The second "Women in Comedy Festival" kicked off last night in the Boston area, with shows continuing through the weekend at Improv Boston in Cambridge and Mottley's Comedy Club in Boston.
It could easily be another gimmicky thing. But to the credit of festival co-director Maria Ciampa and her fellow organizers, it's not. For one thing, it's not trying to exclude men. “The ‘women’ in Women in Comedy Festival refers to the fact that WICF is directed by, produced by, and features comedy by the ladies,” Ciampa says. “However, men do comedy too, and we don’t want to exclude anyone. The festival's mission is to create a forum for people to experience the comedic expression of women, see strong female performers and, most importantly, to entertain.”
So, yes, they've booked funny ladies such as Maria Bamford, Jackie Kashian, Bonnie McFarlane, Kelly McFarland and Giuila Rozzi, in addition to dozens of other comedians (including a few men) for stand-up, improv and sketch shows each night.
Bonnie McFarlane is currently filming a documentary about women in comedy -- I saw her and her husband, stand-up Rich Vos, interviewing Chris Rock for the project recently at the Comedy Cellar, and know she'll be working more on that this weekend. Here's an interesting shot Vos took of McFarlane earlier this week, when she donned a disguise as man to perform at Stand-Up NY. It'll be interesting to learn how the audience perceived her jokes as a man, compared to how they'd react to her as herself. But that's just one aspect of what it's like to be a woman in comedy.
Perhaps more important than the shows themselves are the workshops and the panel -- and even theWICF blog -- because that's where the women in comedy can truly celebrate and support one another.
Jane Morris, founder of the Second City ETC stage in Chicago, hosts an improv workshop on Friday.
On Saturday, Jackie Kashian talks about getting road work and dealing with bookers, Zabeth Russell helps you simplify improv scenework, Maria Bamford takes part in a free afternoon open mic, and a free panel discussion talks and takes questions about the comedy business.
On Sunday, Cameron Esposito leads a workshop on the confidence and skills women could use in starting a stand-up career, Giulia Rozzi leads a storytelling workshop, and Loretta LaRoche will talk about the business of comedy.
After all of this, we have come to this...the second semifinal round in Las Vegas, where another 16 stand-ups will be cut down to five (make that seven) finalists for the sixth season of Last Comic Standing. Time to deadblog it now! Esther Ku tells the NBC cameras if she makes the final five, she will cry onstage...so get ready for that in about two hours. Oh, look, little people impersonations of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Kiss. This should be a fun 118 minutes, right? Belzer and Schirripa are back as judges.
First up, Marcus. Adam Sandler and Al Pacino? More foreshadowing, people. Wait. What's this? A routine on the Willy Wonka movie being both great and scary. These are not celebrity voices, per se. Maybe this is how Marcus won the Seattle comedy contest last fall. Closes with a song suggesting the Oompa Loompas get sent for Britney Spears. Schirripa begs for impersonations. So we get: Christopher Walken. Out of all the ones to pick. Walken. Not that the audiences minds one bit as they're crazy for Marcus. Two standing ovations. One in. Who are the other four? Stay tuned. If you want to see 20 minutes of Marcus from the Seattle contest, then ta...da!
Dan Cummins is next, pre-show informing us how the power of primetime TV can turn his current fan base of about 40 per show into several hundred. He tells the audience he has "brought three minutes of great jokes." What tattoo would he get on his face? That's one of several premises that works.
Iliza Shlesinger is now billed as hailing from Dallas, which, considering she lives in L.A., is another sign that NBC (and perhaps Shlesinger) are marketing her for a wider audience. She says backstage she's here to win. Her MySpace profile says she is 25. That is young for stand-up comedy. Then again, I know at least one guy that young who already is brilliant. Just saying. Let's cut to a commercial.
Eddie Pepitone! Opens with a fairly ordinary yet relatable joke about being big enough that when he drops something, he now has to wonder whether it's worth trying to pick it up. He has two cats, and talks to them. He also gets heckled and wonders what it would be like if he got heckled by someone who really knew him. This bit I have seen him do and it is sublime. But is this enough? He'd certainly liven up the comedian house.
Papa CJ came all the way from New Delhi, India, to be here. He opens with an outsourcing joke. Take that, Americans! He directs one joke to a guy in the front row, getting into a crouch to deliver a comeback that wasn't prompted just so he can joke about Hindu reincarnation. Hmmm. OK. Backstage, he tells sparkly Brit lady that he had a lovely time. Lovely.
