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NOTE: Our coverage of the Second Annual Las Vegas Comedy Festival has been truncated. We have decided not to attend any of the Festival activities on Saturday or Sunday, as we were treated in a less than professional manner by festival organizers-- to put it another way, we got boned!! See below for further details!
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MONDAY, OCT. 27, 2003
There's no sight quite like when you round that bend on Interstate 15, just after Valley of Fire State Park, and you get your first glimpse of Vegas--it looks like a big, gleaming puddle of molten gold spilled on the floor of the valley below. Flying into or over Vegas is exciting, but nothing compares to driving in at night, from the northeast, on 15. It also enhances the experience if you blast something like 'Martinis with Mancini' (RCA 0786367538-2) on the car stereo. (I usta prefer cranking up Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin while prowling Vegas, but this Henry Mancini CD might be the ultimate Sin City soundtrack!)
We're in town a little early. The Opening Night Cocktail Reception at the Stardust isn't until Wednesday at 5, but we figured it'd be a good idea to check in a few days ahead of time.
We're staying in an all-suites hotel on the east side of town, on Boulder Highway. It's a 12-minute drive from the Stardust, the Fest's HQ at the top of the strip. Except for one show down on Fremont Street on Friday night, and a show at the Hilton headlined by the Smothers Brothers, all the Fest activity was contained in the Stardust, across from the Riv and tucked in between the Westward Ho and Circus Circus. Shows will be sprinkled throughout the 3-1/2-day sked over three rooms: The huge, boxy Avalon Ballroom, the 900-seat Wayne Newton Theater (configured for 600 people) and the tiny (50 people, maybe) curtained-off sideroom at the Courtyard Restaurant, with most of the activity taking place at the Avalon.
More than 150 comics, from Laugh Across America contest winners to pros like PAT COOPER, NORM CROSBY and JACK CARTER, will be featured in themed shows like Fresh Faces, Friends & Legends, Latino Showcase and Adult Mainstream. Where's the twist? Here: In addition to Invitees (self-explanatory), and Winners (those who won throughout the six-week, 15-city L.A.A. contest), a number of folks ponied up 400 or 500 bucks for the opportunity to "Play Vegas!" Ingenious, really. If you failed to win your city's competition, you could buy your way onto a stage during the fest! Another twist: Luncheons. More about them later.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2003
We're in the middle of a four-week tour and we've each been invited to be on a seminar or two and perform in a showcase (Traci on the Women in Comedy Showcase and Brian in the Adult Mainstream Showcase, each in the Wayne Newton Theater). We've logged many hours at festivals over the last 55 months, but up until now, we haven't had the opportunity to perform in one or act as experts on any fest panels. We're looking forward to performing in front of our peers and possibly dazzling an industry figure or two--it's what a festival is all about.
Opening Night Cocktail Reception Open bar, huge ballroom, acres of space in the shadows on the periphery to hang with your fellow comics (some of whom you haven't laid eyes on in months, years) and--surprise!-- after the third round of drinks or so, there's a show starting! (It was billed as "Opening Entertainment" on the sked, but who knew it would be a real, live comedy show?!?!) Muddled sound, unfocused audience, lots of alcohol--Huh? Wha? There's a show? Lots of staring, lots of talking, lots of shushing... It took until the third act or so for most of the offenders to take it outside. But, by that time, the show was turfed. The remaining acts soldiered on and did the best they could, but it made all the acts who were scheduled to mount that same Avalon stage later on in the weekend sweat-- Will this sound be fixed? Is the sound muddled merely because I'm hammered? Will people be focused? Will there be a spotlight on subsequent shows?
The show wraps up with a pow-wow that was billed as "mandatory" for all festival Invitees, Winners and Performers in general. Rather like assembly in high school. (A particularly apt simile, considering that all performers were told, inexplicably, that they were forbidden from wearing baseball caps while performing!?!?)
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2003
The first full day of the Fest. Between 8:30 AM and 5:25 PM, there are six seminars in the Stardust salons and three separate showcases in the Courtyard venue. Seminars on "What You Should Know About Doing a Talk Show," "The Stardom Strategy," "Comedy and it's Reflection in History," "How to do a Late Night Talk Show," "One on One's" and "Nuts and Bolts of Comedy."
