"Welcome to Last Comic Standing, the best stand-up comedy contest on NBC." So sayeth host Craig Robinson, so sayeth we all.
Wait. Who's running the show, a bunch of monkeys? A lone chimpanzee? What's going on here?
I'll be sure to tell you all as soon as I can watch the rest of this two-hour episode -- and update with videos as soon as they're up. This is the episode in which Tommy Johnagin zings judge Natasha Leggero for calling him competitive in a nationally-televised competition.
Alabama native Roy Wood, Jr., meanwhile, says before taking the stage that he has been at stand-up for 12 years, and well, why not him? "It's my turn to eat. Let me get some of this money." Why not? He opens with a joke about a date so bad, the woman makes you drop her off at another man's house. Damn. That's a bad date. But a good joke. He also has a funny story about trying to write out his will. Good start! The judges agree, from Andy Kindler to Leggero and also Greg Giraldo. Looking good for Mr. Wood. Even if he could not find a coat that fits to impress Giraldo.
After the first commercial break, Robinson has more self-deprecating quips up his sleeve. He's enjoying the gig, and I am enjoying him in this gig. Great work, team comedy! Now about this Fortune Feimster. She lets us know she is a lesbian (shhh, don't tell anyone), which is odd when she tells us about this guy who hit on her. This story, alas, does not have a happy ending. Kindler gets in a dig on Ellen DeGeneres for her dancing, and digs on Feimster. The other judges likewise smile fortune upon Ms. Fortune. Jerry Rocha says he does not want to be depressed for months if he does not win. Onstage Rocha wonders why any billboard about carpooling would be in Spanish, and whether it's a good idea to call to get his credit checked. There is some quibbling in judgment about his use of voices and races, but they seem to be more positive than negative.
Another break, and we're back with Guy Torry, who has been in the movies and on the TV, but according to Torry, they don't know about his stand-up comedy career. He wants to let the people know he is funny. Scratch that. "I'm trying to be the greatest, the greatest stand-up to ever touch the stage." Whoa, whoa. Settle down. It's good to set the bar high and all, but when you say something like that out loud, to a TV camera, usually you're setting yourself up for failure. He is taking a while to get to the laughs when he does not have a headlining amount of stage time tonight, and not only that, but when Torry says "negro," camera cuts to Giraldo squirming. Torry is talking a lot about Barack Obama and has a bit about why the KKK supporting Obama. Oh, and I almost forgot. Torry also used a Monica Lewinsky joke. In 2010. Afterward, he seems to think he crushed and also is not concerned about whatever Leggero has to say. And about that bet Torry wanted to make with Giraldo, in which he said Google the KKK supporting Obama? Torry won't want to click on the first link that comes up. Jacob Sirof wants us to know he has a wife and a kid and not much money from the comedy -- that's the opposite of what Torry was boasting -- and opens with a bit about how L.A. people are into the motorcycles these days, even if it means buying gay clothing. Not that he's got a problem with that, considering his stance on bros hugging bros. Nice tag, btw, on the "Google it" from Torry afterward. Then we see him, Torry and Maronzio Vance chatting backstage, and Torry says he had more fun bantering with the judges. Somehow I don't think he'll be having as much fun later that evening.
Nikki Glaser says she will cry whether she makes it to the finals or not. Foreshadowing? Glaser says she is single and recently performed for the troops, just for the applause breaks. She became single over Skype, on her terms. She also makes an unusual choice by promoting teen pregnancy and joking about getting an abortion. I'm not sure the primetime network suits will be on board with that, no matter what the judges may say. Taylor Williamson says he is charming and adorable, and well, wouldn't you know the audience is laughing at him as soon as he speaks, and then throughout his set, because they cannot believe his premise that he has a girlfriend, and then even laugh again when he admits he doesn't. Williamson also jokes about sex, but between animals (black poodles and white labs, camels). Everyone enjoyed it.
Hey, look everybody. It's Tom Shillue in an ad for PearleVision! Did you know he was in this semifinal round, too? No? What do you mean no?
In real life, maybe you audition a few months ago for a comedy competition that's going to be televised everywhere in America and beyond. Maybe your audition goes well. Maybe it goes well enough that you get asked to perform again at a live audience showcase, and then that goes well enough that you receive a red-ticket envelope to perform again in Hollywood. So maybe, just maybe, you're excited to see yourself on television and so are your friends, family and loved ones. So what happens when you and they turn on the TV and, an hour later, are wondering, did we and they blink and miss you? Hold that thought.
