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...
Someone decided it was hot enough in here to buy some ice cream treats, stay home, and get giggly with it tonight. OK. Fine. It was so hot in NYC today that my brain obviously isn't working, so maybe the mush of the TV will make everything right in the world again. Either that, or Craig Robinson and a kitty cat will tell me it's time for the first part of the semifinals of season seven of NBC's Last Comic Standing. Finally we're getting somewhere. UPDATED: Now with video clips!
Are you ready for your first semifinalist, Myq Kaplan? I put the comma in the wrong place there, because he is more than ready, he is already done because this was a taped performance. Don't call in with your votes just yet. Kaplan is feeling bookish this evening, telling us about books, movies, and movies about books. Kaplan also is the first, at least if we're presuming they haven't edited the placement here, to have to deal with the hyped-up live audience at the Alex Theater in Glendale, Calif. Judges Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Andy Kindler all have nice things to say about Myq Kaplan. Kindler says Kaplan "absolutely killed" which means he lost the pool? "I can't think of a funnier line in comedy than Brad Pitt is in this book." And we're getting judges notes, as if it really is going to be the American Idol version of LCS. Then again, we did hear judges give notes to comedians during the semis in previous seasons, so maybe it's just time for a commercial break. Any predictions? I have one!
Jamie Lee is up next, and she admits backstage that she is terrified about being seen by millions on the TV. Too late! You're on TV! Lee gets whoops from audience members when she says she's originally from Texas, but wants to joke about her model roommate in NYC. Lee also mentions dating a comedian, and knowing it's bad when even their inside jokes were bombing. (Note: Lee already has told me that her jokes about her comedian ex are not really about her comedian ex, for those of you who were thinking about someone specific just then). Leggero says Lee has "huge potential," while Giraldo says it wasn't her best set. Based on these notes, you could swap them out with Idol, couldn't you? You could. You could.
Mike DeStefano wants to be so good, the audience sets the place on fire. I'm not sure that would actually be a good thing, but it makes for a soundbite. DeStefano jokes about how everyone in his neighborhood was Italian, including the old Chinese guy and the young black kid. Did you know that Italians shrink and get mean when they get old? This audience is so hot, they're hooting and handing out applause breaks for everything. DeStefano keeps saying "thank you, thank you" like a politician trying to get back to his stump speech. Because he wants you to know how he deals with pretty ladies. Kindler finds him "hilarious" and could not criticize any portion of his set. "And you have screamers," Leggero added. She asks about his Jesus tattoo, and DeStefano corrects her: "It's Jim Caviezel."
In real life, maybe you audition a few months ago for a comedy competition that's going to be televised everywhere in America and beyond. Maybe your audition goes well. Maybe it goes well enough that you get asked to perform again at a live audience showcase, and then that goes well enough that you receive a red-ticket envelope to perform again in Hollywood. So maybe, just maybe, you're excited to see yourself on television and so are your friends, family and loved ones. So what happens when you and they turn on the TV and, an hour later, are wondering, did we and they blink and miss you? Hold that thought.
Because we're living by TV producers' rules. And in Last Comic Standing's seventh season, even when they say it's not business as usual, it's still show business. Last week, they edited the New York City auditions together to allow some comedians to get better treatment than they should have, while putting others in the background to tease you. What's doing for round two in NYC?
Well, first, host Craig Robinson tells us what happened previously on LCS, which was that nine comedians received tickets to the semifinals. Wait a minute! Nine??? That cannot be right, no matter how you edit it, because they let 12 people through on the night I watched live and in person, and apparently another 12 in the other showcase, so already, you and I know that there are going to be some comedians who were happy a few months ago, but who are going to be much less happy tonight.
Cue the actual and the artificial tension!
Brian McKim -- for people born before the Y2K bug wiped out the first version of the Internet, you may know him as "The Male Half" of Shecky Magazine -- gets the first uncredited one-liner of the evening, followed by a montage of comedians we should expect to be seeing later in the hour. By the way, if anyone has been watching all of the pre-season promos, Robinson is sneaking in his proposed catchphrase mantra for the season: "Be about it!"
We officially start the night off with Jerry Rocha, from Dallas, who says he has been a professional stand-up for eight years, and vows to hug anyone and everyone if he doesn't advance. He jokes with the judges about his racist uncle who doesn't quite get racial jokes. Our judges are given the superimposed title of "Comedy Jurist" this evening, which sounds much more foreboding than before, when they were judges. Now they're judges and jury? Me no get it. But me still likey Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, so me no stop recapping. Calise Hawkins apparently is from Illinois (I know her as a Jersey girl, where she lives now, while you simply know her as a single mother with a big Afro!), and she takes us into her home with her daughter, and how adorable are they? Kindler isn't a big fan of her material about a homeless guy on the subway, but he and Giraldo both think she's a good performer, and Leggero enjoyed it, so Hawkins gets another chance to perform. Mike Vecchione jokes about his New York City cop look, and I know and you know and we know that he is funny, and even Leggero, who happened to see Vecchione the other night at the Comedy Cellar agrees. Who wants a pretzel?
