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Comedy contracts no laughing matter

ASPEN ” Five members of Laugh Your Aspen Off have quit the troupe, setting the stage for a stand-up standoff during this week’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.

The disagreement came as Laugh Your Aspen Off founder and comedian Clifford Fewel wanted troupe members to give him a 5 percent finder’s commission if they happened to sign on, over the next three to six months, with another talent agency or entertainment firm.

“I asked for a discovery fee, but several members sent me e-mails, and they were very gracious, that they didn’t want to participate,” Fewel said Tuesday.



He added, “These people were very concerned to the point that they weren’t willing to proceed. But I do think they’re funny people, for the most part.”

Comedian Beth Brandon, one of those who parted ways with the troupe, said she had no hard feelings toward Fewel or LYAO.



“We’re not doing this as competition, and our shows aren’t at the same time as Laugh Your Aspen Off,” she said. “I don’t want to say anything bad about Laugh Your Aspen Off. But it was going in a different direction.”

Brandon declined to discuss specifics of the dispute.

“It was about a business aspect and some of us didn’t like the choices,” she said.

Fewel said he held auditions Friday for new comics, and LYAO has five new members who will hit the stage this week, along with the other six performers.

The fallout comes the same week as the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival blows into Aspen. The festival, which HBO puts on, and runs today through Sunday, attracts a plethora of industry executives and talent scouts, among others. Many upstart comedians consider it a springboard for bigger opportunities such as signing on with a television pilot.

The festival also attracts fringe troupes, filmmakers and other industry types who stage their own events that are not affiliated with the Comedy Festival – all with the hopes of being discovered. Laugh Your Aspen Off is one of those events.

And with all of the buzz surrounding the festival, Fewel apparently decided to bet against the adage that it takes a stand-up comedian 10 years to come up with 10 minutes of good material. Since its popularity was swelling, Fewel decided to register the Laugh Your Aspen Off name with the secretary of state in December – with Fewel as its registered agent, according to public records.

And on Jan. 31 it was re-registered with the secretary of state as a limited liability company called MFC Services, doing business as Laugh Your Aspen Off. And Fewel no longer is its registered agent; instead, Carbondale attorney Timothy Whitsitt handles its legal dealings, records indicate.

Fewel said that because Laugh Your Aspen Off is a “little fledgling business,” there is a legitimate chance some of his talent could get discovered, especially this week.

And because he has handled the marketing, advertising and promotion of LYAO – it sold out the Wheeler Opera House earlier this month – his comedians are getting increased exposure. With that, the chances for them getting discovered is enhanced, he said.

That’s why he gave his comedians the option to sign the contracts or leave, he said.

The five who elected to leave – Brandon, Alexa Fitzpatrick, Kevin “Karbon” Herzing, Mike Milota and Michael James Robinson, who were originally slated to perform at three Eagles Club gigs with the Laugh Your Aspen Group this week – are still trying to seize this week’s chance to get noticed. They’ll be putting on their own performances this week at Zane’s Tavern and Texas Red’s BBQ.

Brandon said she had never been paid for past stand-ups with LYAO, something Fewel said is an industry standard for little-known rookie comedians.

“I didn’t get paid for my first 50 performances,” Fewel said.

However, Fewel said his comedians will get paid this week. The fee structure ranges from $15 for the first two minutes of stand-up to $75 for an entire hour.

LYAO will hold its shows at the Eagles Club at 9 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, and 7 p.m. Saturday. The cost is $12.50.

The five members of the splinter group will hold what’s called Apres Comedy at 11:30 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday at Zane’s Tavern, at 8 p.m. Saturday at Texas Red’s BBQ, and at midnight Saturday at Zane’s Tavern.


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