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.
OK. So we've had more than a few weeks now of this silly little Last Comic Driving contest, and it's time to spill some beans. For one thing, anyone else consider it odd that NBC put the first contestant, Andrew Norelli, up on Hulu, but no one else? Conspiracy? Or did they just think, er, maybe no one wants to see this again?
So far we've seen Andrew Norelli, Whitney Cummings, J. Chris Newberg, Jacob Sirof, Alycia Cooper and Eddie Pence take the not-so-hot seat in the Honda Pilot. In the back seats, it's often hard to even hear what's going on in the front. How do they fix this? Well, first off, the pay the passengers. Sure, you guessed that part already, didn't you? I read online elsewhere that someone thought the other contestants were the passengers. Oh, what misery that would be. No, no. You shall pay me to sit in a car and listen to multiple takes of comedy. Also, you shall put this car on a trailer, because I don't trust Brit lady to drive and talk and look at the camera at the same time. I like Brit lady. I really do. But, no driving in Los Angeles, please. In that case, why don't you just park the car for a while? OK. Done. And, well, how are we supposed to hear what you're saying with the air conditioning on? Alrighty then. Turn it off. That sounds like fun. I hope you're not sweating too much back there in the back-back seats. Oh, you are? We're not going to pay you extra for that. Sorry. This is so much more horrible than the last parallel online contest the show ran, and yet, well, someone will win $10,000, so at least one of the comedians will have something happy to remember from this miserable experience. Four more contestants to go...
Welcome to the first half of the semifinals in Las Vegas, the night when Dan Naturman gets the shaft for a second time on Last Comic Standing -- spoiler alert!!! -- where we see if Bill Bellamy tell jokes, and because he has had a career as an MTV VJ, parts in big crappy movies, and tours the nation as a stand-up, you'd expect him to, so he does tell jokes for at least a tight minute before introducing our judges, who are, wait for it, Richard Belzer and Steve Schirripa, aka the guys in New York City who hated a lot of great comedians. Great. Just great. We know we're in Vegas because of the showgirls who perform at the Paris casino/hotel. OK. Enough already. We're going from 16 semifinalists to five finalists. Same thing next week. So here we go!
Adam Hunter from New York stretches a lot backstage. The producers evidently want us to see that. He says: "I know for a fact I will make everyone laugh." Hunter is rather loud. Is this because he wants to make sure everyone in the theater hears him? Makes a dig at Asians in porn, followed by Mardi Gras in the Middle East. Jokes about living in L.A., where even the homeless are in the biz. As Schrippa notes, even though some jokes don't hit, Hunter gets a lot of jokes out in his short time. But they show him getting a partial standing ovation from the audience and kind words from the judges. So that's all you need to know for now.
Phil Palisoul from Denver. He makes a bidet joke, but not the one you're thinking of. Notes how people would never act the way they do walking as they do when they drive. But. No standing O shown. No words from the judges heard. Uh-oh.
Jeff Dye from Seattle. Actually, Kentwood High School, as his people told me via email earlier this week. Same fluorescent T-shirt? Lucky T-shirt? He jokes about doing ecstasy while working out. Applause break for a joke about women wondering why people are staring at them when they have "juicy" written on their butts. More jokes about the gym and workout machines, and Dye goes straight at the judges. Dye gets interviewed by the Brit lady. This, plus the emails I got telling me to watch Dye in the semis, tell me and you all we need to know.
Erin Foley says it's time for a woman to win this competition. Bellamy bills her as another New York City comedian. She auditioned in Los Angeles. Anyhow. She has a baby shower to go to, but there's a lot of different kind of juices to consider. Her dictionary jokes aren't getting big laughs. A bit about being a sideline reporter for football telecasts. No big faces or energy? What gives? Did someone tell her to hold back?
Dan Naturman. Here we go, people. A nod to his Connecticut roots. He does his bit about Internet dating and photos. Prescription drugs. He ends his routine mid-joke. They laugh. I laugh. It doesn't matter, people.
Another installment of...LAST COMIC DRIVING! This week, Jacob Sirof gets the hot seat. Eh. I have more to say about this in another post.
