Offbeat Comics Top Awards at USCAF

ASPEN, Colo. (THR) -- Young stand-ups Kirk Fox and Shane Mauss, alternative performer Tim Minchin, sketch troupe Summer of Tears and solo performer Nilaja Sun were among the stage acts who won jury awards at the 13th annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival during the weekend.

Female duo TastiSkank and John Oliver received the female and male breakout artist awards, marking the first time that USCAF awarded two such honors.

In USCAF's film program, the offbeat romantic comedy "Ira & Abby" won the award for best feature, and Taika Waititi's "Eagle vs. Shark," which chronicles the quirky romance of two misfits, took the honor for best screenplay. The feature film audience award went to Frank Oz's "Death at a Funeral," due out this summer from MGM.

Among the performance awards, Minchin, who has wowed people at festivals worldwide, won over audiences in Aspen with musical comedy and witty insights. Oliver won praise throughout USCAF for his offbeat and political humor.

"I want to thank Jesus and the Prophet Mohammad equally," Oliver said in accepting the award.

Mauss, based in Boston, scored with offbeat jokes about such things as bumper stickers that say "I am a child molester," a pessimistic girlfriend and a vegan friend who surprises you with coffee with soy milk.

Fox was signed by management firm 3 Arts Entertainment before the end of the festival. He earned rave reviews for his edgy sets, including jokes about such things as global warming and his mustache.

TastiSkank scored with edgy comedy, while Summer of Tears won positive reviews for their mix of sketches and produced videos.

Sun won for her one-woman show "No Child," an exploration of the New York public school system.

The USCAF jury also handed out a special award for comedy film performance to Wendi McLendon-Covey, who starred in two festival features, "Cook-Off!" and "Closing Escrow."

Jennifer Westfeldt ("Kissing Jessica Stein") was named best actress for her role in "Ira & Abby," and Jay Baruchel won the best actor award for his work in "I'm Reed Fish."

Tom DiCillio was honored as best director for his film "Delirious." The documentary award went to director Seth Gordon's humorous look at the world of high-stakes video gaming competitions, "The King of Kong." "Ice Cream, I Scream," about ice cream salesmen in Turkey, won the best foreign-language film award.

In the short-film categories, Etan Cohen's "My Wife Is Retarded" was named best live-action short, and Phillip Van's "High Maintenance" was honored as the best college short.

The awards ceremony was hosted by comedian Jamie Kennedy.

HBO plans to get additional mileage out of this year's Aspen proceedings by tapping comedian Ian Bagg to shoot mockumentary-style content about his USCAF experience. Dave Hill and Dan Tosh also are shooting here.

Bagg was among a handful of newcomers who generated heat in the snowy environs of this year's festival, along with stand-ups Ben Kronberg, who was circled by management firms and agencies, John Ramsey, Eric Andre, LaVell Crawford, Mike DeStefano and Dan Mintz.

Randi Siegel, recently named executive in charge of alternative comedy programming at the Fred Silverman Co., said about Kronberg: "He's one of the freshest, most unique and funniest voices of the upcoming generation. I have a couple of projects in mind for him under my new mandate."

Among established stand-ups, Marc Maron earned raves.

Humorist, author and actor Andy Borowitz, known for the daily fake news column, moderated a panel on "Blogging: Buzz vs. Business" and drew interest from industry attendees.

Among alternative shows, one with Oliver, Michael Showalter and Mary Lynn Rajskub was well-received. Jonathan Coulton, one of the digital age's best-known musicians thanks to his "Thing a Week" podcasts, also created buzz.

In one of the festival highlights, the unlikely comedic duo of Stephen Colbert and CNN's Jeff Greenfield had a huge crowd in stitches Friday night. During the show, Colbert was honored with the first-ever USCAF Person of the Year award — a tongue-in-cheek honor for a comedian who has made an impact on the world.

"Thank you very much, Greenfield," Colbert said in his trademark "Colbert Report" character when he came onstage to huge applause. "I'm not afraid of you — you Washington elite press types."

The two had some particularly well-received exchanges.

"You have no cult about your personality," Colbert observed. To which Greenfield replied: "I have no personality."

On Wednesday, George Carlin played to a packed house as he tested out some new material. On Thursday, Don Rickles received the first-ever USCAF Pinnacle Award after a screening of portions of John Landis' uncompleted documentary on the famously caustic comic, "The Rickles Project."

One of that night's most emotional moments came at the end of the event, when Landis brought out Bob Newhart as a surprise guest and the two comedy legends hugged to huge applause.

"This is an absolute surprise," Rickles said. "We traveled the world together, and I love him. He is not a flyer, so I know what it means for him to come here."

Earlier in the day, Rickles was the special guest at an annual party hosted by The Hollywood Reporter at Matsuhisa restaurant.

Meanwhile, HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht signaled an interest in bringing the Rickles docu to HBO.

Georg Szalai writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

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