Aspen planners book variety of yuks


NEW YORK -- Comedy stars and legends and the discovery of new cutting-edge talent and comedic forms for the digital age will be the focus of this year's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, organized by HBO.

Unveiling the first elements of the 2007 program lineup Tuesday, organizers announced the presentation of a newly created award to legend Don Rickles; headliner performances by George Carlin, Steven Wright and Katt Williams; a showcase of promising online projects; and the biggest sketch troupe program in the festival's history.

Also on the schedule: a behind-the-scenes look at "Entourage" with the hit show's cast and a screening of the Fox comedy "The Winner," which is set to debut in the spring, plus a Q&A with star Rob Corddry and co-creator and -producer Ricky Blitt.

"The lineup at our 13th festival represents the changing media landscape and comedy's place in it," USCAF CEO Bob Crestani said. "From Don Rickles and online sketch groups to silent classics and the best in independent film, this year's programming represents those who have defined, and are redefining, the art of comedy."

Rickles will receive the inaugural USCAF Pinnacle Award and join John Landis for a Q&A after a special screening of Landis' documentary project "The Rickles Project," about the comic's long career.

Aspen's Wheeler Opera House will host a headliner series, which will kick off with Carlin, who will celebrate his 50th year in comedy at USCAF.

Crestani also promises a "particularly strong" and diverse roster of young stand-ups this year and the festival's biggest-ever lineup of sketch groups, which will be announced later.

Under the title "Broadband Theater," USCAF will showcase "genre-busting ideas" found on the Web, Crestani said. Although he wouldn't offer more details, he said the show will combine elements of live performance and video presentations.

Also on the menu for agents and network executives looking for new concepts is "The Gaggle," organized by former festival director Craig Minassian. HBO said the show is designed as an "opinion show (that) brings the freewheeling approach of sports to politics and pop culture by mashing up the traditional debate show format with a group of new opinion leaders" -- yet-unnamed journalists, comedians, bloggers and political insiders. "Gaggle" also will use user-generated video commentary and topics to drive the debate.

USCAF's panel program will include "The Big Picture" with HBO Films president Colin Callender and "Blogging: Buzz vs. Biz" with representatives from, and Vanity

USCAF's Film Program plans to again showcase world and North American premieres, with Telluride Film Festival co-founders Bill and Stella Pence serving as guest directors who will present "The General" and "Lonesome" with the Alloy Orchestra, as well as a Chuck Jones retrospective. Fireside chats with such studio heads as Peter Rice, Bob Berney and Daniel Battsek will return to Aspen as well.

USCAF is scheduled to run Feb. 28-March 4.