Because we're living by TV producers' rules. And in Last Comic Standing's seventh season, even when they say it's not business as usual, it's still show business. Last week, they edited the New York City auditions together to allow some comedians to get better treatment than they should have, while putting others in the background to tease you. What's doing for round two in NYC?
Well, first, host Craig Robinson tells us what happened previously on LCS, which was that nine comedians received tickets to the semifinals. Wait a minute! Nine??? That cannot be right, no matter how you edit it, because they let 12 people through on the night I watched live and in person, and apparently another 12 in the other showcase, so already, you and I know that there are going to be some comedians who were happy a few months ago, but who are going to be much less happy tonight.
Cue the actual and the artificial tension!
Brian McKim -- for people born before the Y2K bug wiped out the first version of the Internet, you may know him as "The Male Half" of Shecky Magazine -- gets the first uncredited one-liner of the evening, followed by a montage of comedians we should expect to be seeing later in the hour. By the way, if anyone has been watching all of the pre-season promos, Robinson is sneaking in his proposed catchphrase mantra for the season: "Be about it!"
We officially start the night off with Jerry Rocha, from Dallas, who says he has been a professional stand-up for eight years, and vows to hug anyone and everyone if he doesn't advance. He jokes with the judges about his racist uncle who doesn't quite get racial jokes. Our judges are given the superimposed title of "Comedy Jurist" this evening, which sounds much more foreboding than before, when they were judges. Now they're judges and jury? Me no get it. But me still likey Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, so me no stop recapping. Calise Hawkins apparently is from Illinois (I know her as a Jersey girl, where she lives now, while you simply know her as a single mother with a big Afro!), and she takes us into her home with her daughter, and how adorable are they? Kindler isn't a big fan of her material about a homeless guy on the subway, but he and Giraldo both think she's a good performer, and Leggero enjoyed it, so Hawkins gets another chance to perform. Mike Vecchione jokes about his New York City cop look, and I know and you know and we know that he is funny, and even Leggero, who happened to see Vecchione the other night at the Comedy Cellar agrees. Who wants a pretzel?
Zed is the future of stand-up comedy? Somebody better tell Ron Lynch about this competing comedy robot. "Is this a character you're doing?" Giraldo asks. A woman has a whip on the sidewalk. For some reason. Kindler talks about clowns and jugglers, and jokes about all comedians starting out as novelty acts. You remember Lenny Bruce the sword swallower, right? Kindler prefers seeing a comedian sweat. Take that, deodorant ad!
Kyle Grooms doesn't have to worry about that. He did an Obama impersonation in the early TV ads for this season, and he does it for the judges, too. Giraldo says he is not a fan of impersonations but knows that that's not a big part of Grooms' act, so no worries. He's through.
Brian McKim, aka The Male Half of Shecky Magazine, reveals he took part in a "secret" showcase last week for NBC's Last Comic Standing. Interesting stuff. Apparently, neither of the two stand-ups who got invited to New York City from that Atlanta showcase made it any further in the contest. But it'll be interesting to see if anyone advances out of the other "secret" showcases.
What do comedy contests and criticism offer to the stand-up comedian? Validation. Feedback. Two things most comics desperately desire. Or, another way to look at it: Am I funny? Why did they think I wasn’t as funny as that other comic? At the Boston Comedy Festival, the annual stand-up contest has its own quirks. Among them, the lack of feedback. The comedians who don’t place in the top two (or three) have no idea what happened. Did they get disqualified or penalized for going too long? In Seattle, everyone in the room, audience included, knows if a comic goes over the time limit by seeing the red light. In Boston, you don’t know Jack unless you ask Jack, the volunteer with the pen flashlight. Also (and I hate to keep using Seattle as the reference, but it’s the one I know best), all of the comics know where they rank each night, from first to last, and that allows them to gauge what’s working and what’s not. So perhaps having me judge one of the prelims (I got asked to fill in at the last minute) will offer even more guidance and feedback.
For instance, the scoring system. Each judge is asked to give a comic from 1-10 points in the categories of stage presence, originality, audience response and judge’s opinion. Top score, then, would be 40. On my sheet, you would’ve seen a lot of 8s and 9s, with a few 7s and 10s and rare 6s. One of the comics asked me later last night how he did, because he truly wanted to know. For everybody else, here is the recap.