Shelley Berman gave a riotous and spirited and ambitious overview of the history of comedy and the comedy of history. He was at his funniest when he was busting the balls of the poor bastards who were trying to depart inconspicuously to attend one of the (overlapping) seminars in an adjacent salon or fulfill an obligation to be interviewed by allcomedyradio.com or some other outfit. Late starts and slopover contributed to the overlapping problem.
Simultaneous scheduling made for less-than-capacity attendance at some seminars. When you have a fest that has only so many attendees to go around, there will be choices made. e.g: Anyone attending or participating in the Props & Parody contest at 1:30 would be forced to miss the end of the Talk Show how-to and most of Nuts & Bolts.
Says Brian McKim: "The Nuts & Bolts seminar panel was dominated by too many industry types. Only the moderator (Barb North), Steven Kruiser and I had experience performing. Despite many valiant attempts by North, the opening remarks and the audience Q & A were dominated by far too many questions about agents and managers and (horrors!) acting. Hardly nuts or bolts. I found myself with little to contribute. I also found myself disagreeing with nearly all the points made by my fellow panelees."
We didn't attend the Smothers Brothers variety extravaganza over at the Hilton. But we heard that it went extremely well-- a happy result, considering that many of the same acts who shared the bill with the SmoBros endured the earlier ignominy of the opening night "Opening Entertainment."
A LIST OF THE PARTICIPANTS:
(Disclaimer: If we spell anyone's name wrong, we cannot be held responsible. We're only going by what's in the press materials...and, considering that Traci's name was spelled wrong three different ways (including on her fest badge) and considering that Brian McKim was listed as "Brian Kellen" on one piece of literature, we can't be sure of anything! Our favorite misspelling: the comedy team of Unsliced Bread will be, due to a typo, forever known as "Unslices Bread!") FRESH FACES OF FUNNY: I--Jay Johnson (host), Vicki Shaw, Tyler Kroll, Amy Anderson, Jay Convente, Kermit Apio, Arvin Mitchell, Rob Zeiser; II--Carlos Alazraqui (host), Kate Davis, Willis Turner, T.K. Mattison, Mark Leroy, Saleem, Karen Rontowski... MAINSTREAM: Bobby Collin (host), Dexter Angry, Rob Brackinridge, Jim McCue, Mark Sweeney, Dina Kucera, Rocky Laporte, Sean Quinn, Vince Morris...
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2003
Hmmm...comedy on Halloween.
The Play Vegas Stage, at the aforementioned Courtyard venue, was free to the public and a woefully underpromoted, orphaned even. In this land of flashing lights and neon, the only indication that there was a show going on was a smallish, hand-lettered foamcore arrow that announced "free comedy show" near the restaurant's entrance. Much to the credit of the comics on hand, they were always there at the Courtyard, supporting the acts and making up the bulk of any given crowd at this less-than-ideal venue. Some folks had great sets there, from what we heard. Indeed, one industry wig stated that the Courtyard was best venue, comedy performance-wise.
We caught the last 15 or 20 minutes of the Women in Comedy Seminar and then we attended the Harlem Globetrotters Luncheon. Hmmm...Comedy and the Harlem Globetrotters? It works. They are, after all, physical humorists extroardinaire. They were utterly charming and entertaining and the CEO of the Harlem Globetrotters is a thoroughly charismatic man who was given an award for... well, it was for something. And, in the ultimate visual gag, it was handed over by Gary Coleman. Really short guy hands over award to really tall, thin guy.
The luncheons (two in number) are a good idea. Free food, in the daylight, shared with your colleagues and the industry types. Kinda like those big bashes they hold in Montreal at night, only during the day and with less alcohol. Revolutionary? No. Refreshing and different? Certainly.
We missed the One-Person Show Seminar and the Everything Comedy Clubs Seminar to go back to our suite and chill and prepare for the evening's showcase sets--our showcase sets, that is. Traci scheduled for 9 PM and Brian for 11 PM, both at the Wayne Newton Theater.
