The Comedy Festival, formerly known as the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, began in 1985 in Aspen, Colorado. It was the premiere comedy festival in the United States, showcasing hundreds of comedians, sketch comedies and film premieres, as well as special events. For many years, the festival was sponsored by HBO.
The Move to Vegas:
After 11 years of being held in Aspen, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival moved to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 2005 and officially became known as just The Comedy Festival.
For its first year in Las Vegas, the Comedy Festival hosted the Earth to America special. Created by Laurie David (wife of Larry David), the special was designed to create environmental awareness and featured Tom Hanks, Bill Maher, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Ray Romano, Jack Black, Larry David and others. The two-hour was taped for broadcast on TBS in November of 2005.
Also in 2005, The Comedy Festival gave out its first The Comedian Award -- the comedy equivalent to a lifetime achievement award -- to Jerry Seinfeld.
In 2007, HBO dropped its sponsorship of The Comedy Festival and basic cable network TBS became the primary sponsor. It marked the first year that comedian Ellen DeGeneres
hosted her own variety special from the festival, called "Ellen's Really Big Show." It was also broadcast on TBS. DeGeneres did a second show (and subsequent broadcast), "Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show," in 2008.
In 2008, the website RooftopComedy.com relaunced the Aspen Festival under the name The Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival.
Past Festival Highlights:
- 1998: Monty Python reunites on stage for a retrospective tribute hosted by Robert Klein. The special is taped for an HBO broadcast.
- 2000: Legendary comedy duo Mike Nichols and Elaine May reunite for an interview conducted by Steve Martin. Also in 2000, Jerry Lewis says in front of an audience that he "doesn't find any female comedians funny" and the cast of The Simpsons perform "The Simpsons Live," the first-ever public readings of Simpsons scripts.
2002: Fresh off the cancellation of his show, Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher participates in an evening of September 11th-themed standup; Doonesbury creator Gary Trudeau, filmmaker Oliver Stone and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a panel discussion about free speech in America; Janeane Garofalo performs her "first sober Aspen."
2004: A salute to The Larry Sanders Show with Garry Shandling and the 15th anniversary celebration of Def Comedy Jam.
2005: Cheech & Chong reunite for a Q&A (though wouldn't perform together until 2008). 2007: The Comedy Festival pays tribute to Don Rickles; Stephen Colbert is named "Person of the Year"; Ellen DeGeneres premieres her variety show, "Ellen's Really Big Show."
2008: Cheech & Chong reunite to perform during the 2008 "Light Up America" tour.