Weather report: Comedy fest coming in from cold

HBO's USCAF to depart Aspen

HBO has decided that its annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival will leave Aspen, where it has had its home for the past 13 years — at least for next year's edition.

The decision follows weather chaos at this year's USCAF and the high cost of putting on the event in the posh ski resorts, factors that have in the past raised questions about the festival's future.

"The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival has had 13 great years as part of the Aspen landscape," USCAF CEO Bob Crestani said Friday. "We've made the bittersweet decision not to host the festival there in 2008. We hope that circumstances will allow us to return to Aspen in the future."

The Denver Post first reported USCAF's departure from Aspen on Friday. A spokeswoman for HBO said no decision has been made on the festival's new location, any name changes or new dates.

However, Santa Barbara is in contention, she confirmed, along with other West Coast locations. "We are looking at various locations, none of them snow locations," the spokeswoman said.

The annual Aspen outing usually took place in late February and/or early March. However, the festival is likely to be pushed back to set it apart from HBO's newer the Comedy Festival in Las Vegas in November, according to sources. Spring/ summer dates for the event are likely.

Its focus also could be changed slightly. "Emerging artists will still be the festival's focus," the HBO spokeswoman said. However, she did acknowledge that it also could add more consumer-focused events in addition to the industry-focused emerging talent. The Vegas extravaganza is mainly about big, established talent with a strong draw.

The HBO spokeswoman emphasized that the move away from Aspen has no relation with the departure a few days ago of Chris Albrecht from his post as HBO chairman and CEO.

Festival organizers simply have to tell their Aspen partners by certain dates whether they will return the following year. However, the timing of the news had some bittersweet taste to some as Albrecht was known as a big fan of Aspen.

Aspen and its businesses have in the past managed to keep USCAF in town thanks to financial and other incentives.

However, certain developments have made the event's planning and execution increasingly difficult.

The HBO spokeswoman Friday cited the high cost of doing business in the ski resort, falling hotel availability and pricey rates for available lodgings, many of which require stays of several days, which interferes with the work schedules of busy agents, network development executives and other industry attendees.

The weather also has caused havoc over the years, with canceled flights into Aspen forcing attendees to drive through the snow for hours or canceling their trips.

"This year, a third of the comics that were supposed to perform were there on the first night," the HBO spokeswoman said. "And a lot of people whose flights got canceled didn't come at all."

For 2009 and 2010, festival organizers say they are still holding some rooms in Aspen, such as at the St. Regis hotel, where a lot of events and the organizational offices are housed, adding that a decision on where USCAF will take place in those years will be made later.