In comedy, the 'industry' isn't laughing Stand-up: At the Comedy Arts Festival, the producers, casting directors and managers sit in the back and emit, not chuckles, but "buzz."

March 06, 1998|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

ASPEN, Colo. -- In a town full of comics vying for a shot at the big time, the sound of a crowd laughing is no big deal. What everyone's straining to hear is the "buzz."

That's the sound that -- if you're lucky -- emanates from the shadowy back rows of nightclubs and theaters during the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Those are the seats set aside for the producers, casting directors, vice presidents, managers, agents and others known in entertainment shorthand as "industry." It's the sound that just might crescendo in the chatter in the halls, the bars and the after-show parties: that so-and-so is the comedian everybody wants to sign.

"Industry audiences are terrible," says Julie Pernworth, director of casting for NBC. "Unless you happen to be at a performance where everyone in the audience has a client on stage."

The civilians in the front rows may be falling out of their seats. The industry, though, sits and watches. They might smile. Might even chuckle. More likely they're evaluating, a mental activity that doesn't necessarily register on a laugh meter. Huddled in FTC the back rows, the industry will project all the fun and frivolity of a bail hearing.

The longer the festival goes, the tougher the crowds get, as the industry shows up in greater numbers. By day two of the festival, they number four of five people in most stand-up shows.

Judi Brown, talent executive for the four-day HBO-sponsored festival that opened Wednesday, says those running the shows try to make things a little easier for the comics. They stack the front rows with regular people, people who want to have a good time, to laugh uproariously in the right places, have a few overpriced drinks and go home happy.

But even if a comic has the regular folks rolling in the aisles, the poker-faced industry types might or might not be impressed.

"Sometimes you look at somebody who had the set of the night," says Brown, "then the buzz is about somebody else."

But just what does the "buzz" sound like?

Those who know say it's more subtle than applause, sweeter than laughter. It's the sound of business cards changing hands, of lunch appointments being made for this executive and that performer and his manager. A table for three, perhaps?

As Rodney Dangerfield might say: "What a great crowd!"

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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