As one of the most influential people in the world, Trevor Noah isn’t performing at small venues right now—except, of course, in Aspen, where The Daily Show host will headline the 10th annual Laugh Festival next week.
Bringing names like Noah and Norm Macdonald to town speaks to the reputation of the Aspen Laugh Festival, said Gena Buhler, executive and artistic director of the Wheeler Opera House, which produces the event.
“Comics want to be a part of this,” Buhler said of the festival, which will kick off at 6 p.m. Tuesday with a “Colorado Comedy Night” hosted by Aspen’s own Rebecca Robinson. Peppered with performances by the iconic improv troupe Second City, a roster of rising stars and free après shows all week, the five-day festival will culminate on Saturday with an 8 p.m. show by Colorado native Nancy Norton. (See below for tickets and more information).
But the strength of Aspen Laugh Festival is not only in landing acts like Noah (which involved more than three years of discussions with his management), Buhler said. The festival organizers also make a concerted effort to support up-and-coming comics and newer talent.
“There are not a lot of comedy festivals that present the large array of comics like we do in Aspen,” Buhler said. “It makes it a special experience, and one that they want to be a part of.”
Diversifying the Laugh Fest lineup are comedians like Dusty Slay—a long-haired Alabama boy who grew up on Lot 8 of his hometown trailer park. From waiting tables at restaurants like Jim Bob’s Chicken Fingers and Western Sizzlin,’ to working as a pesticide salesman, “my upbringing just gives me a wealth of material,” Slay quipped. The self-proclaimed redneck, who always sports his signature trucker hat, has enjoyed much success since appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in early 2018. His 2019 Comedy Central set has garnered more than 2.6 million views on YouTube.
“Alright, we’re having a good time. I like to tell people we’re having a good time, you know? I don’t like to ask,” Slay said in the set, much to the audience’s amusement. “A lot of comics come out here and they go, ‘Are we having a good time?’ Not me; I can’t risk it.”
Also last year, Slay, then 36, became the youngest comedian to ever perform at the legendary Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, where he now resides. “It’s all been a whirlwind,” Slay said.
An Aspen Laugh Festival favorite, Second City will also return to the Wheeler stage on Wednesday. Jenelle Cheyne, one of the six actors who will perform in Aspen, said the real draw of experiencing a Second City show is the audience’s ability to participate. “We’ll always do new sketches so nobody’s seeing the same thing twice, but what really reinvigorates the show is the improv because no two shows that we do are the same,” Cheyne said. “The audience also feels like they have a real hand.”
Along with the ticketed shows at the Wheeler, Aspen Laugh Festival will feature free après shows at Silver City 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. New this year, the festival is also expanding to Snowmass with a show at the new Limelight at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“In 10 years of producing the festival, I believe that we have made Aspen and the Wheeler Opera House a destination for comedy in Colorado,” Buhler said. “The 10th-anniversary festival is a celebration of that and all that is to come as we produce year-round comedy under the Aspen Laugh Festival banner.”
IF YOU GO
What: 10th annual Aspen Laugh Festival
When: Tuesday to Saturday
Where: Wheeler Opera House, Silver City Saloon, the Limelight Aspen and Limelight Snowmass
Cost: Ticket prices vary by show. More information and tickets can be found at wheeleroperahouse.com.