Zed is the future of stand-up comedy? Somebody better tell Ron Lynch about this competing comedy robot. "Is this a character you're doing?" Giraldo asks. A woman has a whip on the sidewalk. For some reason. Kindler talks about clowns and jugglers, and jokes about all comedians starting out as novelty acts. You remember Lenny Bruce the sword swallower, right? Kindler prefers seeing a comedian sweat. Take that, deodorant ad!
Kyle Grooms doesn't have to worry about that. He did an Obama impersonation in the early TV ads for this season, and he does it for the judges, too. Giraldo says he is not a fan of impersonations but knows that that's not a big part of Grooms' act, so no worries. He's through.
Big weekends don't begin on Fridays, but rather on Thursdays, so that's how I found myself on a bus to Washington, District of Columbia, last week to arrive just in time for the kickoff of last weekend's DC Comedyfest.
Someone joked that night that D.C. really was hosting the Chicago and New York fest, due to all of the comedic talent arriving from those two cities, but I know I wasn't the only person excited to see the all-local District of Comedy showcase, as a few other industry types joined me in the DC Improv's lounge on Thursday night to check out some comedians we hadn't seen before. How would we know at the time -- how could we know? -- that this show would prove more worthwhile than the official industry showcase that followed on the Improv's mainstage later that night? But we'll get to that soon enough.
Jason Weems, from Baltimore, appeared on both the D.C. and industry showcases that night, performing essentially the same set twice, although he had the misfortune early in having to compete with a noisy waiter and an awkward atmosphere later. And, um, "scrotum meat?" OK. That's a phrase that certainly sticks with you...hope you didn't order the nachos. Also noticed his vocal delivery seemed to be influenced by Chappelle. Not that that's a bad thing. He's also all over that McCain joke about how his being a POW doesn't make him good at winning wars.
Aparna Nancherla claims she is an introvert, which is an odd-but-true trait for a stand-up comedian, but is quick to point out, "I watch, TV, too!" so you can relate to her. She has a good, strong stage presence. If only she hadn't gotten the silent treatment from Last Comic Standing this year, perhaps she would have been the first female winner?
Kojo Mante sees why it'd be foolish to endorse a national gas holiday, but has more to say about the foolishness of building a statue of a homeless guy, which apparently they've done there. Hampton Yount is one shiny, happy, white boy, and the audience loved his boyish boyishness (that's a not-so-hifalutin way of describing his energy), all the way through his closing bit about the energy you need to sustain to write an angry letter. Jay Hastings went to the trouble of wearing the same outfit he had on in the Post's Express spread on him, but apparently, people don't even read free newspapers in D.C. any longer. "You think when you make the Express you'd be on the showcase," Hastings ranted. Although his bit on fingering probably would not have worked there...trust me on this one. Jon Mumma closed the local parade by imagining "swirlio" guys at the gym doing calf raises, poking fun at a Brad Paisley lyric, and noticing the things kids can get away with that adults simply cannot. He sounded like a guy you hear on the radio.
So, yeah. About that "Fresh Voices Industry Stand-Up Audition Show." It'd be for the best if I left all of the names out to protect the innocent, but really, some things need to be said about this show, which went awry from the get-go and only barely got back on track for a moment or two. Comics were buzzing before the showcase about the fact that TJ Miller couldn't make it to D.C. to host because he was in New York City auditioning for Saturday Night Live (catching up with Miller later over the weekend, he said, well, perhaps I shouldn't say what he said because SNL is making final decisions this week on him and a few others as possible cast additions). But without Miller, the festival looked to Dave Hill to substitute as host. As much as I love Hill and his quirky sensibility, he's really more of an anti-host. It's more than fine when it's his own show, but he doesn't bring the kind of energy to the room that young comics looking for TV exposure are going to want or need. So that started the show on an odd foot. But Jared Logan, first up, made things terribly awkward by starting his showcase for the industry by verbally attacking Hill -- "Is that the host we're going with tonight?" -- and creating a mood where the audience was expecting a night of fights rather than laughs. Which leads me to another point of order. If you are performing for a panel of TV scouts (which this was, with people representing Letterman, Comedy Central, VH1 and E!'s Chelsea Lately), wouldn't you want to do material that you could imagine them delivering on the TV? As I texted someone later during the show: "Some odd choices to showcase yourselves to TV scouts. Crowd not great, but not their fault." Many in the lineup simply didn't bring the right stuff on this night. Kumail Nanjiani, or am I supposed to be calling him Ali now, went long but managed to engage the crowd and get everybody involved with the show again, leaving some scraps for the final two performers of the evening, Sean Patton and Brooke Van Poppelen. Patton got applause for his bit about calling in sick, and Poppelen found more than a few fans with her thoughts about brunch. You know what? It is for the best to leave out the other names from this showcase, because they'll have better opportunities to shine in the future.
On a brighter note, I managed to get some sleep on the Greyhound bus back to New York City on Friday morning without losing my head. So hooray for that.