This week on Last Comic Driving, it's Erik Griffin! I believe I met him in Las Vegas last fall during The Comedy Festival. Not that you care. He's OK. It's not up to me. It's up to you kids and your secret online ballots.
Belzer and Schirripa loved Stone & Stone in the New York auditions. Will the love continue? There already is one duo in the house, and so I'm going to vote no. Even though the audience doesn't seem to mind the twins talking over each other all the time. But the cameras cut to a middle-aged guy with his arms crossed. Belzer reiterates his love for the fellas. So to speak.
This next person, Bellamy tells us, may be "the next great voice in comedy." It's Mary Mack. And no, fans of Maria Bamford, Mack and Bamford are not alike, just because their speaking voices sound that way. They are both great. But different. Bamford's voices help her tell her story. Mack is about off-kilter jokes. And musical instruments. "Rural is a word you can say both drunk and sober," Mack tells us. And she tells her mom: "If you didn't want me to be a comedian, you shouldn't have boozed it up in your fourth trimester!" Give it up for Mary Mack, everybody. Schirripa calls her "a great writer" but then says she makes him sleepy. Lasagna also has that effect on him.
Bob Biggerstaff is up next. He misses pagers. Who knew? He's not as much of a fan of the cummerbund. He's doing well, but the cameras aren't telling us that -- they're saying he's just doing OK, but not well enough for a slot in the house. "I killed it," Biggerstaff jokes as he walks offstage.
The next comic is desperate? That's what Bellamy says. It's Louis Ramey from Atlanta. The tallest man in Singapore. By the way, if you want to know who's still in the race for Last Comic Standing, a visit to their MySpace profile offers hints, such as, oh, they put Last Comic Standing in their titles and headlines. Now Ramey is doing the same jokes he did in his short routine in the New York City regionals. Which means he was right in the pre-show interview when he said he really, really wants to win. He will tell the jokes he feels he needs to get to the next level.
Sean Cullen also really wants to win. Well, don't they all, when it comes down to it? Cullen is Canada's last hope in this competition. He is not afraid to go after the "whatever happens in Vegas" slogan. And a song. About porn. Another comic who crouches down to play to the front row in a crowd of thousands. Interesting choice. But as I know and you know and now we know, Cullen played a big Vegas stage last fall for the Ellen Degeneres variety show that was part of The Comedy Festival.
John Evans from Minneapolis will prove to the kids that he really is a stand-up comedian. Even if someone thinks he looks like Count Chocula. He's married, so he doesn't really care what you think. Cut to cleavage! We'll be seeing him at breakfast, at least.
Heath Hyche describes his act as a one-man sketch energy show. He's got props, people. And voices. He told us he wants us to rethink what comedy is all about. Done. Belzer and Schirripa are not having any of it. We them shake their heads in shame. Don't they know Hyche appeared on the sketch TV version of Blue Collar TV? Belzer says he is "allergic to ethnic stereotyping in 2008." Wonder what he'll say after Ku's performance? Of course you do. You're spellbound at this point. But you'll have to wait through at least another commercial break, or two, or more.
Ku is next. Esther Ku to you. She opens by joking about how she can sleep in class and no one would know. Jokes about not being able to tell fellow Koreans apart. Hey, a joke about putting a "Made in Korea" sticker on her brother's butt isn't self-hating. A lot of guys want to buy her dinner. Would you? Schirripa would, although he deflects it to the crowd. Belzer reveals his crush. He says, if you make fun of your own ethnicity, it's cool by him. So that explains that. Wonder what he'd think of her black jokes?
Jackie Kashian cannot wait to use a big bag of money as a doorstop after she wins. She is not from Milwaukee, but from South Milwaukee. Make a note of it. She is mouthy because her parents were funny. As a kid, she wanted to be blind so she could get a dog. Want to know what her parents thought about that? You really should be watching the show. Her parents really do sound crazy. You'll have to wait to find out more about that, though.
Pete Lee moved away from the Midwest so he could go back to the Midwest and make it through to the semis in Las Vegas. I just heard Lee will get to do a half-hour Comedy Central Presents later this summer, so that's a consolation prize already (if he needs a consolation prize). Opens with jokes about his name as a car horn. Baseball. Sex in a car wash?