Ooh. It's the Israeli Carrot Top (Bellamy even says so!) Lioz Shem Tov, or as Bob Biggerstaff likes to call him, Mozel Top! Anyhow. Carrot Top has a standing gig in Vegas, so you'd think Mozel Top would do well, too, right? He shows us Mickey Mouse ears on Viagra, a turtle, Spider-Man cutting himself shaving, a long bit that's PC-based. Oooh. We go back to the judges. "It wasn't typical jokes," Belzer says. "There's no rhyme or reason to what you were doing, but it was funny," Schirripa says. Hard to tell, people. The Brit lady is starting to grow on me. Maybe it's her kindness. Just as likely it's her sexy outfits.
Dale Jones is from Nashville. I sense he'll have some funny voices and faces, just by looking at his face. He starts out with big energy to play to the big room. Gets an applause break for acknowledging that he is "the strange on the road." Well, he didn't pee his britches or nothing.
Erin Jackson from Washington, D.C., just got a second-place cash prize at the festival in Nebraska, so we know she can do a short TV-friendly set. Jokes about how being a comedian actually should make her better marriage material. Black stereotypes, and the Tooth Fairy are also targets. So far, so good.
After another break and some onstage foolishness that we don't quite get to see, the Brooklyn Christian acoustic duo known as God's Pottery takes the stage. Only time for one song, and they pick their ditty about premarital sex, "The Pants Go Off When The Ring Goes On." Both judges say how they believe the guys and think it's not an act anymore. Wink. Wink. I already know they're through, and now so do you.
Ron G. auditioned in L.A., but he's from Atlanta, and he talks about how it's tough to hold onto a job, even a one-day assignment. He has a special voice he uses when he's in trouble...do you?
Drennon Davis, with a South Lake Tahoe residence listed, comes out without the uke or a guitar. So no songs tonight. Will this work? First joke, not so much. Vegas joke, better. Davis does some beat-box rapping, though. Um, yeah.
Winston Spear we saw in the initial previews standing outside in the snow saying he was going to be the last comic standing, and I certainly didn't believe him then. But then again, here he is in Las Vegas in the semis. So it's possible. He has won big comedy awards in Canada. Can he win here? A funny time-machine joke. Schirripa doesn't get his twitching and everything else. Hmmm.
Shazia Mirza, aka the British Muslim lady we've seen on 60 Minutes, jokes about her background. OK when you only have three minutes. Makes me wonder what her longer set sounds like. She tells the Brit lady she wouldn't want to do this again? Well, the producers certainly can make that not happen.
Englishman Paul Foot says he has never been to Vegas before, so hooray for that, and he starts with a bit comparing his skills as a lover with his skills as a driver. Why must cakes always be described as moist? Good question. And with that, I'm hitting my space bar wherever I may choose.
How many commercial breaks will there be, anyhow???
Andi Smith says what you really need to know about being on Last Comic Standing and winning, is that it means clubs will book you as a headliner knowing you'll "put butts in seats." She's from St. Louis, but she has performed in West Virginia for a crowd of eight, and had a funny joke or two or three about that. She clearly is not worried about offending anyone. Even in Vegas. Fearless or crazy?
The Meehan Brothers from San Francisco also could be described as fearless and crazy. Because this bit relies solely on one of the brothers and his physicality. Actually, I'm going to chalk this up more to crazy than fearless.
And your first group of finalists, moving into a house in Hollywood, are...Adam Hunter! God's Pottery! (I love how they kept up their goofy grins throughout the dramatic lighting sequence) Ron G! Wait. Only two tickets left? Oh, right. Paul Foot! Jeff Dye!
Obviously, Naturman should have made it through. Again. No fussing this time around. An interesting decision to move a parody duo into a stand-up competition, but the boys are funny. Including Foot allows you to say you're international. Dye represents youth. Well. There we have it. Next week, the other half gets cut down to size.
OK. They just ended with an "in memory" card to George Carlin, which, sure, Carlin has done so much for comedy, but if you're really going to honor him, you need to start making this show about finding the next great original inspirational stand-up, OK? Alrighty then.
ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT?! Yes, indeedy...
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.
