Previously, we watched this seventh season of NBC's Last Comic Standing through the magic (and sometimes witchcraft) of several-weeks tape delay. The comedians themselves could have forgotten how their performances had gone, only to see them slightly changed in the editing room. But not now. Now the final 10 have flown and/or driven to Glendale, Calif., for same-day competition, with morning tapings set for broadcast that same evening. They would know, and we would know, how it all shakes down today.
Oh, and our judges -- Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo -- all have returned to the arena of comedy battles, all of them also fresh off of their own performances at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival. Host Craig Robinson opened with a LeBron James joke before re-introducing us to the LCS 7 Top 10. Would the results of last week's voting be drawn out for the full hour, a la American Idol? Nope. Not too long at all for four comedians, as Roy Wood Jr., Mike DeStefano, James Adomian and Myq Kaplan are asked to step forward (all others, Robinson says, should shuffle offstage). Robinson gives the OK to DeStefano, then Wood. It's down to Kaplan and Adomian, who exchange creepy smiles at each other awaiting their fate, as only one of them will continue onward. It's Kaplan! Who in his close-up, breathes a very realistic sigh of relief. Adomian, meanwhile, is still smiling and also now clapping. I talked to Adomian in Montreal, and based on what he told me, I don't think he was surprised at all. The producers play an "In Memorium" for him, which also includes his pre-taped farewell, in which he declares: "America, next time, don't look a gift horse in the mouth." He holds his head high and off he goes.
First performer of the evening is Mike DeStefano. He says thanks for keeping him on, and tells us he bought some soap that cost $75. "Does it clean shame?" he asks. He also doesn't know how to express his feelings to a woman on a dinner date, because all he feels is hungry. "Deep down inside, I'm really hungry." He gets an applause break when he's asked why he is at couples therapy (presumably asked by the therapist), and says it's because the woman is broken and needs to be fixed. Blaming people for his problems? "That's my mother's fault. Sorry, mom." He continues with the idea that he's not good with therapy. Nor is he good with a woman on a first date who thinks they've been together for much longer than that. Last week, no judges around to influence the audience. But they're back. Kindler calls DeStefano "frightening and lovable" and makes up his own scoring: 5 HAs! Leggero has kind words for him, even if he doesn't have kind words to say about women. Giraldo wasn't listening to Leggero (tag!) but also liked him.
Robinson teases the first commercial break by saying we'd get to hear from "Internet sensation Mel Gibson."
After the break, he gets in a dig on "The Bachelorette" airing in competition with them on ABC, saying that show is even sadder than knowing three comics will have to go home. "There's a reason why she's single," Robinson said.
Roy Wood Jr. opens by saying: "Good to see you guys. I just did a show in South Dakota. Because I like performing where there's no people." Looks like we're getting more of his "sports bar" chunk, and notes that America is still exciting even if we did not win the World's Cup. And he thinks the world is better for that, because some countries hate us for political reasons, and he compares it to having the Lakers lose to Al Qaeda. "That would suck," he said. I'm not sure about this, because it would mean we'd know where they were and could trap them all, so let's hope those terrorists get off of the jungle gyms and start learning how to shoot hoops! But back to Wood. He realizes that at age 31, he will not be paying off his student loans. Note to Wood: If you win the $250,000, the college loan people probably will notice. Look at me, shooting all sorts of truth holes into his fictional premises. Moving to L.A. from Alabama, he has noticed there are more Latinos in this country than black people, to which audience members hoot and holler. "You're winning, shut up," he retorts quickly. Wood doesn't understand why black people are mad about Mexicans and other people wanting civil rights, since, he notes, wasn't that the point? More of a statement than a joke, that last one, but he comes off well in his set. Leggero gives him advice on his college loans, but calls him likeable. Giraldo jokes that he didn't like Wood's "pro-Mexican" material, and Kindler agrees, but says he cannot get away with saying "blacks and Mexicans." On a more substantial note, he also said that he loved Wood's voice and would listen to anything he had to say.
Strap in, comedy fans. We're about to see 10 comedians perform stand-up on primetime network TV in front of giant letters lit up in light bulbs to spell out "COMIC." But nobody is king (nor queen) just yet, so none of these 10 can rightfully wear a robe and crown like Ricky Gervais did for his stand-up special. Nope. Not yet. This...is...Last Comic Standing. Season Seven. The final 10. Here we go! Host Craig Robinson is excited. The judges are not excited, since they are not televised this evening.
