest if I could get a picture w him, his response was an odd “mm… if you like” which I thought was sorta weird. Anyway, when I get back to the St Regis ballroom for the event, I end up next to Nora again! Sweet! It’s great to be able to enjoy this madness with a friend, even if we are in the 25th row (pretty much the entire front section is reserved for “important people”). Catherine O’Hara opens the show, but in the character of a foreign singer whose husband has translated her lyrics into English for her. Unbeknownst to her, he has actually translated them to ridicule her. While it’s humorously difficult to actually understand what she is saying, it’s a lot of fun, and when she’s done, she gets a great ovation from the crowd – with the exception of one drunk woman behind me, who shouts “Booooooooo! I can’t understand a word she’s sayin’!” That is met by stares and uncomfortable chuckles from the 20 or so people around her who can hear her, so she confirms, “I’m SERIOUS!” Fortunately, the performers can’t hear, and the show goes on. Cheech and Chong, Fred Willard, Freestyle Love Supreme, Chonchordes, and others perform songs. Paul Gilmartin performs his specialty, which is a character he names “Republican representative John Martin”. He comes out to “set the record straight”, and takes questions from audience members, like the guy who asked “Will gays ever have equal rights?” (John’s response was “HAHAHAHA… oh… you were serious?”) The show lasts til , but I'm not complaining. It is really loose and sort of familial, which is really cool.
But then it is time to sleep.
Saturday Feb 12
First thing I do this morning is get dropped off by Navid to see a seminar called “Wag the Debate – what’s the future of the pundit?”. Unfortunately, it's hosted by conservative doof Joe Scarborough, so anytime people start dealing with real issues, it sort of degenerates into exactly what is wrong with pundits, that they basically just fling poo at each other. Still, it's good when occasionally Garofalo or former Clinton Press Sec Joe Lockhart have a chance to say something intelligent. It's also fun when I gett a chance to ask a question, and totally by accident, use at least 3 $50 words. I always mentally pat myself on the back when that happens, and I actually get some more back pats from other audience members after. Of course, I never really get an answer to my question (“will punditry ever return to an honest and nuanced debate, or are we moving inexorably toward a increasingly deafening cacophony of bullshit?” -- i'm such a nerd), but I guess you can’t have everything.
Then Navid and I split up to watch different movies. I see a new movie called Partners, a movie with gay characters who are actually 3-dimensional. For this reason, I really like it. Also for this reason, I think it’s doomed. I hope I’m wrong.
Then it’s time for another edition of The Moth. This time it includes a story from Greg Behrendt about his intimate relationship with Garofalo, and a story from Lockhart about his first week on the job (the week he missed Air Force One and accidentally told off Bubba, also the week Bubba got impeached and bombed Iraq). It's really great. If you live in NYC, see The Moth. I also see Eric McCormack there, but it's too crowded for me to get a picture.
Then some food (we remembered!) and over to the Festival awards “gala”. It’s not even close to a gala. Lame. Hardly anyone is there, and I realize they’ve already told the winners to be there. And since no one told me to be there, I realize we’re not winning for best short. Lame. But there’s a few funny presenters, and a few funny performers, including the Chonchordes (Yeah!), so it’s cool.
Then is the event that the whole festival’s been buzzing about – a tribute to Jim Carrey hosted by Conan O’Brien. All week, if you asked anyone if they were willing to trade a Carrey ticket, they’d laugh in your face. However, a friend of mine (who requested anonymity) actually gave me a Carrey ticket. One. The thing is, I hear the Carrey thing is oversold by about 200. Meaning there are about 700 seats and 900 tickets. It’s gonna be a serious clusterfuck. So I find a dude on the street and tell him I’ll trade him a Jim Carrey for 2 Chonchordes. He’s like HELL YEAH! He’s happy, and I’m excited to see a full Chonchordes show, not just one song. So I go to that, and they do not disappoint. Playing with the Chonchordes is festival darling Rebecca Drysdale, a sweet Jewish girl from Chicago whose set includes a 5-minute rap consisting entirely of the words “Shit” “Nigga” “What” and “C’mon”. Hilarious. At the show, Jeff Garlin’s lovely wife (who I knew from before) introduces me to him, so I get to tell him that I’m looking forward to working with him on Curb Your Enthusiasm in a couple days.
