Here were your final results from the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival contest, decided last weekend...
1. Dwight Slade ($5,000); 2. Andrew Norelli ($2,500); 3. Myq Kaplan ($1,000); 4. Dave Waite ($300); 5. Baron Vaughn ($300); 6. Joe List ($300); 7. Rob O'Reilly ($300); 8. Mario DiGiorgio ($300)
How did this happen? Well, let's examine the particulars. The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston didn't have its usual packed audience -- my memory tells me that festival organizer Jim McCue (who hosted the finals) had a sure-fire headliner in past years with Lewis Black (whom McCue sometimes opens for on tour) to fill the seats, and without that (The Smothers Brothers were the biggest name on Saturday night), the venue didn't even open the balcony. So you've got comedians used to smaller, more intimate club stages moving up to a big theater stage, except they're playing to a half-house (essentially). So you're playing to the orchestra level and a mezzanine. How do you translate your jokes to a mezzanine? There's that to consider. Also, they put the judges in the Muppet seats (as judge/honoree Steve Sweeney remarked) above the stage and near the speakers, where the acoustics were, well, terrible.
As for the performances themselves, I'm not surprised in the slightest at the top three -- Slade, Norelli and Kaplan performed at a higher level than the other five finalists. Those three could have finished in any order and not surprised me. That's how close they were. In the end, however, Slade owned the stage in a way the others didn't, and that most likely gave him an edge on the judges' scorecards.
There's an old saying that goes, if you can't stand the heat, then don't become a firefighter. Likewise, if you don't like being judged, then please don't become a stand-up comedian, because you're judged immediately and continuously by every audience you see in the darkness under the glare of the spotlight. And certainly, obviously, do not enter a comedy competition, because that's just inviting constructive criticism, and scores, and rankings. If you've read all of that, and still want to compete against other stand-up comedians in a truly arbitrary and subjective manner, then go for it! Did I mention you may face a cold 7 p.m. crowd? Or that your microphone may go out at any time, and perhaps several times, during your 8-minute set? Alrighty then! Let's proceed with the first half of the semifinals in the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival contest!
Semifinal #1, advancing to the Finals at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Cutler Majestic Theatre with the Smothers Brothers and qualifying for a share in $10,000 in prize money...Myq Kaplan and Joe List!
As he did in the prelims, Kaplan proved his stage smarts by opening with callbacks to the other performers, and no one could deny him a chance to move up from 2007, when he was runner-up in this contest. As for List, wow, this guy has become so much more confident in his persona onstage than he was even six months ago when he taped Comedy Central's Live at Gotham. Even knocking his glasses off didn't faze him. "That's jokes 6, 7 and 9. I didn't anticipate that last one. That was 2-for-1, because it was physical." At another point, he directed his attention to a front table of attractive women: "I don't care about the contest. I just want to have sex with one of you three." Well, List, you still made it to the finals.
Which means Sean Sullivan just missed out. The judges told me they also particularly liked him. Not that they hated everyone else (although I can tell you that they really didn't like a couple of the acts -- you can decide among yourselves who those fellas might be and lose sleep over it, if you'd like, but if you ate it and/or turned the crowd off, it might be you). Just that Sullivan would have advanced if they had three spots.
The second semi-final gave me an idea...
You've all been waiting for this (sorry about the wait), it's the two final preliminary competitions in the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival contest, so let's get to recapping...
When Bowers took the stage, he joked about being the fourth consecutive black stand-up comic in this round, as well as how Obama is a much better presidential option than the Rev. Al Sharpton. A set routine about his grandmother's fanciful stories managed to take a localized turn into a tale of her stripping at the Boston Tea Party. Another bit, about this summer's salmonella scare, he took as a plot to get rid of Mexicans, and demonstrated it by replacing salmonella with X food to get rid of Y races. Closed with married role-playing and an act-out of the LAPD.
Campbell had "bitten the bullet" by going first, but the Minnesota comic -- who started out a bit too loud -- got some energy in the room with bits about an encounter with a woman in the bathroom that turned steamy, buying a gun and reporting it to the cops during a traffic stop, showering for a ghost, and the dangers in feeding a bear. Unlike many comedians of her size, she never acknowledged or poked fun at her own expense. That probably scored extra points with the judges.
Waite, who attended college in Kentucky, joked about his geography degree makes him a dumb-ass: They already have maps! Cue the many many asides! Shazam! (He never said shazam, but said plenty in between every joke that piled up the style and attitude points) Hasslehoff. Internet porn. Pee-wee football. As he said to the ladies in the audience at one point, "Buckle up, it's creepy time!" He got solid laughs from the audience and comics alike.
Thomas talked about the differences between broke and being "working people broke." His opening premise, about how men and women describe getting married, may have been a little tired. But when he started joking about his money woes, he got some momentum going his way. Closed with a funny but true notion of how critics make Obama seem dangerous. Example: "Did you know he fathered two black children?"
From those who did not advance: Shawn Banks seemed very likable, but the crowd was slow to get on board. Andrea Henry's dry sense of humor suffered with her slot in the lineup. Jay Black had a very solid bit analyzing the importance of America finishing 27th in math, while Bangladesh apparently is tops in that subject.
OK. Moving on...