OK, comedy fans. We're back with the first (of how many? of how many???) episodes from the New York City auditions, and after some more glimpses of Tommy Johnagin and a naked Andy Ofiesh, here's Craig Robinson strolling down the sidewalk of West 23rd Street on his keytar with judges Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, plus wannabes in tow. Who here wanna be?
Alycia Cooper from Maryland is our first billed auditioner. She made Giraldo laugh with her jokes about D.C.'s horrible sports teams, but she is adding tags that he and the other judges do not condone. She moves on to the night showcase nevertheless. Our first featured contestant of the evening, however, is Mike DeStefano who shows us his fellas in the Bronx to bust his chops and deliver some classic stereotypical Bronx gruff and stuff. "Hey Mikey, if you win, what's in it for us?" I've told you about DeStefano before. I will be telling you more about him in the future. His jokes about dealing with a potential agent show off his style and personality and the crew loves him as much, perhaps more, than the judges did.
Kevin Bozeman of Chicago said he is pro-life except for two times. Jamie Lissow jokes about not getting the NY Times crossword. New Yorker Claudia Cogan jokes about wanting to be a nasty stripper, while I wonder when she'll reply to my email from months ago. They are all part of a montage of yes votes for the showcases, and there is Elon James White brunching hard but not getting his name on camera. Andy Ofiesh, on the other hand, got almost all of himself on camera since he went onstage without any clothes on. Of course, readers here (or people who have been to a Naked Comedy Showcase show in Boston, NYC or Edinburgh in the past few years) knows Ofiesh is an avowed nudist and comedian. All we see and hear, however, is the judges not being happy seeing all of Ofiesh and he kicks off the night's first montage of horribleness.
Kurt Metzger says he has done comedy for 11 years and wonders about performing for three people, especially when at least one of them works with him regularly at the Comedy Cellar. No need to wonder, since Metzger is moving to the showcase.
And we're back. Robinson walks out to inspect the line of crazies. I also inspected this line outside Gotham Comedy Club the night beforehand. Want to see that?
Tommy Johnagin invites the cameras into his hotel room(?) to watch him write his jokes on toilet paper. Johnagin jokes about how women suck for asking him about keeping track of the one time he had sex. Kindler jokes that he feels threatened by Johnagin's humor.
Todd Catalano brought his mullet across the bridges and tunnels from New Jersey, and guess what, he is Italian. Guess what, Giraldo isn't sure if he was laughing with Catalano's insults about women, and this kicks off a montage of stereotypical Italian New Yorker shtickery.
Jamie Lee from Dallas says she quit her corporate job to pursue stand-up (and it was a job with Comedy Central where she had to deal with people like me!) and if you saw the ads of the past week, you already saw her running with joy after whatever the judges said. Giraldo said she felt "still pretty new" to him, which is absolutely correct, and all three of the judges would like to see her perform in front of an actual audience.
When we return from commercial...
And so it begins again. Two years since we last left NBC's Last Comic Standing with an abrupt five-person finale, the show has returned to us, reborn with a new host (Craig Robinson), new judges (Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo) and a new promise to focus firmly and seriously on the business of comedy. Do they mean it this time?
For one thing, it's more than entirely possible that we already have seen this year's winner on TV before. By we, I mean the collective we and not just the you and me we, although that's also true -- Oui! Oui! -- because by taking comedy seriously, the producers already have made it clear that even though all of our contestants could be called up-and-coming and even aspiring, they are by no means rookies. When LCS first hit network TV in 2002 as comedy's version of American Idol meets Survivor, the bounty of a televised stand-up comedy special and development deal meant so much more for the field of participants. In 2010, so many more half-hour specials, late-night slots and cable showcases have given stand-ups a chance to grab a TV credit or two or more. So much so that as we, in real-time, already have our 10 finalists, we know that many of them are in this game for a lot more than a half-hour TV special. They're here for primetime network TV exposure on a regular weekly basis, the national theater tour that's sure to follow for the final five, and fame, fortune.