Lastly, Jim Tavare from the U.K., and he got decked out for this, in tails, with his big ol' bass. He can show you after, if you'd like. He was part of The Sketch Show, which means I probably even saw him back in 2002 in Aspen. But all of my memories of that are fuzzy. Belzer says "very, very good." Did you know Tavare had a TV show back in the day named for him that also featured Ricky Gervais? Now you know.
Which means one more break and we're ready to announce our final finalists, right? Right.
Moving on and moving into a house together in Hollywood...Marcus! Jim Tavare! Esther Ku! Papa CJ! Sean Cullen! There are two tickets left? Oh, OK then. Iliza Shlesinger! Louis Ramey! How very international, this group.
They join the other finalists: God's Pottery, Adam Hunter, Rob G, Paul Foot and Jeff Dye.
Coming soon: Yo Momma jokes in a boxing ring, silly outfits, Ku's laugh, challenges and more. Come back next Thursday!
So I'm at my college reunion, thinking to myself, is it wrong for me to miss the Hollywood episode of season six of NBC's Last Comic Standing, can it wait until I get back on Sunday or not, or would it be more wrong, as in wronger, to leave the reunion to watch this comedy cavalcade? About five minutes into watching it now, I'm wondering if it might have been a better idea to pretend this episode did not exist.
Not that I'm not entertained at times, or that I get to see some faces of funny people I've seen and crossed paths with before, mind you. It's just...well...good decision to air New York City first, even though Hollywood auditioned first. Our celebrity judges are Angela Kinsey and Oscar Nunez from NBC's The Office, and Angela is just adorable! First comic they let us see is Ron G, and after a predictable bit that combines relationship humor with sports, he gets a callback, followed by a quote from Oscar about how he doesn't like predictable jokes. So there. Dana Eagle is next and makes Angela LOL and makes Oscar growlOL, so she's good for tonight, too. Then...a guy with a house on his head who, over and over again, swears he doesn't want to be a comic. We get it. Go away. What's Melissa Tracy holding in her other hand? A sword? That's freaky. Angela gasps. You get a minute or two and you choose this? A montage of similar suckage follows.
Amber Tozer gets the first offstage interview treatment, and pitches herself as a combo of Punky Brewster and Avril Lavigne. So we should not be surprised to see her get a callback. Oh, so now they explain this "funny booth" business. Adam Richmond has a vibe that says to me, Los Angeles comic, can I get your attention, please? He does. For now.
Bill Bellamy is rapping, for some reason. But there's a tease of Eddie Pepitone, so there's that to look forward to.
Dos Spanish Flies...so, could we see an entire show of musical duo parodies? Maybe. There's a lot of this "funny booth" business with folks remaining unidentified. Chris Fairbanks not only gets an ID, but also a separate interview, and his confusion over circumcisions and handshakes wins over the judges. Jacob Sirof is a Star Wars geek complete with multiple tats, which apparently, is going to come into play? He explains he's a geek, not a nerd. Erin Foley. Where have I seen her before? Not at the locksmiths, that's for sure. Jackie Kashian moved to L.A. from Wisconsin, and as Bellamy explains, you cannot turn down a turtleneck. Can you?
After the break, lots of crazies. And then there's Eddie Pepitone! At yoga class! This could be a separate show, you know. Ruby Wendell introduces herself as awkward, but she's so huggable she gets a callback. Ben Gleib compares women with fire. Angela says yes. Oscar says no. Interesting. Lots of people already shown getting passed on to the night showcase. As Oscar explains on camera after they say no to one guy, Patrick Ford, who they only sorta like, it's tough to say no to those comics who are good but not good enough. So that explains it. Jennifer Murphy is wearing two shirts because she's nervous. She shouldn't be, because she makes it through.
And now, the other contest, Last Comic Driving presents...Whitney Cummings. She has jokes about weddings, which is peculiar because she's in a movie out now that revolves around a wedding! OK. Maybe that's not so peculiar.
The green room for the live performance showcase looks packed with comics. How long was that show? Up first, Ron G, who explains to the British lady co-host that it's like waiting in line for the roller coaster at Six Flags, lots of waiting for three minutes of thrills. Thugs who dance? Mexico must be empty? The audience liked him. Erin Foley saw a billboard reminding you that in Mississippi, statutory rape is a crime, and proves that maybe you shouldn't be "absolutely obsessed with customer service." Jacob Sirof rebounds well after a fat girls joke gets silence. Dana Eagle gets her thong joke on national TV. Jennifer Murphy shows her nervous energy, again in two shirts. Adam Richmond shows how texting and driving is even worse than drinking and driving. Into a commercial break, we see that even more people got callbacks. Wow. Anyhow...
