• Robert Hawkins, Tommy Johnagin, more impress at Aspen comedy festival

    Robert Hawkins
    Robert Hawkins

    ASPEN, CO — Friday’s two later shows – Rooftop at Large and After Dark – at the Aspen Rooftop Comedy Fest brought together comedians both well known and respected in the industry as well as those under the radar. Honestly, save for a less than stellar MC performance on the former show, what I saw were genuinely solid sets from an amazingly diverse set of comics.

    It’d be difficult, however, not to start off the discussion here with veteran comedian Robert Hawkins’ set at the later show. Last year’s winner of the Comic’s Comic award – that means other comedians like him a lot – closed out the night with what, I would think, most astute comedy lovers would call an excellent show filled with what Hawkins does best. That is to say, he cranked out a lot of relatable material with sharp edges and artfully peppered in some blue digressions. But Hawkins didn’t see it that way. Convinced he was shitting the bed the whole time, he flooded his time with verbal barbs at the Aspen crowd, taking issue with the town’s supposed stuffiness and obvious wealth—and not in PG-13 rated fashion at all times.

    Late into his set, Hawkins fired off this: “The Bible says love others like you love yourself—but you can’t go around jacking everyone off” and then commented: “Note to self: Start off with the dick jokes.” Hawkins was nearly 30 minutes over his allotted time and thusly lipped off to the guy operating the “your-set-is-done” light. Frankly, it was hilarious. I loved every awkward minute of it. And honestly, I didn’t see anyone flee the scene, didn’t hear groans from the crowd and really didn’t notice a drop in the level of laughter from the seats during all of this. Believe me, I was watching.

    I don’t bring all this up to simply try to make exciting an otherwise normal (and good) night of comedy shows. I simply find it an interesting commentary on a comedian’s psyche. I’ve interviewed a lot and have spent some quality time with some. It seems no matter how respected, successful and talented a comic may be, he or she seems to always think they’re doing something wrong. Like I said, Hawkins’ set was great. People were laughing. Had Hawkins never made issue of the crowd, I don’t think a single person would’ve thought, “Hawkins bombed tonight.” Finally, I should mention that there is at the Wheeler Opera House a large band pit that separates the stage from the front row, which may have made the laughs sound a bit sparse onstage. Check out a clip below from Hawkins’ set last year at the festival.

    Moving on.

    The earlier show, Rooftop at Large, featured Comedy Central favorite Josh Sneed and rising comics Daniel Kinno and Lachlan Patterson.

    On the heels of his well-received album for Comedy Central Records, Unacceptable, Sneed opened the show, quickly getting a poorly warmed-up crowd in the mood to laugh. Sneed’s simple to talk about. He’s funny. He’s what you expect a stand-up to be. For the Cincinnati comic, it’s punch line after punch line with the occasional one-liner: “I got into a fight with my girlfriend and boy, are my arms tired.” I like this for two reasons: it’s a crass joke and it makes fun of the clichéd “I just flew in…” joke. Check out Sneed’s take on Bob the Builder, a bit he did at the Aspen show.

    Besides a few quick views of their clips on Rooftop Comedy, I had no real experience with Kinno and Patterson. But both were impressive. Kinno most notably pegged some solid jokes to his growing up near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union; for you youngsters, it exploded in 1986. The radiation from the blast granted Kinno some interesting features, he joked. “I have a giant penis. It’s right above my tiny vagina.” Kinno also did a quick bit about showering after his girlfriend. Check out a version of it below.

    Patterson closed out the early show on Friday and earned himself a huge reception from the Aspen audience. He’s got a strong voice and yet a low-key, meandering way of delivering his jokes that pulls a crowd in. And he uses that to his advantage, quickly dipping in and out of the crowd with hilarious directives like, “Sir, look at me” during the setup of a joke. At one point, he told a guy in the audience, “I’ll pay you $180,000 if you leap over [the empty band pit] and jump in my arms right now.” I’d be interested to see Patterson in a club setting where he could go into the crowd even more. Check out his Internet bit below, which he kicked off his set in Aspen with.

    The late show on Friday, After Dark, was competently and energetically MC’d by Hasan Minhaj, who brought to the stage – besides Hawkins, who I mentioned already – W. Kamau Bell, Tommy Johnagin and Tracey Ashley.

    Bell, who had scored himself a rather lengthy profile in the Aspen Times the weekend of the fest, offered the fest one of only two politically charged sets (Will Durst from Thursday’s shows was the other). The most intriguing thing about Bell is that fact that he’s able to do Obama jokes that actually make fun of Obama. Since the election results in November, more than a few articles have cropped up in newspapers, magazines and blogs spelling the end of political humor since George W. Bush was no longer available to be the official whipping boy. But Bell doesn’t see Obama as our Lord and Savior – he does, however, see him as a source of hope and intelligence – and because of that, deftly pokes fun at Obama without coming off insincere. Check out a clip below of Bell’s take on Obama.

    Since his 2008 Late Show with David Letterman appearance and his January half hour Comedy Central special, Johnagin’s profile has risen substantially. And after seeing his set on Friday, it’s clear as to why he’s been afforded these opportunities. Johnagin mines his laughs from an amazingly diverse arsenal of subject matter. Everything is autobiographical. He talks about his dad kidnapping him when he was five (see clip below) and a lot about his sex life, yet he never swears. To be clear Johnagin is by no means a vanilla-flavored comic with no sense of edge. He’s got plenty of it.

    Before Hawkins closed the show out, Ashley took the stage and delivered an even, entertaining, if not slightly derivative set. Bouncing from her boyfriend and smoking weed to Obama and the word “titty,” Ashley didn’t challenge the crowd much and instead pleased them with easily digested nuggets of fun. Check out a version of one of the bits she did Friday in Aspen.

    Dylan P. Gadino

    Dylan is the founder and editor emeritus of Laughspin.

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