Laurie Kilmartin said she has thought about quitting the comedy game before, so she just "wants to have fun while I'm here," whether she finishes first or tenth. Kilmartin opens with a premise that her ex-boyfriend wants to get back with her -- cue the ooohs and boos from the live studio audience, and as if they were cued, they ooh and boo. Good job, live studio audience! Wait. We're supposed to be listening to those expertly-crafted jokes that the judges kept telling us that Kilmartin was writing. She mocks her ex's mistress for her misspellings. And she jokes that her son can only be good if he's gay. And yet, he also makes her want to give up, while on the toilet, or even when reading "The Little Engine That Could" for the sixth time in one evening.
Felipe Esparza is up next, and this is the biggest thing for his career -- c'mon, now, this is obviously the biggest thing for the careers of all 10 of these comedians, otherwise they wouldn't be here, but that's just one of the things that people on a reality TV contest have to say. That, and this is nerve-wracking. And eventually someone will have to say that he or she is not here to make friends. Esparza comes off, though, as the kind of guy who would be anybody's friend. He jokes about his frequent ride-alongs with the police, and Fortune Feimster is forced to watch from the audience as he jokes about getting his college degree. He says Mexico would help America with the war in Iraq, if only they could hitch a ride. And one smiling white (albeit blue-lit) woman gets every visual cue to smile when Esparza says a punchline about immigration, and she is even shown giving him a standing ovation.
Roy Wood Jr. tells us he auditioned in 2002 and 2007 for the show, and his goal is the same this year, except he is much closer to reaching that goal, as Tom Shillue can see from that background shot of a previous episode that did not acknowledge his presence. Third time the charm for Wood? He has a sharp opening line about getting punched in the face at a sports bar, and about a fan who takes it a little too far. He also thinks there is a way to make swimming more popular, and swimmers will not like it one bit. And why would you kick him out for giving kids realism in their Career Day. We all need chicken nuggets and lap dances! That may be the wrong message for first graders, but Americans are on board. Unless they are vegan and feminists. That might be redundant. I don't know.
NBC's seventh season of Last Comic Standing begins tonight with the first of several episodes in which America gets to decide who moves on and survives past the final 10. Unless, of course, you believe in conspiracy theories and want to figure out who executive producer Barry Katz is managing (but even then, you probably would not "guess" the winner, based on past seasons).
So, since we have left our cynicism behind in the previous paragraph, let us now tell you how LCS 7 will play out.
Tonight: Unlike the previous six seasons, in which finalists cast votes against one another to a challenge in front of a studio audience ("I know I'm funnier than XXX"), all 10 finalists will perform their stand-up routines in this first round. They'll each get a phone number and info for viewers to call/text and cast their votes. So in these senses, it'll be more like American Idol. Your 10 finalists are, in alphabetical order: James Adomian, Mike DeStefano, Felipe Esparza, Rachel Feinstein, Tommy Johnigan, Myq Kaplan, Laurie Kilmartin, Jonathan Thymius, Maronzio Vance and Roy Wood, Jr. But know this: They taped this showcase showdown several weeks ago at the Alex Theater in Glendale, Calif. It's not live. Sets may have been edited or re-arranged. Also: If you really want to vote for your favorites, you better hop to it, because they're cutting two or three each week! Yes. That's right. The bottom three comics will get the boot after this first week.
Monday, July 19: All 10 finalists return to the stage, but only seven will advance and perform that morning for a live audience, for broadcast that evening. America votes after the broadcast.
Monday, July 26: Of the seven remaining, five will advance and perform that morning for a live audience, for broadcast that evening. America votes after the broadcast.
Monday, Aug. 2: The final five will be reduced to an as-yet unknown final group, who will perform that morning for a live audience, for broadcast that evening. America votes after the broadcast.
Monday, Aug. 9: NBC's season finale. A winner is revealed, with a $250,000 prize and a network holding deal. Expect guest sets from each of the judges (Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo) plus other stand-up guests.