Esau McGraw opens with a visual joke about his clothing, and talks about what to do with your dumb relatives. Amber Tozer explains how she could be a lesbian for an hour. Ben Gleib doesn't like how you can get STDs on the computer, and observes how girls can go wild. Who's this lady with a guitar? It's Meghan Hounshell, and her song has a slow build to the punch. Chris Fairbanks can foil identity thieves. Dos Spanish Flies...why are they supposed to be Spanish, again? But they sing about how they love to fart, and everyone laughs at fart jokes. Jackie Kashian's husband makes video games, and breaks down the different levels of men in "the dork forest." Avi Lieberman gets his first camera time now, and says only in L.A., would there be a sense of shame about having an actual job. He was an elementary school teaching assistant, so he's got jokes about kids. Ruby Wendell's mom is too supportive. Eddie Pepitone reads Walt Whitman to calm him before going onstage. Who knew? It doesn't look like it calms him that much this night.
Time for tickets to the semis...Erin Foley! (let's pause for a second to see folks assembled onstage who we never saw on camera before, such as Dwayne Perkins! Wil Sylvince! wait, there's a bunch of other folks up there...including a female Pee-Wee?!) Ron G! Eddie Pepitone! Only one ticket left...and it goes to...Jackie Kashian!
And now...Houston. Our judges are Alfonso Ribiero and Neil Flynn. I'm not overly optimistic, but you never know who they'll have audition here, so let's go to the tape. That Houston gets less time than Hollywood and opens with The American Doll isn't helping. Chris Voth dedicates his set to Marcel Marceau and wonders about a mime funeral and how coke dealers embrace the metric system, and gets a callback. Flynn has some interesting things to say about how you can be funny in the office or at home, but that don't mean you're going to be funny onstage. Paul Varghese jokes about love. Three comics get callbacks without us learning who they are. First off camera interview goes to a segment about working the road and hotel rooms, with Andi Smith from St. Louis. Why does Ribiero close his eyes when he laughs? Just curious. There's a guy doing a full-fledged Robin Williams impersonation, and we don't get to know who he really is, but he's not impressing the judges like Marcus did in Tempe, so that's a no. Keisha Hunt is a ghetto girl in the suburbs, and they like her but not her material, so we'll have to see what happens. We get to see some BBQ, then some more "funny booth" silliness. There's Sheyla Almeida, and she has giant breasts, and the fact that I recognize her from her multiple appearances on The Insider in search of even larger FFF implants says something about me and my failings as an individual. That she's on this show, too, just proves that she simply wants the attention that comes with a TV camera. That's why we see her dance. We never hear her tell a joke, however. Bob Biggerstaff is next up, and has a Lou Gehrig's disease joke that works. Ian Varella is a ventriloquist without a dummy. It's a magic trick. But they don't like him enough. There's a bunch of nothing, including a Mike Tyson impersonation. The Other Brothers are jugglers but not brothers. It's an act. Mark Agee's hometown is perhaps the last spot to get a Wal-Mart. Does announcing roller derby make for good comedy? On the tracks, yes. On this TV show? Danny Rios makes it work.
At the audience showcase, it's time for Billy D. Washington to be the first African-American Tarzan. Mark Agee jokes about vegetarians. Paul Varghese schools us on British Indian history, and how Indians learned to adapt. Andi Smith jokes about San Antonio. And other things. Saleem Muhammad tells us that Last Comic Standing is the place to be in stand-up comedy, and I'm fairly sure the producers are happy to hear him say that. Will the crowd enjoy Danny Rios? Seems like it. What about Sarah Tollemache? Where'd she come from? She jokes about Halo 2 and how it ruins relationships. Chris Voth claims that LCS is what The Tonight Show used to be for comedy, so take that, Leno! Keisha Hunt smokes weed. Bob Biggerstaff jokes about self-checkout at the grocery store.
Time for tickets to the semis...Andi Smith! Only one other ticket? Hmmm. Bob Biggerstaff!
Several cities still to come. Does this mean I can go back to my reunion? Yes.