Laughing crowd

A crowd at the Silver City Saloon takes in an Aspen Laugh Festival show in this undated photo.

Having met with varying degrees of success in its previous iterations at Aspen’s Limelight Hotel, the Wheeler Opera House bar lobby and the now-defunct Justice Snow’s, the Colorado Comedy Night Contest seems to have found a good home in the Silver City Saloon, where it will return tonight at 5:30 p.m. for a second straight year. It’s also in the third year of a competition format that seems to work, with the comedians all vying for the top three spots, which will be invited to perform later this month as part of the Aspen Laugh Festival.

It may not be the springboard to stardom that its predecessors, contests associated with HBO’s annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and the Rooftop Comedy Festival, were, but as the Laugh Festival’s stature has grown in recent years, the current competition has gained some cachet. It can also still help to get one’s comedy career rolling, as Aspen native, last year’s winner and this year’s host Rebecca Robinson can attest.

“Two years ago, at the Limelight, I came in third,” said Robinson, who lives in Denver but comes back to town frequently. “I’d only been doing stand-up for about three or four weeks, and it was a huge boost. It just kind of confirmed that I was starting to do something that I could possibly turn into a career.”

Buoyed by that third-place showing amid a dozen-strong field that included experienced comics, Robinson redoubled her efforts in the burgeoning Front Range comedy scene, and when she came back last year for the competition at the Silver City Saloon, she took top honors, a showing that has garnered her some praise in comedy circles as well as placing her among some select company.

“I’ve had some amazing opportunities, and they all kind of bleed back into this Aspen Laugh Festival experience,” said Robinson.

“I was asked to feature for Moshe Kasher on New Year’s Eve this year. In the green room we were just talking about stuff, and I knew that he was in the lineup for this year’s Laugh Festival, so I mentioned that I was hosting some things because I had won, and he had won also (named “Best of Fest” at the 2009 Rooftop Comedy Festival). So we got to bond over that.”

A similar coincidence occurred at last year’s Laugh Festival when Robinson, fresh on the heels of her victory in the contest, got to appear on the Wheeler stage in a showcase with some of Colorado’s top comedians.

“I had to follow Mitch Fatel,” she said. “He’s hilarious, and he also won the contest, back in 2006 (at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival).”

Time will tell if Robinson’s career arc will follow those of Fatel and Kasher, who will be appearing at the Wheeler Friday, Feb. 22, in a triple bill with Rachel Feinstein and Julian McCullough, but by winning the last year’s contest, she’s certainly positioned herself for success and been able to make some solid connections in the business.

“I’m a comedy nerd,” said Robinson, “and to think that all these people who I’m now getting to work with and who’ve done similar shows to the ones I’m doing — Jim Gaffigan was here as a side-stage feature in 2001, and now he’s selling out two shows at the Wheeler on February 15 — it’s a really cool position to be in.”

Gaffigan’s two shows next week are, indeed, sold out, but tickets are still available for all the other Laugh Festival shows through aspenshowtix.com or wheeleroperahouse.com, including the Colorado Comedy Showcase on Feb. 19, where tonight’s winner will be rubbing elbows with the best our state has to offer, just like Robinson did last year.

They’ll probably get to host next year, and then who knows? Maybe someday that winner will be the veteran comic inspiring some future wannabe to make a career out of comedy.

Todd Hartley is the special sections editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.

Special Sections Editor