A LIST OF PARTICIPANTS:
COMEDY CLUB PICK SHOWCASE: Cris Clobber (host), Brian Kellen, Paul D'Angelo, Brett Clausen, Steven Scott, Duane Goad, Fletcher, Mo Amer, Kevin Williams, Gretchen Rootes, Tom Cotter, Paul Parson, Pat Brown, Jay Penn, Derrek Richards... FRESH FACES IV: John Fugelsang (host), Scotty K, Dustin Chafin, Gavin Stevens, Jy Harris, Costaki Economopolous, Rick Younger, Michael Gelbart, Kathleen Dunbar... LATINO SHOWCASE: Shayla Rivera (host), Mari-Ester Kaplan, Adrian Mesa, Lisa Alvarado, Rene Garcia, Johnny Luna, Eddie Cruz
We attended the Legends & Friends, along with about 500 other comedy fans at "the Wayne." Pete Barbutti hosted and brought on Brad Upton, Jeff Altman, Jack Carter, Susan Rice, John Mulrooney, Eddie Brill, Norm Crosby and Pat Cooper. The crowd had a blast and Cooper was especially hysterical. He was vicious! He's the original angry comic! No one does angry like Pat Cooper! Mulrooney subbed for no-show legend Johnny Dark. Cooper, who, it is rumored, lives in Vegas, conversed with fans out front of the theater and posed for pics!
The Women In Comedy Showcase was held off for a half-hour due to a lack of crowd. (Halloween, maybe?) By holding off, it was also hoped that the crowd at the show in the Avalon, which was scheduled to run until 9:30, might migrate over.) The Women were Chris Steadman, Becky Pedigo, Karith Foster, Tina Giorgi, Tracey MacDonald, Stephanie Blum and Tammy Pescatelli. Also featured, of course, was Traci Skene, who had some choice words on the Fest's decision to hire a female impersonator (Vegas legend Kenny Kerr) host a show featuring nothing but female comics: "It's an insult! Ya can't get an actual woman to host the show? Ya gotta have a man in a dress? It went beyond lame joke and drifted into insulting! 'Hey, everybody--I'm going to put on a sombrero and host the Latino Showcase! How about it?!' It just set the exact wrong tone."
Kerr made awful, catty remarks about nearly each and every act (calling one "a lesbian with a bad haircut," calling at least one comic a slut and another a bitch!) and trying to pick up a 19-year-old guy in the audience. Whew! Comedy fun on a grand scale! Oddly, Skene was spared Kerr's invective. Good thing, too, since Skene had a zinger ready and waiting for when Kerr insutled her. ("Isn't it ironic that the man in the dress is the biggest bitch on the show?!?!") Kerr screwed up Skene's name in three different ways on three occasions. Skene and Kerr bonded backstage, however, when it was discovered that both are Philly "gals," and that Kerr started his career at a club not far from Skene's neighborhood!
Here's where it gets interesting.
Scheduled for the Adults Only Mainstream show, hosted by Eddie Brill, were Brian McKim, Steven Kruiser, Nikki Payne, John Padon, Steve Gastineau, Ryan Flynn, Carole Montgomery and Mike Saccone. At the announced showtime, there were about...two people in the audience. Fifteen minutes later, there were about 50. At around 11:15, the confusion began. Frantic calls, via Motorola walkie-talkies chattered back and forth. A decision, based on old, bad information, was made to cancel the show. It was further decided that Fest crowd wranglers would herd the 50 or so folks in The Wayne over to the Avalon Ballroom, where they might enjoy the remainder of the Fresh Faces show (which was now running horribly late) and the Latino Showcase (which was scheduled to begin at midnight). And, it was also decided that the comics on the cancelled show might be wedged into the mix somewhere.
Confusion reigned! Communication was poor or non-existent.
Brian McKim picks up the narrative: "Amid a sea of ticket-holders, I made my way from The Wayne over to the Avalon. Nervous Latino Showcasers clumped in the lobby outside the Avalon alongside Fresh Facers and their 'people,' conducting post-mortems on their sets. Padon and Saccone (who both reside in Vegas) buttonholed Fest organizers and soon disappeared, foregoing any showcase set this evening. Eventually, Montgomery (another Vegas resident) would relinquish her spot as well.
