Thanks to Steve Hofstetter, one of the comedians who helped put together the inaugural Laughing Skull Comedy Festival in Atlanta earlier this month, G4's Attack of the Show aired scenes from the festival's stand-up competition. Margaret Cho was there. I saw fest winner Josh Gondelman there, too, as well as Carmen Lynch, Seaton Smith, Karl Hess, Michael Palascak.
Roll the clip!
You know how some people seem so nice, you cannot believe how nice they are? Boston-based stand-up comedian Josh Gondelman is most definitely one of those nice guys, and his day job as a pre-school teacher only makes him seem too nice to be true. Well, congratulations are in store for Gondelman, who flew down to Atlanta earlier this month and returned with the trophy for winning the stand-up contest at the inaugural Laughing Skull Comedy Festival.
Here is Gondelman with his prize. Well, actually, that's not all he won, as the festival promised $1,000, automatic bids into the APCA Showcase, Rooftop Comedy's Aspen festival, the Asheville comedy festival, six months of work with clubs across the country that agreed to be the Laughing Skull fest's patrons, and looks from industry folk. I'd hoped to be in Atlanta for the festival/contest, too, but a family emergency kept me away. So I caught up with Gondelman this week and asked him to tell me all about it. (He also wrote a little bit already on his road blog.)
I know you've done the Boston festival contest multiple times. How would you compare that contest with the inaugural one in Atlanta?
I've done the Boston festival for the past few years, and there are a couple of differences that jumped out at me right away. Atlanta seemed to have a way more relaxed vibe, overall. With Boston, it always seems like everything is riding on every set even for the people that aren't performing. That could be because Tom Dustin does such a good job of getting people to buy into his NCAA style BCF pool (which I love). But at the Laughing Skull, there were more people just hanging out and mingling and enjoying themselves. I was definitely rooting for everyone to succeed in Atlanta, where in Boston, I always feel like I'm waiting to see how everyone does with bated breath. Also, in Atlanta, the industry presence was there from the beginning of the week, which is helpful because it takes the pressure off of you somewhat to get into the semifinals or the finals. One of my favorite things about the BCF, though, is how it seems like there are infinity comedians around all the time. And that's really fun and cool. People from all over come to town and hang out, which doesn't happen all the time, since there's no real mid-sized venue for comics who work the road to play.
Did your Boston experience prepare you for the fast-paced nature of Atlanta's schedule? Did it make you do anything differently this time around?
My experiences in Boston definitely helped me prepare for the style of the Laughing Skull competition, but I guess one thing that helped just as much was that when I did the Boston festival, I've always had my day job to go back to in the morning, but in Atlanta, I was all about the comedy, which was relaxing, to not have to teach preschool, go to a high-pressure show, and then return to preschool in the morning. I did the Seattle contest last November, too, and that was a lot of fun. There was a very strong group dynamic that evolved over the course of the week, since it was only 16 comics out there at a time.
OK, comedy fans. Whether or not you have a financial stake in the outcome of the Boston Comedy Festival contest, you still want to know what really went down last night in the third and fourth preliminaries. So here’s another opinion. But first, another opinion: Why didn’t host Kevin Knox explain the rules? Did Sunday night’s host skip that portion of the program, too? Because methinks most people in the audience, at least, might want to know, how come the guy or gal I thought was really funny didn’t win? The judges have these complicated scoring sheets — and even though I didn’t see them, they must be complicated because it takes 15 minutes to deduce the winners — so there must be several factors in determining the funny. In similar contests, those factors would include originality, stage presence, audience engagement and audience approval, in addition to the judge’s own subjective funny ranking. Also, there are several cameras taping the sets, but no mention of what that’s all about. The stage, changed from the usual Comedy Connection backdrop to the old cliched fake brick wall, also has a MySpace banner. Is that it? (Sources say no, that the tapes are for sponsor Sierra Mist, but shouldn’t someone let everyone else in on that?)
Right. Enough questions. You want answers. Or at least a recap.
Prelim 3 (in order of appearance)
1) Jake Sharon: Long-haired guy (not what’s pictured on the festival program/site), eats the mic, also ate it onstage, as his blue humor didn’t set the proper tone, especially with all of the white-hairs in the audience.
2) Mark DeCosta: Opens with losing five pounds today on the Taco Bell Diet. “Now I know why they say think outside the buns.” Hello! Rim shot, please! Not helping. But his set improves with dry humor about his childhood and how he teaches children life lessons.
3) Tymon Shipp: Billed on the program as “clean yet hilarious,” as if the two things cannot coexist. But the program also says he’s been on Leno nine times. Nine times? Really? Maybe as a bit player, but not as a stand-up. His set is functional enough, but, eh.
4) Erin Judge: Clever, but not connecting with the Connection crowd. Only her most direct jokes worked on this audience.
5) Darryl Lenox: Comes out with a definite POV, as they say. Politics is like Amway. “Do you think the guy who owns Wal-Mart has a house full of Wal-Mart furniture in it?” On being afraid of chemical attacks five years after 9/11, noting we’ve been eating McDonald’s for 50 years. “You think Shaq got that big drinking milk?” Solid. Very solid.
6) Tim the Dairy Farmer: Larry the Cable Guy’s big dumb brother. Only without a catchphrase. Let’s move on.
7) Josh Gondelman: The soft-spoken Josh Gondelman. Yeah. Earnestness is a virtue. But it won’t win a comedy contest.
8) Tom Van Horn: Polished stuff on Kmart, fish as pets on life support and the improbability of being angry whilst wearing flip-flops.
9) Floyd J. Phillips: Suggested cell phone companies shouldn’t disconnect your service, but interrupt your calls, if they want you to pay up. Tells his new neighbors he’s a registered sex offenders to keep the kids off his lawn. Funny. Speaking of abortion…funny…pro-lifers should kill bartenders. Don’t shoot me. That’s what he said. How about this line: “Domestic violence is the second reason why I don’t date men.”
10) Ira Proctor: Listen all y’all it’s a sabotage! What Ira was thinking: Hey, I’ll have fun by playing off of the last guy and start with some racial humor. What the audience was thinking: Why is this white guy making jokes about blacks? What Ira was thinking: Why isn’t this audience laughing at this, this is funny stuff? What the audience was thinking: We’re scared. Ira, move on to plan D. Dunkin Donuts. He ranted and rallied. But the damage was done.
11) Kendra Cunningham: Hates her job, wonders about the excuses drunks have that avoid the reason they’re drunks, and uses one of the most overused phrases in stand-up comedy, “So I’m single, surprisingly enough.”
12) Marshall Chiles: From Atlanta. Not Hotlanta. I don’t think the kids call it that anymore. His opener about airport security trying to turn us into fundamentalist Muslims (no razors, no shoes, no shampoo) is intriguing, but also silences the crowd right off the bat. As does his next joke, about troops fighting for the right reason: Tuition. “Damn right, I started with that s—!” he said. Later compares sports refs to wives. It’s all good material, but he came off too rough to be liked.
The timekiller: Eric Schwartz. Man, that white boy rapping schtick never stops being funny, doesn’t it? His official site is www.suburbanhomeboy.com and no I did not make that up. Nor did I make up the fact that he made the contest finals last year. Did he? Wasn’t I a judge last year?
Lenox and Phillips advanced. Van Horn deserved an honorable mention.