After that, it's time for the closing night party. Again, a really cool, familial atmosphere, with good food and dancing. I run into Matt Skrobalak, who cast me in Campus Ladies, and find out that he just became head of casting at Paramount! Props, homey! And I run into Dane Cook, this time with my camera working! So I take this picture. I’m pretty sure he is high, because he and his homey Patrice O’Neal are just standing 3 feet from the dance floor, staring at it thru half open eyes, wearing parkas and hats. Those hoodlums. I also meet the delectable Jessi Klein, best known to many from Vh1’s Best Week Ever, a truly awesome show. And, after saying waddup to the Chonchordes about a million times during the week (they tell me they really enjoyed our movie, too), I finally think to get a picture with them. Word. Then we go to a party at a condo that one of the NYCers has rented. It is pretty much a bunch of the funny people who are sort of “at my level”, if that makes sense – funny, connected, up-and-coming, but not near “known”… yet. It's cool, but it's WALL-TO-WALL people, so we bail and go home. Walking to the car, I run into Paul Gilmartin, and I compliment him on his performance at Catherine O’Hara’s thing. He says “Amir, right? Uh… Jihad?” YEAH. Wow. Did you see it? “No, but I wanted to man, sounded funny. Listen, can you mail me a copy?” Uh, yeah! Sure!
Sunday Feb 13
What’s a trip to the mountains without some time on the slopes? We aren’t sure how to do it, bc my director Michael and I have experience skiing, but Navid and Mike’s wife Naima didn’t. So, we decide to all go snow-boarding, since we all had the same level of experience: none. Everyone says your first snowboarding experience sucks, so I was ready. But you know what? It doesn’t just suck, it literally makes you hate yourself, and snow, whichever one you happen to be thinking about at the moment. So I’m never going snowboarding again. Don’t try to convince me. I was perfectly happy on skis, why do I need to please you? Screw off!
After that, back to the lodge to turn in snowboarding stuff. There, I run into Catherine O’Hara again and tell her about the heckler from the other night. She is really really cool. I also run into Matthew Lillard; he isn’t very friendly, I think because I call him Matt instead of Matthew. We go to the car and then I think, I really want to go back and give Catherine a copy of our movie. So I grab it out of the car and run back, but she’s gone. Why didn’t I think about it sooner!??
Well, then back to Aspen for dinner. In the restaurant, we run into Christopher Lloyd. We have some time to kill, so we sort of walk around, and I decide to go to the St. Regis to check email and chill while Navid shops like a woman. I walk into the lounge, and suddenly this lady stops me: “You’re in Jihad.” Yeah! “I want to buy it! I’ve been trying to contact your director! I’m so glad I ran into you!” So hopefully, you’ll be seeing the film on your cell phone (?!) and on the National Lampoon Network, apparently a new competitor for Comedy Central. And then, who do I see on the other side of the lounge? Catherine O’Hara. Something told me it would happen, why is why I have a copy of the film in my pocket. I walk up to her (after Christopher Guest steps away to go to the bathroom) and say I’m sorry to bother you, but I wanted to give you something. “Is it your movie?? I was gonna ask!” whoa. Whoa. Catherine O’Hara is asking for my movie. So. Fucking. Cool. I tell her “I just want you to watch it, not bc I hope it’ll lead to anything, but just bc you’ve made me laugh so many times, I’d be honored to make you laugh.” She seems pleased, as am I.
Go home, pack, sleep.
Monday Feb 14
Get up, drive to Denver (again, gorgeous drive), and get on the plane back home.
Overall, I think I could have “networked” a little better, been more ready with copies of the film and business cards, but I think I did OK, and mostly, I was more interested in taking everything in as opposed to putting myself out. There’ll be more opportunities for that. But I wanted to really appreciate my first festival, which is why I’ve made myself recount it in such detail here. If you’ve read this far, good for you, and thanks. I hope you enjoyed it. And as far as festivals go, especially the Aspen Comedy Festival, I highly recommend them. I’m going back next year.