2010's Boston Comedy Festival had plenty of competition to attract audience members to its competition finale last night at the Wilbur Theatre, from Denis Leary's Comics Come Home XVI, which packed upward of 6,000 in Agganis Arena to see Jim Norton, Pete Correale, Thomas Dale, Lenny Clarke, Joe Yannetty, Adam Ferrara, Jimmy Dunn and Steven Wright -- to the Wilbur's next-door neighbors at the Wang Theatre, where Jim Gaffigan (who also made a cameo at Comics Come Home), was holding court to 3,600 fans. Todd Barry, meanwhile, was headlining at the Hard Rock Cafe, Darryl Lenox was playing Cheers Comedy Club, and the Comedy Studio and Mottley's featured their own motley crews of stand-ups on the rise.
With all of that competition, the BCF persevered with a strong finals lineup that produced its first-ever tie, bookended by performances from Lenox, Joe Wong (who received a Boston Comedian of the Year Award) and Robert Klein (who received the fest's Lifetime Achievement Award).
Klein noted that his first Broadway production, "The Apple Tree," previewed in Boston's theater district before hitting Broadway in 1966, and he joked about how Mike Nichols got to stay in the Ritz, while Klein was stuck in a seedy hotel called the Avery in Boston's "combat zone." Wong, meanwhile, served as a living role model for all of the comedians in the contest who didn't win, because he has never won it, either. Instead, he said that Letterman's booker Eddie Brill saw something in him during the 2005 contest and helped groom him for his two Late Show appearances in 2009-2010.
Nate Bargatze and Saleem Muhammad, who goes by just Saleem onstage, did achieve dual firsts by tying for first-place in the 2010 competition. Bargatze wasn't fazed by having the "bullet" spot in the lineup, joking about his attempts at community college, defending Wal-Mart, and questioning his ability to take an actual bullet for his wife. For Bargatze, a Tennessee native based now in NYC, this is his third big competition of the year, having already achieved wins twice at Carolines (for its "Final Four" tournament in March, and then its "New York's Funniest" in November). Saleem, a native of Dayton, Ohio, now based in L.A., told the audience he was "your final negro of the evening," claimed he was more surprised to see a black First Lady in his lifetime, wondered why white kids are more black than he is, and acknowledged that being gay is tougher than being black.
Wil Sylvince took third place. The other finalists -- Orlando Baxter, Nick Cobb, Matt D., Mehran and Lamont Price -- all put in strong performances themselves.
I caught up with the top three finishers after the show backstage at the Wilbur Theatre for a quick chat to find out how they'd split their prize money and record deal. Roll it!
Boston's annual comedy festival competition, much like its comedy scene, is an odd mix of college-aged joketellers, strong writers, aspiring upstarts and wily veterans who for some reason have flown under the national radar. In 2008, Dwight Slade (a teen comedy peer of the late Bill Hicks) entered and won the contest. This year, 30-year-old Marshfield native Dave McDonough took the trophy (is there a trophy? methinks not, but there is $5,000) with a set of dark but strong, clever jokes. His win made many local comedians happy, not just for him, but what it meant for the scene to have one of its own beat out 95 other contestants for the top prize. Which, to me, made this a clear echo of Dan Boulger's victory here in 2006.
In fact, the top three places in this year's Boston Comedy Festival contest went to locals. Kelly MacFarland took home the $2,500 runner-up prize, while Lamont Price finished third, receiving $1,000. Ryan Hamilton led the remaining finalists -- Paul Myrehaug, Danny Bevins, Auggie Smith and Mehran -- who split the remaining prize money.
McDonough told me afterward that he doesn't get onstage as often as he could or should, as the Braintree resident still works as a roofer. When he does perform, he tends to work rooms in the South Shore, and he did win a South Shore comedy contest earlier this year. And I'm told he is related to one of Boston's most wily of stand-up vets in Don Gavin. As for McDonough, if you look for examples of his comedy online, you're not going to find a lot just yet. A YouTube video of his set from the Comedy Studio in Cambridge -- which includes many of the jokes he told in the contest -- dates back two years (that's as old as my most recent stand-up video, and I barely perform anymore). Here's a taste of him. Bear in mind that his delivery and wording of a few of these jokes has gotten stronger since this recording, though he still tends to stare down at the floor (a la Mitch Hedberg):
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.