Advancing from last night's first semifinal of the 2009 New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest, please congratulate (in alphabetical order): Myq Kaplan, Gerald Kelly, Joe List, Matt McCarthy and Rory Scovel. They move on to the contest finals on Nov. 3 at Carolines, part of the New York Comedy Festival.
Eliminated in the semis: Josh Accardo, Vince August, Gina Brillon, Joey Gay, Jason Good, Eric Reynolds, Erik Rivera, Yamaneika Saunders, Dan Soder, Josh Spier and Reese Waters.
If you thought they'd cancel the Boston Comedy Festival because Myq Kaplan didn't make it through the first contest prelim (after almost winning in 2007 and 2008), then you might continue thinking that. But they held more prelim rounds last night, anyhow. Apparently. Word is only now just creeping in to HQ, and the judges picked these comedians to advance to semifinals later in the week:
For reference purposes, here is the full slate of participants in the 2009 Boston Comedy Festival contest.
Have you visited Jokes.com today? Comedy Central has revamped the site completely -- had you clicked over there even only yesterday, you would have faced a drab waste of a landscape of lame jokes, submitted anonymously from years ago, from a world in which all jokes are timeless, and yet somehow not able to be searched or indexed in any tangible way whatsoever. All of that is to say how bright and vibrant the new Comedy Central Jokes.com looks today. It'll take a while to sort through it all. For now, though, let me say that I clicked on a couple of sample comedians (Mike Birbiglia because I saw his face looking at me, and Carlos Mencia just to see what jokes Comedy Central would attribute to him!), and wonder if they paid someone to transcribe all stand-up comedy specials, CDs, and DVDs, and if so, how much one gets paid to do that (I'm available!).
Worth mentioning thus far: Why do Comedy Central sites often load a front page with auto-start videos? Not nice, Comedy Central. Particularly for those people who have jobs and are trying to see your funnies on the fly. Today's video features Dane Cook in all of his sweaty black wifebeater 2000 full physical glory. Also enjoyed how the comedians page on the site manages to promote not only Comedy Central's branded comedy tours and performers, but also up-and-comers such as my friends Dan Boulger and Joe List among the famous faces, podcasts, and tours.
Take a spin on the site and tell me your thoughts on the revamp!
Here were your final results from the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival contest, decided last weekend...
1. Dwight Slade ($5,000); 2. Andrew Norelli ($2,500); 3. Myq Kaplan ($1,000); 4. Dave Waite ($300); 5. Baron Vaughn ($300); 6. Joe List ($300); 7. Rob O'Reilly ($300); 8. Mario DiGiorgio ($300)
How did this happen? Well, let's examine the particulars. The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston didn't have its usual packed audience -- my memory tells me that festival organizer Jim McCue (who hosted the finals) had a sure-fire headliner in past years with Lewis Black (whom McCue sometimes opens for on tour) to fill the seats, and without that (The Smothers Brothers were the biggest name on Saturday night), the venue didn't even open the balcony. So you've got comedians used to smaller, more intimate club stages moving up to a big theater stage, except they're playing to a half-house (essentially). So you're playing to the orchestra level and a mezzanine. How do you translate your jokes to a mezzanine? There's that to consider. Also, they put the judges in the Muppet seats (as judge/honoree Steve Sweeney remarked) above the stage and near the speakers, where the acoustics were, well, terrible.
As for the performances themselves, I'm not surprised in the slightest at the top three -- Slade, Norelli and Kaplan performed at a higher level than the other five finalists. Those three could have finished in any order and not surprised me. That's how close they were. In the end, however, Slade owned the stage in a way the others didn't, and that most likely gave him an edge on the judges' scorecards.
There's an old saying that goes, if you can't stand the heat, then don't become a firefighter. Likewise, if you don't like being judged, then please don't become a stand-up comedian, because you're judged immediately and continuously by every audience you see in the darkness under the glare of the spotlight. And certainly, obviously, do not enter a comedy competition, because that's just inviting constructive criticism, and scores, and rankings. If you've read all of that, and still want to compete against other stand-up comedians in a truly arbitrary and subjective manner, then go for it! Did I mention you may face a cold 7 p.m. crowd? Or that your microphone may go out at any time, and perhaps several times, during your 8-minute set? Alrighty then! Let's proceed with the first half of the semifinals in the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival contest!
Semifinal #1, advancing to the Finals at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Cutler Majestic Theatre with the Smothers Brothers and qualifying for a share in $10,000 in prize money...Myq Kaplan and Joe List!
As he did in the prelims, Kaplan proved his stage smarts by opening with callbacks to the other performers, and no one could deny him a chance to move up from 2007, when he was runner-up in this contest. As for List, wow, this guy has become so much more confident in his persona onstage than he was even six months ago when he taped Comedy Central's Live at Gotham. Even knocking his glasses off didn't faze him. "That's jokes 6, 7 and 9. I didn't anticipate that last one. That was 2-for-1, because it was physical." At another point, he directed his attention to a front table of attractive women: "I don't care about the contest. I just want to have sex with one of you three." Well, List, you still made it to the finals.