"Welcome to Last Comic Standing, the best stand-up comedy contest on NBC." So sayeth host Craig Robinson, so sayeth we all.
Wait. Who's running the show, a bunch of monkeys? A lone chimpanzee? What's going on here?
I'll be sure to tell you all as soon as I can watch the rest of this two-hour episode -- and update with videos as soon as they're up. This is the episode in which Tommy Johnagin zings judge Natasha Leggero for calling him competitive in a nationally-televised competition.
Alabama native Roy Wood, Jr., meanwhile, says before taking the stage that he has been at stand-up for 12 years, and well, why not him? "It's my turn to eat. Let me get some of this money." Why not? He opens with a joke about a date so bad, the woman makes you drop her off at another man's house. Damn. That's a bad date. But a good joke. He also has a funny story about trying to write out his will. Good start! The judges agree, from Andy Kindler to Leggero and also Greg Giraldo. Looking good for Mr. Wood. Even if he could not find a coat that fits to impress Giraldo.
After the first commercial break, Robinson has more self-deprecating quips up his sleeve. He's enjoying the gig, and I am enjoying him in this gig. Great work, team comedy! Now about this Fortune Feimster. She lets us know she is a lesbian (shhh, don't tell anyone), which is odd when she tells us about this guy who hit on her. This story, alas, does not have a happy ending. Kindler gets in a dig on Ellen DeGeneres for her dancing, and digs on Feimster. The other judges likewise smile fortune upon Ms. Fortune. Jerry Rocha says he does not want to be depressed for months if he does not win. Onstage Rocha wonders why any billboard about carpooling would be in Spanish, and whether it's a good idea to call to get his credit checked. There is some quibbling in judgment about his use of voices and races, but they seem to be more positive than negative.
Another break, and we're back with Guy Torry, who has been in the movies and on the TV, but according to Torry, they don't know about his stand-up comedy career. He wants to let the people know he is funny. Scratch that. "I'm trying to be the greatest, the greatest stand-up to ever touch the stage." Whoa, whoa. Settle down. It's good to set the bar high and all, but when you say something like that out loud, to a TV camera, usually you're setting yourself up for failure. He is taking a while to get to the laughs when he does not have a headlining amount of stage time tonight, and not only that, but when Torry says "negro," camera cuts to Giraldo squirming. Torry is talking a lot about Barack Obama and has a bit about why the KKK supporting Obama. Oh, and I almost forgot. Torry also used a Monica Lewinsky joke. In 2010. Afterward, he seems to think he crushed and also is not concerned about whatever Leggero has to say. And about that bet Torry wanted to make with Giraldo, in which he said Google the KKK supporting Obama? Torry won't want to click on the first link that comes up. Jacob Sirof wants us to know he has a wife and a kid and not much money from the comedy -- that's the opposite of what Torry was boasting -- and opens with a bit about how L.A. people are into the motorcycles these days, even if it means buying gay clothing. Not that he's got a problem with that, considering his stance on bros hugging bros. Nice tag, btw, on the "Google it" from Torry afterward. Then we see him, Torry and Maronzio Vance chatting backstage, and Torry says he had more fun bantering with the judges. Somehow I don't think he'll be having as much fun later that evening.
Nikki Glaser says she will cry whether she makes it to the finals or not. Foreshadowing? Glaser says she is single and recently performed for the troops, just for the applause breaks. She became single over Skype, on her terms. She also makes an unusual choice by promoting teen pregnancy and joking about getting an abortion. I'm not sure the primetime network suits will be on board with that, no matter what the judges may say. Taylor Williamson says he is charming and adorable, and well, wouldn't you know the audience is laughing at him as soon as he speaks, and then throughout his set, because they cannot believe his premise that he has a girlfriend, and then even laugh again when he admits he doesn't. Williamson also jokes about sex, but between animals (black poodles and white labs, camels). Everyone enjoyed it.
Hey, look everybody. It's Tom Shillue in an ad for PearleVision! Did you know he was in this semifinal round, too? No? What do you mean no?
And so it begins again. Two years since we last left NBC's Last Comic Standing with an abrupt five-person finale, the show has returned to us, reborn with a new host (Craig Robinson), new judges (Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo) and a new promise to focus firmly and seriously on the business of comedy. Do they mean it this time?
