Timing really can be everything. With this year's crop of New Faces at Montreal's Just For Laughs, that was most certainly the case on Wednesday night (aka the second of three nights for the two groups of hopeful stand-ups, but really the first (and maybe only) night to impress the agents, managers and comedy bookers arriving from New York City, Los Angeles and points beyond the Canadian border). It's more than just the timing of your jokes that matter. What time is your show: 7 p.m. or 9:15 p.m? Did your show start on time? Did you time it right to hit the right shuttle, and not get lost and find yourselves looking at the city's skyline from across the bridge? Where are you in the lineup? How far along in your career are you when you're faced with being a New Face?
And if you've been riding along with me for this lifetime comedy joyride for more than a New York minute, then you know some of these faces are not exactly new to you or me. So let us take all of this into account when processing what went down Wednesday night for our two groups of New Faces in Montreal's Cabaret Juste Pour Rire. (Pictured at right: Nick Vatterott) They'll all have one more chance tonight at New Faces (some will also be featured in other themed showcases around the festival).
Here is the list everyone in comedy has been waiting for the past year to see, your New Faces at the 2010 Just For Laughs Montreal comedy festival, performing for live audiences and the industry of show business tonight, Wednesday and Thursday...
"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?
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.