ASPEN, CO — The second night of the Aspen Rooftop Comedy festival found us at the Wheeler Opera House for three shows, the first of which was Rooftop’s Best and Brightest, featuring Cameron Esposito, Moshe Kasher, Jessi Campbell, Ty Barnett and Matt Braunger. Of this lineup, I was only unfamiliar with the work of Esposito, and Kasher, save for a few quick glances online at their Rooftop Comedy clips. So let’s start there, shall we?
Esposito has carved out a solid following in Chicago from which she hails – having been nominated for best female comic in 2007 and winning Rooftop Comedy’s Snubfest competition – filtering her down-to-earth charm through odd-colored glasses and an animated presence that – I would think – most hip comedy audiences couldn’t help but get drawn into.
When she wasn’t convincing the Aspen crowd that she has great hair – and she does have great hair – and toned arms (which were covered by long sleeves), she was telling jokes about her personal life: during a UK tour, an audience member asked if she was related to the Espositos who trained racing birds for the queen (she told the audience member “yes”); her South African girlfriend’s favorite native food is a dish wherein you dip cheese into a paste made of meat—that was enough for Cameron to ask her to marry her. Hers is a dry wit for sure, a challenging taste of stand-up for a mainstream comedy crowd. Check out a clip of Esposito below.
As for Kasher, I was immediately drawn in. His appearance, no doubt, helps; he’s a slight, pale guy with jet-black hair (he calls the style the Gitler, “the gay Hitler”) and sports large-framed glasses and a less-than-masculine interpretation of what a dude is. The Los Angeles-based performer has a powerful comedic voice and amazingly wide range. He seamlessly shifts from traditional blue humor to heady material that finds Dante’s Inferno the subject of a joke; he also does moderate physical humor, poking fun at himself for owning a thicket of hair on his forearm and none on his bicep, not to mention an oddly bendable wrist that, he jokes, he sometimes tucks in his shirt, exposing what looks like a nub, to make strangers feel bad for him. Watching Kasher try to tie his shows with said nub makes for a cheap laugh, but it’s funny nonetheless. Check out Kasher’s take on his hairy arm below.
When Campbell took the stage, it had felt like I’d seen her perform live many times before, having watched and re-watched her vast collection of clips on Rooftop Comedy. It didn’t take long to see why Rooftop viewers voted Campbell into the Aspen fest. She’s plain fun. She tells a joke based around an apparent real-life event wherein a woman is eaten by a bear after feeding the monster trail mix from her hand. Turns out, when the trail mix was gone the bear was still hungry. That’s like bear food (the woman) feeding the bear more food, Campbell explained. “I don’t blame the bear,” she says. “If a piece of pizza walked up to me and handed me a donut, and I finished that donut, I’m eating some fucking pizza!” Check out the clip below; Campbell also did a version of this last night.
Barnett and Braunger represented the bigger names of the show, the former making tons of late-night appearances as well winning the runner-up title on the fourth season of Last Comic Standing, the latter scoring a cast member gig at MadTV, shortly before it’s demise, winning last year’s Rooftop Best of the Fest title and steadily gaining a massive following in the alt comedy scene.
It’s no mystery why Barnett advanced so far on a stand-up comedy contest show on network television; the man’s got mass appeal. He’s incredibly affable onstage and knows just how far to push the envelope and still maintain the interest of a middle-American crowd. His take on the word “nigga” as opposed to the real n-word: popularized by 2Pac’s song that creates the positive acronym “Never Ignorant, Getting Goals Accomplished,” Barnett explains you can’t just dress a word up like that and change its vile original meaning. “That’s like coming home and finding a pile of shit on the floor and then putting candles and whipped cream on it,” he says. Check out the clip below of a bit Barnett did last night in Aspen.
And speaking of poop, don’t let anyone tell you that poop jokes are simply juvenile and never funny. They may always be juvenile, but that doesn’t mean a good comedian can’t craft well-written jokes and add insight into feces-inspired bits. Enter Braunger, a man that has the charisma and smarts to turn a typical Taco Bell joke into an extended and wholly entertaining joke about incredibly painful pooping and bad decisions— getting drunk and heading to the Bell to ingest a “big greasy sack of Mexican wrong.” In his set last night, Braunger also related to the crowd what he feels is one the worst things on Earth: when he’s watching porn and the guy, mid-stroke, looks into the camera and addresses a dick-in-hand Braunger. Not cool. Check out the clip below of what has arguably become Braunger’s most well known bit. It was filmed at last year’s Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival.