ASPEN, Colo. — With nimble-footed ease, Kivi Rogers fairly glided across the stage of the intimate Club Lodge, talking playfully about his "I'll-make-it-for-you dad."
"Everything I got was homemade, right down to my Schlitz Malt Liquor beer can walkie-talkie," Rogers recalled, next regaling the audience with tales of the father who once had given him roller skates made from platform shoes for a Christmas present.
"I didn't get real skate wheels, just some old wheels off an old couch. It was easy to spot me. I'm the one skating down the street just spinning around," he said, whirling around in circles.
During his fairly clean routine, Rogers made light of the African American experience, including the ironic fact that he had recently performed in a Florida town by the name of Plantation.
"You know what the big pastime was? Country line dancing. . . . I was doing all right until somebody yelled out, 'We got a hoedown.' I said, 'Where?' "
Already, on Wednesday's opening evening of the second U.S. Comedy Arts Festival here, the heat was on about Rogers.
Indeed, following his 10-minute stand-up routine as part of a New Artists showcase, several Hollywood types singled out the Los Angeles native. And, by Friday, one network and one TV production company already had approached Rogers' managers--Annie Albrecht and Bob Read--after watching him perform and hearing the considerable clapping, cheers and chuckles.
It was a welcome sound to a guy who once performed before a crowd of two at 2 a.m. at L.A.'s Laugh Factory five years ago. Plus, Rogers was celebrating his birthday, though he wouldn't divulge his exact age. (He admits to being in his late 20s, but looks younger.) Whatever his age, the talent scouts were taken. Festival casting people were equally enthusiastic.
"As far as I'm concerned he's a success, and it's only Thursday," said Lisa Leingang, one of the festival's 13 talent executives and scouts who scoured 15 cities and looked at some 300 performers before picking Rogers and 39 other new artists.
"He's just so charming and likable and cute. He crosses over, appealing to black and white audiences. And [his material's] not too dirty," added Leingang, noting that she and her colleagues find Rogers reminds them of a young Bill Cosby.
It's that kind of buzz that attracts a who's who of Hollywood's talent scouts, managers, agents and television development executives eager to find the next Jim Carrey or Tim Allen.
The festival--which is presented by HBO, the American Film Institute and Comedy Central--features programs with such established artists as Steve Martin, Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Maher, Dennis Miller, Jon Lovitz, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, Richard Belzer and Garry Trudeau.
Hailed by organizers as "an unprecedented celebration of the art and craft of comedy," the second U.S. Comedy Arts Festival--which attracted about 600 participants and is about a third bigger than last year--is designed as comedy's equivalent of the Sundance Festival.
The festival showcases humor in all forms, from alternative theater to sketch to film, with 40 up-and-coming artists presented in some 60 performances in 10 venues. Festival co-executive director and co-founder Stu Smiley proudly pointed to the virtual blizzard of comedic-related offerings, which included an "Animal House" reunion. The festival also is serving as the site for four TV specials, including Dennis Miller's closing night performance on HBO of "Citizen Arcane," which airs tonight from the Wheeler Opera House at 10:15.
"This seems to be the defining place for discovering talent," maintained Smiley, conceding that the event did cost "more than it should have"--he wouldn't reveal how much--and will lose money.
Even if, as one insider admitted, the festival is "basically an excuse to go skiing during the work week," finding unknown hot acts like Rogers is the festival's raison d'etre.
For his part, Rogers didn't seem to be fretting about how he'd go over. In fact, he took advantage of his time offstage to go skiing. And over lunch at Planet Hollywood, the comedian threw his energies into more touristy matters, like videotaping memorabilia and buying T-shirts for his three kids. Seated near the money case Sylvester Stallone carried in "Cliffhanger," the 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pound muscled comedian gleefully recalled how, with five years of practice, he had became an award-winning arm wrestler. He also described his grueling workout routine, which he sandwiches in between shows on the road: practicing kicks and stretches, as well as doing 300 push-ups, 200 sit-ups and 200 triceps extensions.
It's evident that Rogers applied the same diligence and discipline to becoming a stand-up comic. In fact, he wiled away many an hour studying recordings and TV shows by his idols Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby.