In Aspen, the living is easy, but not funny Comedy: The nation's jokesters convene in the Rocky Mountain paradise.

March 04, 1998|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

ASPEN, Colo. -- Say, you heard the one about the comedian from Aspen? Of course not. There aren't any comedians from Aspen.

Sure, the town is crawling with them today as the fourth annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival begins a four-day celebration of hilarity, homage and shameless networking. But it's certain there haven't been so many funny people in town since last year's festival. Because let's face it, folks, this isn't exactly a breeding ground for comedic sensibility, not unless your idea of humor is a lingerie store called "The Freudian Slip."

Hey, you don't have to be Sigmund Freud to know that truly great comedy comes from anger and misery and inner torment and socio-economic deprivation resulting in a sublimated desire to put bags of flaming dog poop on people's doorsteps. You may notice that comedians come from New York, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles lately, and sometimes Philadelphia. But mostly they come from New York, because hostility is the life juice of comedy.

Good luck getting hostile in Aspen. Walk around town for half an hour and you get the distinct feeling that you died and your soul wound up in an Eastern Mountain Sports catalog. You can walk six blocks before you see a piece of litter on the sidewalk, and then it's probably a fancy paper dinner napkin stained with a delicate saffron-red pepper coulis.

The place is utterly perfect. Everywhere you look there's another quaint chalet, another relentlessly tasteful ski lodge, another precious boutique, another cozy pub with a fireplace and lots of rough wood finish. After a couple days in this place you long for the gritty urban energy of, say, Chevy Chase.

Great comedy requires tragedy, not mellowing out during apres ski in a roomful of vacationing lawyers and commodities traders dressed in fleece and mukluks. A tragic day in Aspen is when the plumber can't figure out what's wrong with the Jacuzzi.

What's to be hostile about? Who needs funny when you have the Rocky Mountains? Everywhere you look there's another spectacular view of a snowy slope rising thousands of feet into the air. Let me tell you folks, as mountain ranges go, the Rockies are just not funny. The Poconos, now you're talking funny. The Catskills -- of course. Even the Himalayas are at least good for a few Sherpa jokes. The Rockies, forget about it. The Rockies are just too tall and beautiful to be funny. Just like the people you see here.

I'm telling you, the next tall, gorgeous blond guy I see in one of those huge Southwestern hats looking like an advertisement for "Chaps" by Ralph Lauren gets it right in the kneecaps. I put on a hat like that, rise to my full height of five-foot-nothing and I look like an unemployed rodeo clown.

There are no comedians from Aspen because to be a comedian today you must be at least one of the following: a) Jewish b) African-American c) short d) overweight. In the two days before the comedy festival began, no one fitting any of these categories was spotted in town. Aspen's idea of a disadvantaged minority group is people who do only cross-country skiing.

Almost had a heart attack the other night when I saw a kid buying a state lottery scratch-off ticket at Aspen Drug. Yeah, says the kid in a ski cap, you drop so much money on lift tickets, you like to try to recoup something.

Right. Lots of economic desperation in town, lots of comedic talent being nurtured in the crucible of poverty. How tough is it? It's so tough that Cashmere Aspen just put two shelves of men's sweaters on sale. One dropped from $790 to $474. This is Aspen's idea of a "blue-light special."

It's like the old joke about the bartender talking to the gorilla in the bar. Except the Aspen version has the bartender saying: "You know, we don't get too many comedians in here." And the comedian says: "It's no wonder with these prices."

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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