Carolines closed out its second annual March Comedy Madness on Tuesday night with two very intriguing Final Four matchups. One half of the bracket pitted boyfriend against girlfriend, while the other half could best be described as the single white guys uncomfortable with the ladies division. Comedians performed with a scoreboard clock ticking behind them, as well as his or her competition sitting and/or standing on the side of the stage.
First semifinal: Boyfriend against girlfriend, aka Reese Waters vs. Liz Miele. Waters (pictured) went first and, after a hesitant first 30 seconds warming up to the crowd, he really delivered with a fresh and funny take on Obama vs. Hillary and picking between a black man and a white woman, spinning it in turn on the audience's choice between himself and Miele. Miele's best jokes, coincidentally, came late in her five-minute set with bits about dating a black guy (though she never name-checked Waters specifically).
Second semifinal: Single white guys uncomfortable with the ladies, aka Dan Hirshon vs. Rob O'Reilly. Hirshon went with awkward and insecure, while O'Reilly went with overcompensating overconfidence. Hirshon also talked about his Jewishness with bits about failing an audition for an extra in The Departed and working at Bertucci's. O'Reilly opened strong with an act-out joke about having sex and being farsighted, then kept talking about sex.
The finals: Waters vs. O'Reilly.
But first, 2007 March Comedy Madness champ Julian McCullough returned for a guest set while the semifinal votes were tallied. An odd decision for two reasons: 1) McCullough hit strong, making the finals a bit weird because the audience now would subconsciously be comparing the finalists to him, and 2) when the finals kicked off, O'Reilly and Waters would restart not only cold, but also without any of their better jokes from their earlier sets to use in a new 10-minute set.
That said, O'Reilly went dirty and racial, whereas Waters followed with a more personal approach talking about growing up black and poor. Waters made that connection with the audience (not that they were made up of poor, black people, but that he made audience members feel more comfortable about laughing, and therefore voting for him), and won. The Carolines contest format made me think about the San Francisco and Seattle comedy competitions, in that anyone can advance in an early round with a great joke or short set (for Carolines, the initial battles were decided by a 1-minute bit and a decibel reader!), but that comedian with a solid 4-5 can collapse in the finals (where in Seattle and SF, you've got to prove you have another solid 20 or more minutes).
So O'Reilly finishes second for the second year, and Waters, for his victory, gets a paid week opening at Carolines, a trophy and an interview with ABC.com and ABC News Now.
Earlier this month, ABC News Now featured McCullough. Here's a link to the video (embedding? anyone?). I'll upload the video with Waters when it becomes available. Also, fun to note in McCullough's performance that they have him play to such a small crowd in a TV studio. That's always a fun time, isn't it? But he does get them going eventually. And Caroline herself is there, too!
Last year's runner-up, Rob O'Reilly (pictured), makes a return trip to the Final Four tonight, and shared some insight with us about the process and the particular peculiarities:
"This year it's me versus Dan Hirshon on one side and Liz Miele vs. Reese Waters on the other side. Interesting side note is that those two are dating. Weirder side note is that so are me and Hirshon.
We do 5 minutes in the final 4 and 10 minutes if you make the finals."
The early rounds got judged by a laughometer (or laugh o'meter, or Laugh-O-Meter, depending upon your pronounciation preferences), while tonight's semifinals and finals decide winners by audience ballot. The showdowns begin tonight at 9:30 p.m. at Carolines. Will the fact that O'Reilly and Miele recently both taped Live At Gotham give them a competitive advantage? You'll just have to go and find out!
Prelims 7-8 of the Boston Comedy Festival contest had Rich Ceisler hosting and doing plenty of time both up front and between acts. At one point during Prelim 7, Ceisler decided to rip the Herald. “If it happened today, it’s news to us,” he said. Hey, Ceisler. Here’s something happening today: You’re not in the contest. So stop hogging the stage as if the judges will notice, and let the contestants get to their sets. And when you’re offstage, stop talking so loudly that the contestants can hear you. Just a thought. I could write an entire post about some of the varied hosting performances during this contest, but it’ll only keep you from what you’re really after. The recap!
Prelim 7 (in order of appearance):
1) Valarie Storm: With a few drunks sitting front and center, things could get ugly. They do, but not before Storm gets through her time, focusing on the funny relationship issues between men and women. Ho. Hum. But she gets props for timeliness by singing “The Divorce Song” for Whitney and Bobby.
2) Korte Yeo: A good bit on why black-out stories never have happy endings. The drunks up front start hearing things they feel they can relate to and respond to. Not a good thing.
3) Mary Beth Cowan: She has fun with the companywide e-mail, but a lot of her punchlines need a few seconds to get to the crowd’s understanding, which is not her fault (they just don’t get it), but it doesn’t help her cause this night.
4) Evan O’Television: Yes, he really did his “two-man” act in the contest. Yes, the audience had no idea what was going on. Yes, it still ended up being pretty funny. No, the audience and judges probably won’t give him high marks. Very meta.
5) Dan Hirshon: Gets the Tutko laugh early on, gets big applause from everyone at the end. In between, something seemed a bit off. Hirshon did win the Carnival Cruise contest the night before, though, so congrats still in order.
6) Dan Boulger: Notes that exclamation points are for lazy writers. But he’s really funny! Boulger absolutely destroyed! Strongest set of the night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
7) Brian Joyce: Said he couldn’t bring a newspaper on the plane last month, and wondered if the terrorists were MacGyver. Wait. No newspapers?!
8) Pete Johansson: Comes up to a completely cold stage and immediately ramps up the intensity, working the crowd, working it hard, riffing away. Another comic wonders if he has material. Does it matter? He did well. Turns out he’s also ramped-up offstage.
9) Peter Tudosio: How old is that mug shot on the Festival site? The Romanian keeps saying “you a hip crowd,” “nice crowd” even though they’re not really hip to his act, since it’s not hip. He rips Yakov Smirnoff. What a country.
10) Jason Lawhead: Panders to the crowd with pro-Red Sox jokes, but turns out he’s from Cleveland. What’s up with that hat? Why is it so quiet? Must be the hat.
11) Vargus Mason: Finished second in the San Francisco contest, which means he’s due for fame and fortune (see Robin Williams, Dane Cook). The theatrical training shows.
12) Steve Brewer: Married with kids and not happy about it. Funny bit about turning his nagging kid into a human snooze button. Angry but funny.
And your prelim 7 winners: Dan Boulger and Vargus Mason. No complaints here. Honorable mention from me to Pete Johansson.