This is an early review! HBO just taped four episodes of a new stand-up showcase, Down and Dirty with Jim Norton. It'll air this fall (update! debut is midnight Oct. 4, with other episodes premiering Oct. 11, 18, and 25) They taped two episodes last night and two tonight at the BergenPAC in Englewood, New Jersey. At last night's tapings, things got, well, down and dirty.
Al Jackson, who I'm watching on Last Comic Standing as I type this, deserves special honors for his work warming up these rowdy crowds. He got some serious laughs and comedy points during the intermission between shows (an intermission that didn't allow the crowd to move) with material about being a teacher and a story involving his first trip to Starbucks.
Fans literally lined up around the block in this suburban Jersey town for the shows, which Norton promoted on his MySpace and via the Opie & Anthony show. Did I mention the crowds were rowdy? Alrighty then. I still haven't gotten full confirmation from HBO on this, but the first night's shows sure seemed like a suburban, white, rock version of Def Comedy Jam. Norton hosts all four shows and does about five to six minutes upfront, and there's a special podium set up for Lemmy from the band Motorhead, who introduces Norton and contributed the theme song. The fans clearly were on board with Norton from the get-go, welcoming him with a standing ovation.
In the first show, Norton opened with a funny bit about our past and present New York governors and their sexual tendencies. Russ Meneve came out first, and when some guy in the audience shouted out during Meneve's first bit, I got more than a bit worried that this crowd wouldn't know how to behave at a TV taping. They settled down, though. And they laughed and laughed. They gave Meneve an applause break when he joked that his last four girlfriends had died in sailing accidents. They continued laughing throughout the night. Joe DeRosa, whom I first encountered opening for a rowdy audience waiting for Dave Chappelle, certainly held his own with an opening bit about what life really is like for comedians on the road. Ari Shaffir went next, though, and attempted to steal the show when he ended his set with a joke about being ready for a blowjob anytime, demonstrating such by dropping his pants and his underpants for a full frontal moment. A moment that continued when he stood like that, then walked away with his pants still down. Hours later, Shaffir told me he didn't warn the HBO folks about his Full Monty moment, because he figured a warning might only result in HBO telling him not to do it. Then again, it is HBO. Moreover, he didn't really give them any chance to edit around his penis. So to speak. Let's see Carlos Mencia try to steal that bit. Norton's retort? "He looks like me, if I was taller and had a clit." Jim Jeffries got introduced as a special guest and had a funny opener about getting a ride home from an audition, followed by his story about coming down with a case of penis cancer. Audience naturally loved him. But they gave a standing ovation welcome to the first show's headliner, Andrew Dice Clay. Yep. He had his leather jacket, giant belt buckle, sunglasses and cigarette. No nursery rhymes. Instead, some different ancient premises that boiled down to dick jokes, black dick jokes (Siegfried and LeRoy???) that resulted in his philosophical outlook on how black men are ruining us. Or something like that.
The second show last night couldn't help but seem tamer. Norton opened that show with a few quick jokes about breaking up with his girlfriend (somehow Facebook alerted this to me first?!) before launching into his extensive breakdown of a video that I have seen (thank you, Joe Rogan?) of a man dying in Washington state a few years ago after allowing a horse to have sex with him. Indeed. I did say this show seemed tamer, though, and that was because the first few acts weren't quite as aggressive, even if they were still raunchy. Louis Katz introduced his own sex move, the Vengeful Louis, and closed with reasons why premature ejaculation is not necessarily a bad thing. Kevin Shea, introduced as Korean-born, also informed the crowd that he was college roommates with one of the YouTube founders-turned-billionaires. Jason Rouse, Canadian, living in England, started with a topic DeRosa had covered earlier but took it in a different direction. Rouse's jokes weren't just filthy but also somewhat misguided. After one joke, Rouse even said, "I know I'm going to Hell for that joke. But f#@k it, it's warm, and I'll know people there." Patrice Oneal closed out the second show with 15 minutes about how he's gotten creepy as he's gotten older. It's funny because it's true. But also because he's really not that creepy.
They filmed two more episodes tonight, with headliners Bill Burr and Artie Lange, and a lineup that looks more subversive (wish I'd seen that!) and includes Anthony Jeselnik, Whitney Cummings, Andy Andrist, Sean Rouse, Geoff Keith, Jacob Sirof and Jim Florentine.