Aspen Standup Roundup

I know it’s been nearly a month since Raphael promised I’d give you an Aspen stand-up report, but in my own defense, there were extenuating circumstances, not the least of which was that the day we got back from Aspen, we all came down with the flu simultaneously! Regardless of that and other excuses, I’m a great lover of stand-up, and the best part of Aspen for me was getting to see so many fantastic new comics that I would never have been introduced to otherwise — frankly, it was a goddamn embarrassment of riches. So without further ado, here’s the roundup of my favorite Aspen stand-up. (Note: Though I intended to see every stand-up at the festival, my stamina ran out right before the last showcase, so there were a few comics I didn’t have a chance to see.)

Shane MaussShane Mauss, one of the two Best Standup winners, was a favorite of everyone at the festival, and for good reason — he opened with one of the best fake-out jokes I’ve ever heard. I won’t repeat it here because it won’t translate, but in a nutshell, he appears to tell a joke that flops disastrously, then flips the entire setup with a single line that brings the house down. It’s a very deft piece of audience manipulation that immediately establishes his skill at the craft of standup, and gives him a terrific momentum moving into the rest of his set. I was shocked when he told me at the wrap party that he was staying in Boston because of a really great day job — I don’t expect that to be a deciding factor much longer.

Erik Charles NielsenErik Charles Nielsen: Probably one of the most divisive standups at the festival, everyone seemed to have an opinion on this guy. I already knew him from his articulate and insightful posts on A Special Thing, but his act was nothing I could have expected. His on-stage persona is difficult to describe — the best I can do is a hyperventilating, asthmatic 13-year old who’s just snapped after getting one too many pink-bellies in the schoolyard. Watch this video — you’ll see what I mean. His delivery alternates between a red-faced scream and a shaking, twitching mumble, and though I feel that intensity is ultimately detrimental, his material is nonetheless extremely smart, and the portion of the audience he discomfits is easily matched by those he has in stitches. Definitely someone to watch — at the very least, you’ll be talking about him after the show.

John RamseyJohn Ramsey: One of the best parts about going to Aspen was being introduced to comics like John Ramsey — he lives and performs in Austin, which means that I probably never would have encountered him otherwise. (I also very much enjoyed Lisa deLarios, another Austin comic whose set I would cover here if I could remember more of it.) Ramsey has a very witty, urbane stage presence, and his material is extremely smart, so much so that at times he risked alienating the audience. (His opening joke: “After a show, a woman told me that I’m just waiting to be discovered. I replied, “Well, now I know what magnesium felt like in 1807.'”) Highlights from his set included a piece a bit about his respect for the first man to eat a pineapple (“Have you seen a pineapple? I would have bet poisonous.”), which you can watch here, and my favorite, though, a bit in which a friend tells him that he should do a joke about Russian history. He proceeds to tell one — a terrible pun along the lines of “Why are you rushin’? Quit Stalin!!” that elicits a groan from the audience. The puns continue, though, and eventually they’re layered so quickly and densely that by the end you’re applauding for the exact same thing that you hated a minute earlier.

Mike Kosta
Mike Kosta: I can’t remember a single joke from Mike Kosta’s act, but what I do remember is his on-stage attitude. Kosta plays a character who’s so confident and full of himself that, after a joke, he’ll say “Mike Kosta everybody” and force the audience to give him a round of “air high-fives”, as though to say “You love me, and so do I, so let’s love me together” — yet somehow, he’s remains immensely likable. Check out this video to see what I mean — this is a guy who rubs your face his heaping piles of talent, and you love him anyway.

Dan MintzDan Mintz: After you get past the ubiquitous Stephen Wright comparisons (which are reflexively applied to any comedian doing one-liners since 1985, and are almost never apt), Dan Mintz has a unique act that’s almost immediately engaging. Mintz’s jokes are delivered in the voice of an awkward 13-year old, and what distinguishes them is the innocence of the material, as though that same 13-year old were simply making observations about a world he doesn’t quite understand. For example: “I think I might have to put my parents in a nursing home. I feel kind of bad, though, because I live with my parents, and I don’t want to live in a nursing home.” (Video link.)

John MulaneyJohn Mulaney: I missed his set at Aspen, but was lucky enough to catch it this week at an MTV talent showcase we performed at, and he’s as fantastic as everyone’s been telling me. Check out this video — unfortunately, the unbelievable new ending he’s written for the blackout bit isn’t included, but that’s just all the more reason for you to see him live. Just a fantastic standup.

Charlyene Yi
Charlyne Yi: While not part of the stand-up showcases, Charlene’s set was the highlight of the festival for me, so I feel compelled to include her. I’d suggest watching this video before reading further, because it displays her style much better than I can describe it. Watching Charlyne’s act feels like nothing so much as being invited to a tea party by a 10-year old girl — she rarely speaks or even explains what she’s doing, yet you find yourself following along with her, simply for the joy of being part of someone else’s fantasy world. In my favorite bit, she simply smiled shyly, stepped into the aisles, and began taking audience members by the hand and coaxing them on-stage, all without saying a word. The audience murmured — what was going on? When she had finally assembled four (and blindfolded one), she suddenly announced “Hello, and welcome to the dating game! I’m your host, Charlyne!” After a lengthy interview process, she proceeded to set up a fantasy “date” with herself and the blindfolded victim, playing the part of the giggling girl who’s pretending to be an adult. No wonder Charlyne’s been getting so much attention lately — what she’s doing is simply unlike anything else out there.

3 Comments on “Aspen Standup Roundup”

  1. Steve Says:

    I had heard about Yi before. Didn’t she place pretty high up in the Andy Kaufman award/contest/thing at some point? Anyway, I concur, she’s doing really great stuff.

  2. Adam Says:

    Steve — Yeah, she was the runner-up last year, right behind Reggie Watts. (And frankly, I’m not sure I would have been able to decide between them if I were judging.)

  3. Gabe Says:

    Wow, Adam… thanks for that. Really informative, interesting stuff for someone who is equally as enamored with stand-up as an art form. I’m gonna have to try and seek these guys out, if at all possible. One of the best blog posts to date.