Prelim 5 (in order of appearance)
1) Brian “Sheckymagazine.com” McKim: A fiendishly delicious treat, not just to judge the Male Half of the Shecky enterprise but also to watch him perform. McKim somehow manages to be comfortably stiff onstage, so to speak. A nice turn on the age-old “Employees Must Wash Hands” sign. Jokes about Phoenix, Ariz., that I appreciated from having lived there, even more so because he managed to describe the heat in jokes I hadn’t heard hundreds of times before. Did he do that for me? Probably not.
2) Taylor Connelly: Young Boston comic. Essentially delivers his Comedy Studio set, opening with riff on his first name. Funny observations, including, “People will try to eat chalk if you put it in an Altoids container.” His closer, on hipping up Jesus, gave me a brief flashback to David Crowe, not that many people in the room would know that. The crowd loved him. Taylor, I mean.
3) Jan Davidson: Describes how she is a terrible mother, but humorously explains “The Facts of Life” to her daughter (and the audience). Ends with a clever closing bit, showing her best actress delivery on saying goodbye to the audience. A strong set. Already three good sets and still nine comics to go. Why are the comedy blogging gods mocking me?
4) Mark Serritella: His Festival bio says he could be seen on Dat Phan’s 2006 College Tour. Is that something to brag about? Fortunately, he does not mention this onstage. Instead, he explains why women never need breast implants and describes his life as a kindergarten teacher. Funny remark about how no one knows the new Iraqi prime minister, but he might as well be named Hassoontobe Hassassinated. Note: I might not have spelled that correctly.
5) Jennie McNulty: Talks about how all politicians are crooked and suggests that anyone who wants to be president automatically should be ineligible; instead, fill the office like jury duty. It’s funny, but I’ve heard it before. She also plays football (that I haven’t heard before), and describes how the emotions play out on the field. And yes, she is a lesbian.
6) Renata Tutko: Good set. However. The front of the room didn’t love her nearly as much as the back of the room. That’s a weird sensation. I wonder what the people sitting fairly quietly up front were thinking while they heard all of that laughter behind them.
7) Mike Whitman: Got off to a slow start, it seemed, as he tried to find his words and his place onstage. Made up for it in the end with his bit about the absurdity of chainsaws in horror movies.
8) Marty Laquidara: He’s a scream, all right. No, make that a screamer. He loves the ladies, or so he keeps saying. He also did drugs — only one time — from 1989 to 1997. Get it? The audience laps up his true cocaine story nonetheless.
9) Amy Tee: I’ve seen Amy Tee do well and I’ve seen Amy Tee bomb, so I wasn’t sure which Amy Tee I’d see. OK. I have to stop writing the words Amy Tee. Let’s leave with a joke of hers about being separated from her wife. That’s not an image people want in their heads: “Two lesbians not having sex?”
10) Kjell Bjorgen: Opens lamely by asking the audience if they want to rock, Ashlee Simpson style. But Kjell quickly senses this, saying, “Too aggressive? Let’s take a step back.” From then on, all solid gold. Makes a case for sneezing on children rather than yelling at them or hitting them. Also a strong closing bit about keeping records as a waiter.
11) Ryan Hamilton: Wait. Didn’t I see him last year as the Sierra Mist comedian of the year, or something like that. And isn’t Sierra Mist sponsoring the festival? Not that I’m suggesting anything dubious. Or am I? Anyhoo. Hamilton starts by referencing his look. Yes, he looks sort of like a white Chris Rock, and looks/talks sort of like a blonde Jerry Seinfeld. Uses the overused, “I am single, if that’s not apparent” line. Funny joke about speed dating, though, followed by “a facetious heel kick — you don’t get that very often.” Jokes about Lasik seem very familiar, but then again, I did see him last year.
12) Lamont Ferguson: Announces that the happy train ride is over, time for Mr. Cranky. Notes he has been performing stand-up for 24 years, and his experience shows. He talks about getting rid of hyphenated American labels. You won’t find an African-Englishman, he notes. True enough.
Moving on, advancing, winning, whatever you want to call it were: Ryan Hamilton and Kjell Bjorgen.
Is that what I had on my scorecard? No and yes. Who do you think I rated higher? Can you tell from this recap? Do you want to be able to tell from this recap? Stay tuned for part two of last night’s prelims…