A packed crowd at Carolines at 7 p.m. on a Monday, in the summer. Something must be amiss. Then again, the club, mere blocks from Times Square, did put a poster of Ann Curry up by the front door (and also in the green room, hello!). Yes, that Ann Curry, who greets the nation with news, interviews and asides every weekday morning on NBC's Today show.
Curry was attempting stand-up as part of a Today show segment in which anchors face their fears -- and what would any of us fear more than Curry performing comedy? Am I right? Am I right? OK. That was just too easy for me to type, and not really the point of this exercise. We just want to see how she'd face this challenge. Which meant that that poster surprised me first, because I figured Curry and her NBC crew would want to keep things low-profile, just in case. Why advertise it? Nonetheless, many in the room were there to see Curry. But first, this was the "New Talent" night, and we saw some new talent, alrighty. We also saw Carolines put up some "ringers," and by ringers, I mean people they'd like to get in front of the cameras. So that was a nice, wholly believable touch on the part of the club. A couple of true rookies followed and brought the room to a real, restless lull, helped by the fact that someone (NBC?) asked that the house lights be turned up so they could get audience reaction shots. Curry took the stage at 7:43 p.m. to healthy applause, wearing a white sweater over an orange dress, with matching white heels. No, she did not look like a Creamsicle. She looked nice. And her seven-minute set was more than adequate. She opened with a good self-deprecating bit about how some people ask for her autograph, only for her to overhear them say afterward, "Oh my God, we just met Connie Chung!" She nicely followed up by questioning why she would even be on a comedy club stage, and attributed that to her funny father. The remainder of her set focused on her mixed-race heritage, and even more so on her Asian mother, with several opportunities for Curry to mimic her mom's accent. It's a relatively safe and easy choice for comedy, because it tends to work (see: Cho, Margaret; Phan, Dat). In fact, Curry got an applause break during her set. She also shared her mother's advice to her about being on camera, including a hairstyling diagram, as well as her mom's worries that she wasn't married yet at 30. "Ann-a! I forgot to tell you...men...need...sex!" Offstage, Curry was nice and overly generous with the other newbies on the bill, so much so that I could see her playing the Paula Abdul judging role on any comedy contest. Talking to her, though, I noticed that Curry not only asked for advice from several comedians (including Judah Friedlander, who performed last night also and taped a bit with Today producers about Curry's stand-up challenge), but also seemed to have listened and learned from them. Her public-speaking abilities help, naturally. So does her natural charm. I'm not surprised that she has gotten Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to grant her exclusive interviews. Friedlander and I suggested to Curry that, for a true stand-up experience, she should really try to go onstage again, without a supportive crowd. The first time can seem magical, alright. Capturing that magic again and again, in front of complete and completely judgmental strangers? That's when you know if you're a comedian.
Of course, you'll all be able to see this for yourself soon enough, as multiple NBC cameras caught the action. The Today show producer, however, did not have an airdate at the ready. So, stay tuned.
UPDATE: The footage aired Oct. 8, 2008. Click here.