Which means Sean Sullivan just missed out. The judges told me they also particularly liked him. Not that they hated everyone else (although I can tell you that they really didn't like a couple of the acts -- you can decide among yourselves who those fellas might be and lose sleep over it, if you'd like, but if you ate it and/or turned the crowd off, it might be you). Just that Sullivan would have advanced if they had three spots.
The second semi-final gave me an idea...
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...
As I mentioned this spring, part of the secret to Joe List's charm is his onstage nervousness, which goes against the grain of stand-up comedy in that normally, audiences are less likely to laugh when they sense the stand-up is nervous. But then you have a guy like List, who made his TV debut on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham last night. We've got two clips from that taping to share with you, but first, here was my interview with List right after he got offstage that night at Gotham:
You know Variety just named TJ Miller as one of its 10 comics to watch in 2008, and then I referenced a joke Miller has about ketchup bottles? Well, you are in luck, my fine readers, because Miller is featured on tonight's edition of Live at Gotham on Comedy Central. And here is the bit I'm talking about. Do you agree with me or with Miller? I won't be upset if you take his side. After all, "I live in a fanciful world where logic doesn't exist!" Also, this is a great time to remind you that I was at this very TV taping this spring and have exclusive behind-the-scenes video and info from this episode's comedians, including Matt McCarthy, Joe List, Na'im Lynn, Vince Averill and Lucas Molandes. More videos forthcoming later tonight. The show itself airs at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
The 2008 season of Comedy Central's Live at Gotham debuts the Friday after Memorial Day. But why wait that long for some deep dish insider exclusive scuttlebutt? Especially when we got plenty of bits of tid to share just from swinging by the tapings on Saturday and Sunday at Gotham Comedy Club.
Let's get to it! First off, don't be surprised if many of the guys have a similar look. It's not a new fashion trend in stand-up comedy for the summer/fall runways -- it's a Comedy Central/Levity edict: No red, no patterns, no logos. Also, we learned that TV's standards and practices (read: the censors!) sometimes can actually make your jokes funnier. Matt McCarthy had to change one of his lines from "choke her to death" to "murder her to death" (see? funnier, right?) so it wouldn't sound as though he were endorsing domestic abuse. Baron Vaughn said he couldn't say "KKK.com" in a joke, but realized he didn't need to spell out the Web site for the joke to work. Vaughn noted that Patton Oswalt got a new six minutes out of one joke he had to change years ago for Comedy Central.
Vince Averill was more than just happy to be there. He only got the gig on Wednesday after another comedian couldn't fulfill his or her duties. From first alternate to TV credit. Congrats, Vince.
Lucas Molandes had a funny cover line when the audience didn't know how to react to his dreamcatcher joke: "Sorry I blew your minds with awesome!"
Joe List uses nervousness in his act, so even if he was nervous about his first TV taping, it wouldn't show, would it? Let's ask him, after he's done.
Sunday's final two show tapings had plenty of odd incidents, starting from the top when early show host D.L. Hughley walked offstage with the mic, leaving Paul Ogata wondering what to do. Fortunately, Ogata had a relevant bit at the ready and raring to go. Myq Kaplan blew plenty of minds with his awesomeness, earning multiple applause breaks and the attention of everyone downstairs in the lounge/green room. Very poised. Kaplan told me he had an even better set last week at a showcase for Eddie Brill -- if so, man, Kaplan is on his game. And he didn't let the cold/flu get in the way of delivering a shining performance that'll certainly get him industry attention. Hughley then got Liz Miele's name wrong even though they had the pronounciation in the teleprompter (they should clean that up later, right?) but she seemed unfazed. Shane Mauss, watching his fellow Bostonian Kaplan tear it up, announced he'd go up and get 12 applause breaks. He just might've done it, too. But what I remembered most about his set was seeing him have an "American Idol moment" when the camera panned across the stage and in close-up, Mauss gazed directly in the camera to deliver the set-up punch to his vegan coffee joke.
The biggest thing about the late show Sunday, other than Daniel Tosh and his strong hosting set, was the light show. As in, the lights failing multiple times, most notably during Matt Braunger's set. He was a trooper, though, even starting from the top a third time which must've been difficult considering he had a weary live TV audience to deal with (they can clean that up with his earlier takes, right?). The first time the lights went out on Braunger, without missing a beat, he broke into song: "When the lights...go down...in the city!" Tosh had to return to the stage. "The lights are overheating," he explained. "Which is really good for comedy." During one such break, he exclaimed: "Let's do jokes that won't air. Do you know who loves to get fisted? Sock puppets."
Mary Mack was very nice and funny and you can join us in her writers club, as soon as I find it.
Raj Desai and Anjelah Johnson were both so fun to talk to during the afterparty that I wished I'd seen their Gotham sets earlier last week. James Smith told me he forgot one joke in his set, but I told him not to worry...he can tell it during his next TV apperance! The afterparty brought out most of the comedians who performed during the weekend, plus their friends and plenty of other New York comics. Good times. On a Sunday, even.
Related: Paul Ogata shares his Gotham experience with the folks at Shecky. The Live at Gotham site.