Last year, John Hodgman prompted President Barack Obama to acknowledge his love of Star Trek during a delightfully nerdy speech at the Radio & TV Correspondents Dinner. Last night, no Hodgman, no Obama. But Vice President Joe Biden was there to try to crack wise (let's not go there, shall we?), and comedian Joe Wong was the headlining entertainment.
Wong, still based out of Boston, had his biggest gig ever, after performing twice on Late Show with David Letterman in the past year, as well as multiple appearances on TV courtesy of Ellen DeGeneres. And yet. He remains really an unknown. As Politico demonstrated in this video talking to Dennis Kucinich, Fred Thompson, Geraldo Rivera and other well-known folk on their way into the dinner.
But how did Wong do? All things considering, considering Wong isn't a household name by any means, he did just fine. His biggest laugh lines came from jokes he had honed to perfection previously. But as the cut-aways revealed, he managed to get bipartisan support in terms of smiles and laughs from his jokes about Biden, immigration, citizenship and marriage. So kudos.
Today seems like random day in my comedy mailbag. To wit:
And here's a video Angelo made for his project:
I was on hand Friday night for the end of the semifinal rounds of the 2009 Boston Comedy Festival stand-up contest. While the early semi seemed to point clearly to who would advance to the finals, some might quibble about who got the lucky finalist slots in the late semi (not that I could weigh in on that, because I was busy enjoying the ribald Roast of Tony V). Anyhow. The results, please?
They beat out Al Ducharme, Dan Crohn, Giulia Rozzi, Tony Boswell, Erin Judge and Daniel St. Germain.
They beat out MC Mr. Napkins, Joe Wong, J-L Cauvin, Tony Baker, Tim Kaelin and Matthew Lumpkin.
Those four above will join the four semifinal winners from Thursday and compete for $10,000 in cash prizes tonight at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.
Just because I'm not there doesn't mean the Boston Comedy Festival's annual contest is going to wait for me. The first two preliminary rounds were held on Sunday night at the Hard Rock Cafe, with four comics from each group of 12 advancing to semifinals later in the week. Notably, all of the comedians making it through last night either live in Boston or used to live there. And here they are:
Two more prelims happen tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday, all at the Hard Rock.
Ellen DeGeneres taped her third TBS variety special last night as part of the inaugural Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival -- Ellen's Bigger Longer & Wider Show will air at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 27, on TBS, but I can share some insight with you already.
During a post-show question-and-answer session with the audience, Ellen's wife, Portia de Rossi, emerged from the wings to wave hello when a fan asked, "Where's Portia?!" Here is a backstage pic of Ellen and Portia with Chicago's own Kanye West, who performed his hits "Stronger" and "Heartless" to end the show. On the best part of being married, Ellen quipped: "Well, I'm finally off the pill!" And on a more serious note, when a gay man from the audience couldn't contain himself demonstrating his support for Ellen and wondering what the gay and lesbian community could do in the wake of California's Prop 8, DeGeneres offered that "we shouldn't be separate" in terms of the law. "Just remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others."
Everyone really does love Ellen these days. Gay men, lesbians, young women, middle-aged women, and other straights went crazy for her last night in Chicago. After a 40-minute warmup session (did it have to be that long?) of dance contests and karaoke contests that hyped up the crowd in a mini version of America's Got Talent, it only made sense to introduce celebrity guest DJ Nick Cannon, who is hosting this summer's version of the NBC talent show. Cannon had no qualms hyping his stint on the show, telling Ellen during the taping: "We're going to get our American Susan Boyle! Boyle and beyond!" OK.
UPDATED WITH VIDEO! Boston-based comedian Joe Wong will make his network television debut tonight on Late Show with David Letterman, and many of you will be seeing him for the first time. Wong taped his set on Monday and was terrific. Which is great news, not only for Wong, but also for Eddie Brill, who books the comedians for the show (and also warms up the studio audiences) and gets credit now for giving Wong his big break. Wong, a Chinese immigrant who graduated from Rice University in Houston, would joke a lot about the clashing cultures when he emerged in the Boston comedy scene. I remember seeing Wong more than hold his own on the lineup of a charity show three years ago that wedged him between Lenny Clarke and Steven Wright. Audiences warm easily to him. Here's a quick joke from Wong:
My friend Nick Zaino talked to both Brill and Wong about how they worked together for years to get the comedian ready for his TV debut. One tip that stood out to me was how Wong has changed his facial expressions since I last saw him.
"I used to laugh or smile after my jokes," he says. "So they put a stop on that one. After that, I do the jokes with more of a straight face, and it actually works better. That's something I never noticed before he pointed it out."
Related: Eddie Brill offers his next six-hour "intensive feedback workshop" for comedians on Saturday, April 18, at Gotham Comedy Club. There was still an opening or two for this limited day-long workshop when Brill and I chatted this morning.
UPDATED WITH BETTER VIDEO! So much to love about this clip. How Wong looks without smiling after the jokes. How he pauses between tags to allow each one to hit. How the jacket makes him look so young. How innocently he reacts after his set, wanting a quick bow and heading offstage, as if it were just another set. Great job, Joe! Will include this clip until Wong and/or CBS puts an official one up. Enjoy:
You've all been waiting for this (sorry about the wait), it's the two final preliminary competitions in the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival contest, so let's get to recapping...
When Bowers took the stage, he joked about being the fourth consecutive black stand-up comic in this round, as well as how Obama is a much better presidential option than the Rev. Al Sharpton. A set routine about his grandmother's fanciful stories managed to take a localized turn into a tale of her stripping at the Boston Tea Party. Another bit, about this summer's salmonella scare, he took as a plot to get rid of Mexicans, and demonstrated it by replacing salmonella with X food to get rid of Y races. Closed with married role-playing and an act-out of the LAPD.
Campbell had "bitten the bullet" by going first, but the Minnesota comic -- who started out a bit too loud -- got some energy in the room with bits about an encounter with a woman in the bathroom that turned steamy, buying a gun and reporting it to the cops during a traffic stop, showering for a ghost, and the dangers in feeding a bear. Unlike many comedians of her size, she never acknowledged or poked fun at her own expense. That probably scored extra points with the judges.
Waite, who attended college in Kentucky, joked about his geography degree makes him a dumb-ass: They already have maps! Cue the many many asides! Shazam! (He never said shazam, but said plenty in between every joke that piled up the style and attitude points) Hasslehoff. Internet porn. Pee-wee football. As he said to the ladies in the audience at one point, "Buckle up, it's creepy time!" He got solid laughs from the audience and comics alike.
Thomas talked about the differences between broke and being "working people broke." His opening premise, about how men and women describe getting married, may have been a little tired. But when he started joking about his money woes, he got some momentum going his way. Closed with a funny but true notion of how critics make Obama seem dangerous. Example: "Did you know he fathered two black children?"
From those who did not advance: Shawn Banks seemed very likable, but the crowd was slow to get on board. Andrea Henry's dry sense of humor suffered with her slot in the lineup. Jay Black had a very solid bit analyzing the importance of America finishing 27th in math, while Bangladesh apparently is tops in that subject.
OK. Moving on...