But first. We open Craig Robinson playing the keyboard and singing about the show's return, to reveal the Hollywood Improv and contestants behind him, as we saw in one of last week's teaser videos. Then we get the first montage of our judges as well as many quick looks at comedians, including a sneak peek at a naked Andy Ofiesh. Andy Ofiesh! Each of the judges gets an introduction, which is nice and also weird since they are peers or idols of the contestants. Giraldo gets a clip from his 2009 DVD special, while Leggero gets meta with a clip mocking reality TV competitions from Leno, and Kindler is even more meta as Robinson specifically credits Kindler for "The Hack's Handbook."
Our first contestant featured at the Hollywood Improv is Maronzio Vance. He says he auditioned way back in season two, and his first joke is about the woes of living in a studio apartment. Kindler gives him props for playing to the production crew, and they go at it. "We will see you tonight!" Kindler says. We will see him again, yes indeed. Our second featured contestant is Felipe Esparza, who shows us his apartment and friends in Los Angeles before we see him telling jokes. "What do you guys think? More? Less?" Giraldo says he knows how funny Esparza is, but thinks his audition set didn't showcase him fully, and he makes it to the night showcase despite getting a no from Leggero. "These guys pushed you through," she says. How far will they push him through, you may be asking?
And then there's a guy with a guitar and a red devil outfit. He wants to call himself my professional clown name, so even before the judges say no, I say NO! A KISS something or other. Other nuts. A guy who opened by saying, "No joke." Interviews with the longshots standing on the sidewalk for hours, with Robinson telling them eternal truths such as NBC giving the prize to Jay Leno.
And we're back to actual comedians, with Kirk Fox. We saw him in a teaser video, too, although here we see him surrendering during his routine. No surrender, though! He makes it through to the night showcase.
Our next featured contestant is Laurie Kilmartin, whom I think of as a NYC comedian but is listed here as a Walnut Creek, Calif., resident, showing us her new home with her son, talking about being a single mom and stand-up comedian. Now here she is onstage joking. And the judges like what they see. Hmmm. We are less than 20 minutes into the show, and already this much good news? They are trying to win us over early, it appears.
In the first running non-sequitur bit of the series, Giraldo sets up Kindler by giving him more time to come up with wardrobe suggestions for Kilmartin (whom, fun fact, seemed to wear the same outfit in her backstage and onstage appearances; and even funner factor, has been someone I knew about from when I first started in comedy in Seattle in the 1990s because her headshot stood out from the others along the wall of the Comedy Underground), and then we see him testing the confidences of several other comedians, starting with Renee Gauthier (in an unbilled cameo) and going through several others. "I want you to wear your hair up AND down," he tells one woman.
Andy Ofiesh anticipates the first question about why he prefers to tell his jokes in the buff.
"Why, oh why, Andy, are you doing naked comedy?" Ofiesh asked rhetorically at the start of last month’s Naked Comedy Showcase in Cambridge. "I said I’m living a dream - and it’s the one where you’re naked, standing in front of a bunch of strangers, doing comedy."
This Waltham software writer and stand-up comic has fulfilled that dream on several occasions during the past three years, from private house parties to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and ImprovBoston in between.
Ofiesh began a regular residency at ImprovBoston last month, holding court in nothing but shoes the first Wednesday of each month through February.
He delivers some of the same jokes clothed each Saturday at the Comedy Studio, but also gets laughs from Cambridge’s detailed legal explanations for nude performance.
Some comics tell jokes without referencing the fact that they’re naked, while others address their nudity directly. One woman last month presented a silent clown skit, while Chris Walsh closed out the show with his parody of Puppetry of the Penis.
Spectators who appreciated the comedy seemed to outnumber those who may have simply wanted to see naked people.
Ofiesh advises the comics - who tonight should include both men and women and both stand-up and sketch acts - not to worry about their self-image, but to embrace it.
"When you have this vulnerability established by being naked in front of an audience, I say take that and run with it," he said.
Even if that vulnerability, in sub-freezing temperatures, leads to, ahem, shrinkage.
"Let it go," Ofiesh said. "I don’t like the dry skin on my elbows, either. I don’t worry about that."
The Naked Comedy Showcase now performs monthly shows in New York City at The PIT and in Boston at ImprovBoston.