"I found it difficult to get any information from anyone. I also noticed that a phalanx of security guards were bunched near the doors to the ballroom, dealing with some sort of disturbance-- seems that some 'Invitee' was jumping bad because his girlfriend was trying to tape his set with a Canon XL-1-- an act strictly prohibited in the Fest by-laws.
"For 45 minutes or more, I drifted between the lobby outside the Avalon and occasionally ventured into the green room to find out when I might be inserted into the proceedings. As the show dragged on, I began to feel badly for the Latino Showcasers. On the other hand, the Avalon did receive an injection of about 50 new fans.
"John Fugelsang was hosting. He brought on Eddie Brill, I figured I was on next. I was told by Art (Vieluf, who was managing the backstage) that I wasn't next... I was further informed that I wasn't scheduled at all! A fine kettle of fish, indeed.
"I tried to locate someone wearing the official polo shirt, someone who might provide a clue as to when I might be performing. It was not happening.
"Eventually, it became clear that, of the Adult Mainstream Show comics who were still in the building, only Kruiser and I would not be performing. Hmmm... I told Kruiser (having an equally difficult time getting straight info) that we were both 'out.'
"At one point, Kruiser and I approached a Fest organizer (named 'Jim,' I believe... we were never introduced) and we asked if it wouldn't be too much trouble to maybe insert us into Saturday night's Champion Showcase (Featuring all the winners from the Fest's contests), but we were told that would be a no-go. The best that could be done might (I emphasize MIGHT) be a spot after the Latino Showcase! According to conservative calculations, that would have been in the neighborhood of 2:30 AM. We pleaded instead for a spot on Saturday's showcase.
"We can't do that... It's for the champions only."
"We're only talking another 14 minutes-- 7 minutes each for a coupla pros... whaddya say?"
"We can't. It would be unfair."
"Unfair? To who?"
"Well... everybody. Everybody would like to get on another showcase."
"Yeah...true... but not everyone's been boned out of a showcase like we've been."
"The way it was explained to me, you guys were here for a couple of seminars and that you were thrown onto that showcase over at the Wayne Newton Theater to bulk up the show."
"Of course, this was utter nonsense (That it was indeed nonsense was confirmed by two other sources close to the Festival). But this was the story that was being stuck to.
"I wasn't happy about this turn of events. I had travelled many miles to be here and I had made this trip at considerable cost. For weeks, I had envisioned performing for my peers and for industry types and standup fans in a Festival setting. It is a goal that many have and that few realize. That it dissolved in such a slow and painful way, with an egregious insult thrown in, was wildly disappointing. At no time did I raise my voice or express any anger, as I was more mystified and confused than angry. It was all very surreal!
"I went from the exciting and hopeful position of being scheduled for a killer festival showcase in the Wayne Newton Theater to begging for stage time in a hotel ballroom anteroom. No apologies were made. No concessions were offered. I calmly and politely asked for a compromise and was instead made to feel as though I was an interloper, as though I was crashing the fest and had no real claim to be included.
"My incentive to participate in the remaining activities, including the following day's Comedy Writing Seminar (Traci and I were scheduled to be on the podium), was gone. I felt no obligation to do so. Indeed, it appeared as though the Fest's sense of obligation to me had evaporated thoroughly.
"Of all the ways this Festival might have turned out, I never could have guessed that my chance to perform would have been taken away. And it was all very avoidable.
"And, like I said, surreal. Here I was, at a Comedy Festival, where some had essentially paid to get onstage and I, who was listed as a panelist on a pair of seminars and who was listed as a showcase comic in all the literature, was denied a chance to do my seven.
"You go to a festival, any festival, and you never know how it's going to turn out. But at the very least, you can reasonably assume that you'll get a chance to perform. I got no such chance. You would do well to keep my experience in mind if you find yourself deciding whether or not you might spend considerable time and money to attend next year's Las Vegas Comedy Festival, should there be one. After all, I am the editor of the WWW's most beloved magazine about standup comedy and look what they did to me!"
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