Not all contest preliminary groups in the Boston Comedy Festival are created alike. That's the first thing that has to be said for prelims 3-4 last night. In the late show, you could make a case for at least eight of the 12 comedians to make it through to the semis, but there only were slots for four. As for the early show, well, that was a tougher show to grade, because quite a few comedians were off. Andrew Norelli, going up seventh in the order, used this as his opening remark to the audience at the Hard Rock Cafe: "I know we're making it look like it's not fun, but it's fun!" Also, each of the first four prelims has proved problematic for comedians attempting to deal with the wireless microphone -- grabbing it from the stand, at least one comic per group manages to turn the mic off, and thereby momentarily derailing their sets. Tech proficiency can be just as important in delivering and connecting with the audience. Please make a note of it. Thanks. With that, let's get to who advanced and why...
Norelli acknowledged the early roughgoing and proceeded to get the audience on his side by talking about steroids in baseball, and how other drugs might make it better. A routine on massages went from happy endings (predictable) to massage talkers and the inanity of the phrase, "Push the stress out your arms." He also has a good retort to porn stars who claim they don't know who he is as a comic, as well as people who claim they're broke but still have plenty of money.
Dustin opened with a passing remark to the stage: "Nice ramp. I would've brought my wheelchair if I had known." Tonight's show had plenty of comics noting their surroundings, by the way. But no one else in the contest had to deal with waitresses dropping the checks during their contest set. Dustin still managed to get their attention by talking about vibrators -- "OK, the lonely girl has spoken!" Dustin noted in reference to one shouty audience member -- and jokes about sex and work and things you don't want to hear in bed. I'd heard it all before. It still worked.
Hunter could have had a terrible set by opening rather loud on the mic, but once he focused his routine on one lengthy bit about the many enticements and redeeming qualities he offers the ladies -- namely, everything they tend to like and act like -- got his vocal delivery in a more appealing rhythm that worked. "I'll be by that instrument after the show," he said, in case you wanted to take him up on that offer. Good luck.
O'Reilly also overcame a mistaken gametime decision. For reasons only he can explain, he decided to stop his routine in the middle to engage in crowd work with retired women in the front table. Crowd work that didn't go anywhere. And this was in the middle of O'Reilly joking about sex. His jokes about being a bastard do provide him with a solid line, however, that he can use for callbacks and laughs.
Others in this group deserving mentions of one sort or another: Jono Zalay wore an American flag sweater but didn't explain it, instead delivering a routine about feeding cocaine to rats and monkeys (it's for his studies). Dustin Chafin was rough around the edges, which works better in NYC where he lives now than in the Hard Rock in Boston (especially with the retired ladies up front), and went with midgets, redneck jokes, Bush is dumb, and a good line about how Obama can look more patriotic (hint: Apollo Creed). "Yay!" may not be the most effective catchphrase to utter every 15 seconds. "Big" Alvin David and Kendra Cunningham both had a fun presence, and plenty of crowd support, but couldn't translate that into winning sets. Shawn Donovan picked his doctor just for the name and comedy premise alone, but needed to sell it better. I can see why Myq Kaplan liked Donovan's style (Donovan even borrowed Kaplan's phrase and inflection to deliver one punchline?!).
OK. Moving on...
Jim Tews is a stand-up comedian from Cleveland looking to take the next step in his career, and this online video series with HBO Labs called "The Opener" documents that process. Sort of. Not really. But it's a funny look inside the comedy world, with episodes featuring Ian Bagg, Jen Kirkman, Maria Bamford and others. Ian Bagg gave Tews fashion advice. Maria Bamford reveals the secret to finding success is a straight line. Jen Kirkman took time during her Cleveland visit to explain the L.A. comedy scene. Today's episode has him struggling with the idea of adding a guitar to his act. Enjoy this typically deadpan look at how Tews attempted to get stage time in Los Angeles with the Walsh Brothers:
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.