by Hans ten Cate
Wednesday, 26 March 2003

The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival is held every February/March in Aspen, Colorado

You wouldn't think that a nine-year-old festival like the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival would hold much significance for Python fans. And yet, these last few years have seen more than a smattering of Python appearances near the lovely slopes of Aspen, where the festival takes place every year.

Starting in 1998 with a hugely historic Python reunion, the comedy festival has been the venue for several significant Python sightings. Eric Idle visited Aspen again this year and John Cleese could be seen at the film festival in the independent film Scorched.

The 1998 Monty Python Reunion

Five years ago this month, the surviving members of Monty Python's Flying Circus appeared together on stage at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. The reunion event, dubbed the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Tribute to Monty Python, marked the first public appearance of all five remaining Pythons together in nearly 18 years.

The members of Monty Python's Flying Circus (including Graham's 'ashes') reunite at the Comedy Festival in Aspen, Saturday, 7 March 1998

The event was noteworthy for a number of reasons. Not only were all five Pythons and a very lively Graham Chapman (in an urn) on stage answering questions in front a live audience, it was close to the Pythons' 30th anniversary - fueling much speculation that there would be something special afoot. And indeed, the Pythons didn't disappoint. A 30th anniversary stage tour was announced that evening. Sadly for us all, the tour had to be scaled down to a few brief sketches on BBC Television the following year.

The Pythons also received the AFI Star Award from the American Film Institute that evening.

The reunion event was filmed and aired as an edited-down 58-minute special for HBO two weeks later (March 21). The show was also later released on video and DVD [issued as Live at Aspen in the U.K. and part of Monty Python Live in the U.S.].


The same week that the Pythons appeared for the AFI tribute, John Cleese and Eric Idle appeared on a few talk shows which were taped in Aspen that week. On March 6, John appeared on Dennis Miller Live, taped live at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House for HBO. A day earlier, Eric Idle appeared on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher for ABC television.

It was also at Aspen in 1998 that Eric Idle met South Park animators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. After that connection, Eric Idle was asked to do a small role in the South Park movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. “They asked me to play a quick role,” Eric Idle said. [see Daily Llama #95]

Eric Idle moderates the AFI Star Award tribute to Robin Williams, Saturday, 12 February, 2000

Photo Copyright © 2000 by Ed Kosmicki

2000 Tribute to Robin Williams

In 2000, Eric Idle returned the favor to host the AFI Star Award tribute to Robin Williams at the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center.

Eric Idle and longtime friend Robin Williams have worked on a number of projects together, including Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Eric Idle introduced his friend Williams, 48, as someone living the life that Albert Einstein might have, had he “dropped the whole math thing and gone into stand-up.”

Eric was host for the evening, conducting a humorous and sincere Q&A with Williams. Of course, Williams couldn't resist playing with props on stage during the tribute, and ran into the audience to wreak havoc with a journalist's notebook and tape recorder. Williams also spent much of the program quietly talking with Idle, reflecting on his life in comedy.

Eric Idle presented the Best Theatre Award to Sandra Shamas at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, Saturday, 1 March 2003

Photo Copyright © 2003 AP Photo/E Pablo Kosmicki-str

2003 Awards Gala

On the closing night of this year's festival, Eric Idle made a guest appearance at the USCAF Awards Gala and Comedy Film Honors at the St. Regis Aspen Ballroom.

Eric Idle was a presenter of one of the Jury Awards for Live Performances, recognizing outstanding performers and performances in the categories of Stand-Up, Sketch, Alternative, Theater, and One-Person shows. Idle presented the Best Theatre Award to Sandra Shamas, a Canadian comedienne whose latest show, Wit's End II: Heart's Desire, played to sell-out Toronto audiences at the Winter Garden Theatre.

Asked later how she felt about her encounter with the famed Monty Python comedian, Shamas replied “It's fun to meet people who you recognize, but it's an error to think that means you know them in any meaningful way.” [1]


This year's festival is notable for one other Python related affair. This year's festival Film Discovery Program featured two screenings of Scorched, an offbeat screwball comedy featuring John Cleese in a supporting role.

Scorched, featuring John Cleese, was screened on February 26 and 27 at the Isis Theater at the US Comedy Arts Festival Film Discovery Program

Directed by Gavin Grazer, Scorched is about several disgruntled employees of a small-town bank. The three fed up bank tellers (Paulo Costanzo, Woody Harrelson, Alicia Silverstone) carry out uncoordinated plans to rob the bank. Meanwhile, a local shop girl (Rachael Leigh Cook) takes action against the bank’s key client, an infomercial tycoon (played by John Cleese).

The USCAF Film Discovery Program is a showcase for independent comedic features and short films. Studios and networks make acquisitions for distribution of projects that screen at the USCAF.

Scorched has still not been officially released in theaters, but has played at several independent film venues and was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival (19 May 2002). The film also recently showed at the Bradford Film Festival (18 March 2003).