ASPEN, COLO. — What do a hundred plus of America's hottest comedians talk about when they get together? Each year scores of up-and-coming stand-ups, established comedy stars and a few lions of laughter gather here for the HBO-sponsored U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
This year, as always, the town itself offered a bottomless well of comic fodder. Whether it was HBO's intention or just a happy side-effect of bringing this shoestring bunch who make a living mocking pomposity to this precious elite ski enclave, Aspen is the gift that keeps on giving.
Nick Swardson noted in his act that the Aspen police carry cologne bottles instead of Mace. Summing up the general horror at the unrestrained luxury, Mark Maron said, "I love a city where the bad neighborhood is the guy screaming by the gas station."
Other hot topics bandied in the St. Regis lobby, where each night the motley collection of stand-ups, in torn canvas sneakers and hoodies, assembles and schmoozes:
* Don Rickles. The godfather of stand-up came to the festival to be presented with an award and screen pieces of the documentary that director John Landis is shooting about him. At a party honoring Rickles at Matsuhisa, today's stars -- including Maron and comic actress Mary Lynn Rajskub -- lined up to kiss the Don's ring as he held court.
Asked if he thought today's comedy has changed much from when he started out, Rickles answered, "Funny is funny. If you have an attitude, if you can talk about things with that attitude, it will be funny."
* Tim Minchin. The festival's clear breakout star. A quirky Australian comedian-singer-pianist. Minchin took the stage at the late-night "Fat City Lounge" in long undertaker's coat, mascara and bare feet, wowing the crowd with brilliantly inventive and strange comic songs -- from his opener "I Am so ... Rock" to his power ballad finale, which had the audience singing in unison supporting his eco-message "Take Your Canvas Bags to the Supermarket." He is booked through 2008, so American audiences aren't likely to see him any time soon, to the chagrin of Hollywood agents and producers, who circled him throughout his visit.
* The Internet. There is a full-fledged online comedy boom underway. It seemed everyone was either involved in an up-and-coming website, making plans to start one or looking for advice on how to establish an Internet presence.
The fresh-out-of-Bard College, New York-based, sketch-comedy group Olde English, who scored a Web hit with its "One Picture Every Day" video, triumphed at the late-night lounge when it brought in artifacts belonging to the family in whose condo the group was staying -- from the odd art posters to an armchair, drapes and pictures of grandchildren.