Someone asked me if going first in a contest meant certain elimination. That entirely depends upon a few factors, such as: How proficient your host is in warming up the audience and getting them to laugh, what time your show starts (the later, the better, it'd seem), and how quickly you can get an audience to laugh. In the first two nights of prelims during the Boston Comedy Festival contest, the comic who drew the first slot advanced from each of the later shows, but not from the earlier shows. On night three? Foreshadowing. Or not.
Kaplan knocked his set out from the start, riffing callbacks on pretty much everyone who went before him, starting by announcing: "I'm also 1/2 white...and the other 1/2 white as well." Then landing a joke that combined "baloney pony" and "rapex" before going into his own, already-strong routine, closing by putting his wordplay to extended play on the word, "boobies." Hooray-bies! No doubt as to whether he'd advance.
Lewis, by the way, was one of several biracial comics of the black/white variety to perform this week (and the one Kaplan was calling back to), which, you might think, could be of benefit to Obama's candidacy if somehow all of these comedians could help him. Anyhow. Got off-topic for a sec. He joked about how blacks run everything in Alabama, and how people mistake him for Mexican. I don't think Mexican jokes work as well in Boston, just because the Latino influences here aren't from there. But it didn't hurt his score.
Hawkins wasn't shy about announcing he was the only Canadian competing. The start of his set took a similar reversal of gender roles pattern that Eric Hunter used to score victory the previous night (an almost completely different set of judges, though, and no, I was not among them), joking about how women act in the dance clubs. Halfway through, he shifted to cat territory, and how he's not good with felines, with a lengthy act-out that had you thinking, where's the Meow Mix? Earlier this summer, Hawkins, from Edmonton, won the "Homegrown Comic Competition" at Montreal's Just For Laughs.
Boeh avoided making a joke of his name (Ty Boeh) because, well, he had just come back to Boston from winning the first week of prelims in the San Francisco Comedy Competition, and he has other jokes in his arsenal. Such as a guy pimpwalking on a treadmill. Or a local slogan for Harpoon beer. But the real feature of his routine on this night would be beatboxing and noisemaking, with big sound effects on having sex with women of the black and tracheotomy variety. I discussed this with another comedian last night, and it's one of those things that can divide comics in a contest when you see a competitor who closes with beatboxing or singing or playing an instrument. They almost always get a huge crowd response. Is that a bad thing? Depends upon whether you feel the point is telling jokes, or getting laughs. Whatever works, right? This is a debate we can have sometime down the road.
The rest of this group suffered some bad breaks. Liz Miele never had a chance going first, as the host had bombed. Maggie MacDonald, going second, had Miele warming them up, but her strong set based on her veterinary job apparently still not enough. Could it have been too sexual? Who knows. I wasn't judging this night. Joe Vespaziani, going third, had a brilliant set, so what happened there? I'd thought he was a cinch to advance, with jokes about turning 40, watching porn with the closed-captioning, body pillows, untying a vasectomy and more. He got robbed. And I'm not just saying that because I competed with him 10 years ago in the 1998 Seattle Comedy Competition. Ira Proctor managed to pop the microphone, which got him off on the wrong foot, which in turn, only plays into his onstage humorous rage. And Ms. Pat came a long way from Indianapolis to tell us about where her daughter puts her Oreo cookie crumbs (!).
OK. Moving on...
The inaugural Great American Comedy Festival got under way last night with an amateur stand-up contest in Norfolk, Neb., hometown to the late Johnny Carson. Eddie Brill, David Letterman's comedy guy, is coordinating the effort, and we all know how Letterman felt about his late-night TV mentor. Robert Klein is set to perform Saturday night along with Brill and the winner of the following...
