digital reporter

Have you heard the one about the Web comics?

The second installment of the Comedy Festival, to be presented Nov. 15-18 in Las Vegas by HBO and AEG Live, will feature such comedic icons as Chris Rock, Judson Laipply and Gary Brolsma.

If you are now scratching your head and thinking, "Judson and Gary Who?" welcome to the digital age of comedy.

With the sitcom having increasingly been pushed out of the primetime TV spotlight in recent years, the Internet has become one of the most popular places for the discovery and consumption of comedy ? especially among the young. As a result, the comedy icons of the future might be very different from Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Whoopi Goldberg.

For proof, look no further than the nearly 1.6 million friends comic Dane Cook's MySpace page has attracted.

Most in the comedy industry are aware of how popular Cook, 34, is with his generation because he's a stand-up comic.

But the Web also has created comedy stars who don't necessarily ply their trade in front of a brick wall. "Comedy is morphing from traditional forms, such as stand-up, to increasingly include musical comedy, online skits, animation and more," Comedy Festival CEO Bob Crestani says.

No wonder that comedy festivals are starting to tap into the digital realm to attract and engage fans while helping Hollywood talent scouts and creatives find the next big comedy hit in the digital world.

In that vein, the festival will feature far more than the traditional stand-up and sketch comedy. It will present the finals of the "Sierra Mist Stand-Up or Sit Down Comedy Challenge," a competition being decided in part by online votes cast via MySpace, which has been expanding its comedy offerings.

In addition, festival organizers recently announced the first Viral Videos Live showcase, which will put the spotlight on the performers behind some of the Web's most-downloaded laugh-inducing material.

This is where the six-minute "Evolution of Dance" video by comedian Laipply comes in. While you may not know it, chances are that your kids or your neighbor's kids have seen it. After all, as of the weekend, it ranked as the second-most-viewed video on YouTube, with nearly 35 million streams.

And how about "Numa Numa Dance," a video that hit the Web in late 2004 and shows New Jersey resident Brolsma lip-synching to the song "Dragostea Din Tei" by Moldovan dance act O-Zone? The original version has been viewed more than 15 million times from its main Web locations. A "New Numa" video has been streamed about 3 million times from YouTube since early September.

Comedy agents say that established and particularly young comics must increasingly exhibit digital savvy to be successful in the changing comedy industry.

"I look at talent in general and how they can work online," says Mark Scroggs, agent at David Shapira and Associates. "Most of my younger clients who are pitching projects are pitching for the network and studio Web divisions first, or they are involved in the process."

Many in the industry predict that comedy festivals around the world will expand their digital-related programs and showcases. This year's Just for Laughs festival in Montreal for the first time featured many up-and-comers from its popular New Faces showcase on MySpace ahead of their actual performances, with each comic responsible for their Web presence.

And Crestani got such good industry feedback this year after HBO's Aspen festival put on its first Off the Web show with online performers ? at least three of who got signed ? that he decided to push further.

"Online and digital comedy has been exploding," Crestani says. "All comedians are reacting to it. And some of the producers and performers are becoming rock stars."
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