For one thing, it's more than entirely possible that we already have seen this year's winner on TV before. By we, I mean the collective we and not just the you and me we, although that's also true -- Oui! Oui! -- because by taking comedy seriously, the producers already have made it clear that even though all of our contestants could be called up-and-coming and even aspiring, they are by no means rookies. When LCS first hit network TV in 2002 as comedy's version of American Idol meets Survivor, the bounty of a televised stand-up comedy special and development deal meant so much more for the field of participants. In 2010, so many more half-hour specials, late-night slots and cable showcases have given stand-ups a chance to grab a TV credit or two or more. So much so that as we, in real-time, already have our 10 finalists, we know that many of them are in this game for a lot more than a half-hour TV special. They're here for primetime network TV exposure on a regular weekly basis, the national theater tour that's sure to follow for the final five, and fame, fortune.
But first. We open Craig Robinson playing the keyboard and singing about the show's return, to reveal the Hollywood Improv and contestants behind him, as we saw in one of last week's teaser videos. Then we get the first montage of our judges as well as many quick looks at comedians, including a sneak peek at a naked Andy Ofiesh. Andy Ofiesh! Each of the judges gets an introduction, which is nice and also weird since they are peers or idols of the contestants. Giraldo gets a clip from his 2009 DVD special, while Leggero gets meta with a clip mocking reality TV competitions from Leno, and Kindler is even more meta as Robinson specifically credits Kindler for "The Hack's Handbook."
Our first contestant featured at the Hollywood Improv is Maronzio Vance. He says he auditioned way back in season two, and his first joke is about the woes of living in a studio apartment. Kindler gives him props for playing to the production crew, and they go at it. "We will see you tonight!" Kindler says. We will see him again, yes indeed. Our second featured contestant is Felipe Esparza, who shows us his apartment and friends in Los Angeles before we see him telling jokes. "What do you guys think? More? Less?" Giraldo says he knows how funny Esparza is, but thinks his audition set didn't showcase him fully, and he makes it to the night showcase despite getting a no from Leggero. "These guys pushed you through," she says. How far will they push him through, you may be asking?
And then there's a guy with a guitar and a red devil outfit. He wants to call himself my professional clown name, so even before the judges say no, I say NO! A KISS something or other. Other nuts. A guy who opened by saying, "No joke." Interviews with the longshots standing on the sidewalk for hours, with Robinson telling them eternal truths such as NBC giving the prize to Jay Leno.
And we're back to actual comedians, with Kirk Fox. We saw him in a teaser video, too, although here we see him surrendering during his routine. No surrender, though! He makes it through to the night showcase.
Our next featured contestant is Laurie Kilmartin, whom I think of as a NYC comedian but is listed here as a Walnut Creek, Calif., resident, showing us her new home with her son, talking about being a single mom and stand-up comedian. Now here she is onstage joking. And the judges like what they see. Hmmm. We are less than 20 minutes into the show, and already this much good news? They are trying to win us over early, it appears.
In the first running non-sequitur bit of the series, Giraldo sets up Kindler by giving him more time to come up with wardrobe suggestions for Kilmartin (whom, fun fact, seemed to wear the same outfit in her backstage and onstage appearances; and even funner factor, has been someone I knew about from when I first started in comedy in Seattle in the 1990s because her headshot stood out from the others along the wall of the Comedy Underground), and then we see him testing the confidences of several other comedians, starting with Renee Gauthier (in an unbilled cameo) and going through several others. "I want you to wear your hair up AND down," he tells one woman.
We're one week away from the reboot of NBC's Last Comic Standing for season seven, with new host Craig Robinson, new judges Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, and new contestants. So how about a few new online-only preview clips? Sounds great!
Stuckey and Murray kick off this first clip, which also features appearances and/or performances from the host and judges talking about how it's legit now, plus Tommy Johnagin and Felipe Esparza. Roll it!
Here's a clip of Craig Robinson hosting in what could be the intro to next week's premiere...followed by performances by Maronzio Vance, Kirk Fox, Tiffany Haddish, among others. Roll that clip.
And here is Andy Kindler talking up the season, with a clip of Jonathan Thymius. Taking it to the next level! Roll the clippy clip!