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.
Lessons learned from last night at the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival: Sometimes a comic plays very well to the back of the room, but not so much to the judges table in the second row; and sometimes, a show is so stacked with talent that it's difficult to pick just two comedians to advance to the finals. It was that kind of night. But you want to know who advanced and why.
Semi #3 winners, advancing to Saturday's Finals at the Cutler Majestic Theatre and a share of $10,000 in prize money: Rob O'Reilly and Mario DiGiorgio!
Wow. Just. Wow. Another comedian turned to me during DiGiorgio's performance and said "a set like this will win the contest." Which sounds like a good omen for him on Saturday. What the comic meant, I believe, is that DiGiorgio structured his set in such a way as to have broad mass appeal, with well-thought out material and a heavily layered closing routine that would earn points from the judges -- and for those of you who haven't been at the contest finals in a while -- those judges often include veteran old-time acts, such as Bill Dana, Norm Crosby, Shelly Berman, and this year, most likely the Smothers Brothers. You might be the cat's meow to all the cool kids these days, but your sense of humor might fly right past some judges. Anyhow. Where was I? Right. You may hear DiGiorgio's lengthy discussion of "the s-word" again on Saturday, so why would I ruin it? He also had a very clever idea about why Star Wars fan geeks might be virgins. O'Reilly went up after both Jessi Campbell and Andy Peters had raised their volume and the audience's to about 11.5, and immediately changed gears, saying: "OK, let's calm it down a bit." With his added time (sets expanded from 5 minutes in the prelim round to 8 minutes in the semis), O'Reilly joked about waking up drunk in Colonial Williamsburg and acting out the story of an early gig following a rowdy guy in an "urban" club. Campbell and Peters had gotten plenty of laughs from the back of the room, and Campbell, in particular, had gotten two separate applause breaks. One comic not in competition whispered, "First woman in the finals...nice." But it was not to be. Some of the judges thought Campbell and Peters were a bit too loud and/or in-your-face and/or inconsistent and/or overcompensating and/or something else they didn't tell me.
Which left only two more spots for the finals...
Someone asked me if going first in a contest meant certain elimination. That entirely depends upon a few factors, such as: How proficient your host is in warming up the audience and getting them to laugh, what time your show starts (the later, the better, it'd seem), and how quickly you can get an audience to laugh. In the first two nights of prelims during the Boston Comedy Festival contest, the comic who drew the first slot advanced from each of the later shows, but not from the earlier shows. On night three? Foreshadowing. Or not.
Kaplan knocked his set out from the start, riffing callbacks on pretty much everyone who went before him, starting by announcing: "I'm also 1/2 white...and the other 1/2 white as well." Then landing a joke that combined "baloney pony" and "rapex" before going into his own, already-strong routine, closing by putting his wordplay to extended play on the word, "boobies." Hooray-bies! No doubt as to whether he'd advance.
Lewis, by the way, was one of several biracial comics of the black/white variety to perform this week (and the one Kaplan was calling back to), which, you might think, could be of benefit to Obama's candidacy if somehow all of these comedians could help him. Anyhow. Got off-topic for a sec. He joked about how blacks run everything in Alabama, and how people mistake him for Mexican. I don't think Mexican jokes work as well in Boston, just because the Latino influences here aren't from there. But it didn't hurt his score.
Hawkins wasn't shy about announcing he was the only Canadian competing. The start of his set took a similar reversal of gender roles pattern that Eric Hunter used to score victory the previous night (an almost completely different set of judges, though, and no, I was not among them), joking about how women act in the dance clubs. Halfway through, he shifted to cat territory, and how he's not good with felines, with a lengthy act-out that had you thinking, where's the Meow Mix? Earlier this summer, Hawkins, from Edmonton, won the "Homegrown Comic Competition" at Montreal's Just For Laughs.
Boeh avoided making a joke of his name (Ty Boeh) because, well, he had just come back to Boston from winning the first week of prelims in the San Francisco Comedy Competition, and he has other jokes in his arsenal. Such as a guy pimpwalking on a treadmill. Or a local slogan for Harpoon beer. But the real feature of his routine on this night would be beatboxing and noisemaking, with big sound effects on having sex with women of the black and tracheotomy variety. I discussed this with another comedian last night, and it's one of those things that can divide comics in a contest when you see a competitor who closes with beatboxing or singing or playing an instrument. They almost always get a huge crowd response. Is that a bad thing? Depends upon whether you feel the point is telling jokes, or getting laughs. Whatever works, right? This is a debate we can have sometime down the road.
The rest of this group suffered some bad breaks. Liz Miele never had a chance going first, as the host had bombed. Maggie MacDonald, going second, had Miele warming them up, but her strong set based on her veterinary job apparently still not enough. Could it have been too sexual? Who knows. I wasn't judging this night. Joe Vespaziani, going third, had a brilliant set, so what happened there? I'd thought he was a cinch to advance, with jokes about turning 40, watching porn with the closed-captioning, body pillows, untying a vasectomy and more. He got robbed. And I'm not just saying that because I competed with him 10 years ago in the 1998 Seattle Comedy Competition. Ira Proctor managed to pop the microphone, which got him off on the wrong foot, which in turn, only plays into his onstage humorous rage. And Ms. Pat came a long way from Indianapolis to tell us about where her daughter puts her Oreo cookie crumbs (!).
OK. Moving on...