There's also a competition featuring 24 comics from around the country, with $5,000 going to the winner. Participating: Jesse Joyce, Vince Maranto, Micah Sherman, Matt Braunger, Roy Wood Jr., Erin Jackson, Joe DeRosa, Chuck Bartell, Chris Coccia, Deacon Gray, Robert Mac, Jamie Lissow, David Powell, Paul Varghese, Drake Witham, Myq Kaplan, Joe Klocek, Shane Mauss, Tapan Trivedi, Jim McDonald, Dan Boulger, Marianne Sierk, James Smith and Darryl Lenox. They'll be split into four groups, with two of each six advancing to the finals, all needing to deliver TV-friendly sets. Each night also features a late show hosted by David Reinitz.
Prelim 4 is when everything you thought you knew about the Boston Comedy Festival contest went out the window and onto the bricks and cobblestones below. A much stronger field of contenders — perhaps five or six of the 12 comics could’ve landed the two semifinalist slots. And yet. Well…let’s go to the recap.
In order of appearance:
1) Jim Tews: Remarks on his Coast Guard past and how that’s not exactly the best thing to have on his resume. Has interesting uses for the memo line on checks. Being poor is the difference between bologna and ham. “Bologna tastes like failure.” Closes with a letter he wrote to cigarettes not long after quitting smoking. Understated, but quite funny.
2) Stewart Huff: Looks like a mini-Me Mitch Hedberg, but with a Tennessee drawl (and lots of other differences, but enough about that). His mic gets disconnected early on, which could spell trouble (they eventually trade out mics later in the show). Most of his set revolves around hick gas stations — the “pump-n-munch” — but it’s a fully-formed, solid routine. A good start to the show.
3) Benjamin Roy: Drinking, jail, sex, in that order. It’s funny, yes, but too raw for this type of contest.
4) Danny Rouhier: If you go to his Web page, you’ll see a Current TV video titled: “Are you a hack?” Rouhier ends his set by mocking the Boston accent and its misuse of the letter ‘R.’ I’ll now refer you back two sentences.
5) Mike Baker: Apparently, Mike has sex on the brain. Audience members want to make out with him, but he’s married. With kids. And that’s a problem. Because they’re cockblockers. Can I say that on this blog? Can he devote almost his entire set to not having sex with his wife and make it to the semis? Stay tuned.
6) Adam Ginivisian: I can describe his set in one word. Emersonian.
7) David Powell: Wry observations, one after the other. Each one of them quite funny. The kind of set that wins comedy contests. And yet…
8) Brent Sullivan: Acts out a delightful scene depicting how you’d react to a raccoon in your trash can, and suggested an intriguing telephone game to try out. The game: “Who would you rather f—?” “Try to keep them on the phone for at least three names,” Sullivan advised. It was funnier than it looks here on non-paper.
9) Murv Seymour: Why is Sinbad cursing onstage? What, that’s not Sinbad. My sin. My bad. Otherwise good jokes about black people going to Denny’s, shark safety tips (in both cases, why? and why? respectively).
10) Kelly MacFarland: Gets an applause break for her bit on running. Infectious personality. Funny stuff. Like I said, this judging will be interesting. Afterward, her quote to me: “Kelly MacFarland was funny, in a kind of cutesy way. And she had nice hair.”
11) Bob Gautreau: Calls himself an “impressionist,” which is another of the most overused, misused phrases in comedy, if not the world, since he is an impersonator. Monet was an Impressionist. Gautreau impersonates Robert DeNiro AND Sylvester Stallone. Can you believe that? Wow. I’m going to stop now and let Mike Baker take over: “If Kelly and I lose to Bob Gautreau, I’m going to…” Let me stop Baker right there, since he has eaten those words.
12) Tim Kaelin: Devotes almost his entire set to drinking and driving. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
For time-killing, Mr. Juston McKinney. Good stuff from the former Mainer. Although, as my memory recalls, in 2002 in Aspen, he won the festival prize for cleanest stand-up. Times have changed.
The judges have tallied the scores. Your prelim 4 winners, Huff and Gautreau. May I refer you to my first-night remarks on comedy contests and judging. Thank you.