It's been a higher-profile year so far for Mike Vecchione. He performed well into the semifinals of Last Comic Standing, taped a set for Comedy Central's new Russell Simmons Presents Stand-Up at the El Rey, was just a "New Face" at Montreal's Just For Laughs, and last night, performed a set on The Tonight Show. You can tell by the smile on Vecchione's face how much fun he's having. He even pulls a fake ending on the audience. Roll the clip!
Timing really can be everything. With this year's crop of New Faces at Montreal's Just For Laughs, that was most certainly the case on Wednesday night (aka the second of three nights for the two groups of hopeful stand-ups, but really the first (and maybe only) night to impress the agents, managers and comedy bookers arriving from New York City, Los Angeles and points beyond the Canadian border). It's more than just the timing of your jokes that matter. What time is your show: 7 p.m. or 9:15 p.m? Did your show start on time? Did you time it right to hit the right shuttle, and not get lost and find yourselves looking at the city's skyline from across the bridge? Where are you in the lineup? How far along in your career are you when you're faced with being a New Face?
And if you've been riding along with me for this lifetime comedy joyride for more than a New York minute, then you know some of these faces are not exactly new to you or me. So let us take all of this into account when processing what went down Wednesday night for our two groups of New Faces in Montreal's Cabaret Juste Pour Rire. (Pictured at right: Nick Vatterott) They'll all have one more chance tonight at New Faces (some will also be featured in other themed showcases around the festival).
Here is the list everyone in comedy has been waiting for the past year to see, your New Faces at the 2010 Just For Laughs Montreal comedy festival, performing for live audiences and the industry of show business tonight, Wednesday and Thursday...
"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?
In real life, maybe you audition a few months ago for a comedy competition that's going to be televised everywhere in America and beyond. Maybe your audition goes well. Maybe it goes well enough that you get asked to perform again at a live audience showcase, and then that goes well enough that you receive a red-ticket envelope to perform again in Hollywood. So maybe, just maybe, you're excited to see yourself on television and so are your friends, family and loved ones. So what happens when you and they turn on the TV and, an hour later, are wondering, did we and they blink and miss you? Hold that thought.
Because we're living by TV producers' rules. And in Last Comic Standing's seventh season, even when they say it's not business as usual, it's still show business. Last week, they edited the New York City auditions together to allow some comedians to get better treatment than they should have, while putting others in the background to tease you. What's doing for round two in NYC?
Well, first, host Craig Robinson tells us what happened previously on LCS, which was that nine comedians received tickets to the semifinals. Wait a minute! Nine??? That cannot be right, no matter how you edit it, because they let 12 people through on the night I watched live and in person, and apparently another 12 in the other showcase, so already, you and I know that there are going to be some comedians who were happy a few months ago, but who are going to be much less happy tonight.
Cue the actual and the artificial tension!
Brian McKim -- for people born before the Y2K bug wiped out the first version of the Internet, you may know him as "The Male Half" of Shecky Magazine -- gets the first uncredited one-liner of the evening, followed by a montage of comedians we should expect to be seeing later in the hour. By the way, if anyone has been watching all of the pre-season promos, Robinson is sneaking in his proposed catchphrase mantra for the season: "Be about it!"
We officially start the night off with Jerry Rocha, from Dallas, who says he has been a professional stand-up for eight years, and vows to hug anyone and everyone if he doesn't advance. He jokes with the judges about his racist uncle who doesn't quite get racial jokes. Our judges are given the superimposed title of "Comedy Jurist" this evening, which sounds much more foreboding than before, when they were judges. Now they're judges and jury? Me no get it. But me still likey Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, so me no stop recapping. Calise Hawkins apparently is from Illinois (I know her as a Jersey girl, where she lives now, while you simply know her as a single mother with a big Afro!), and she takes us into her home with her daughter, and how adorable are they? Kindler isn't a big fan of her material about a homeless guy on the subway, but he and Giraldo both think she's a good performer, and Leggero enjoyed it, so Hawkins gets another chance to perform. Mike Vecchione jokes about his New York City cop look, and I know and you know and we know that he is funny, and even Leggero, who happened to see Vecchione the other night at the Comedy Cellar agrees. Who wants a pretzel?
Zed is the future of stand-up comedy? Somebody better tell Ron Lynch about this competing comedy robot. "Is this a character you're doing?" Giraldo asks. A woman has a whip on the sidewalk. For some reason. Kindler talks about clowns and jugglers, and jokes about all comedians starting out as novelty acts. You remember Lenny Bruce the sword swallower, right? Kindler prefers seeing a comedian sweat. Take that, deodorant ad!
Kyle Grooms doesn't have to worry about that. He did an Obama impersonation in the early TV ads for this season, and he does it for the judges, too. Giraldo says he is not a fan of impersonations but knows that that's not a big part of Grooms' act, so no worries. He's through.
What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they're comedians? No, that's not it. It is a fact, though, that America's biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a new recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York's vibrant comedy scene. It's called Meet Me In New York.
Mike Vecchione has appeared on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham and has come tantalizingly close to winning New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest the past two years, this year taking home the "People's Choice" award, which (fun fact?) did not include cash or an actual award. He looks like a Staten Island police officer and isn't afraid to joke about that, or anything really, as his act sounds as though he is a chosen disciple of the Comedy Church of Dave Attell, Latter-Day Sinners. In a good way, obviously. In fact, Vecchione also has served our nation as a teacher! Now it's time for you to learn something about him.
Name: Michael Vecchione
Arrival date: December 2003
Arrived from: Philadelphia
When and where did you start performing comedy? Philadelphia, October 2000
What was your best credit before moving here? My best credit before moving was a local TV clip on the Comcast network.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? I picked NYC over LA because it was closer to Philly and there are more rooms, more opportunities for stage time and more of a focus on actual stand-up.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? My first paid gig in NYC came through my friend Marina Franklin, who ran a weekend room in the Bronx (it was an Italian restaurant) and booked me and four other comics for a Saturday.
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? The scene is very similiar to when I moved here at the end of 2003. I worked as hard as I could writing and performing in rooms until I gradually broke into the clubs. I am thankful to work the clubs and I try to use each spot to improve in some way.
Do you already have an "only in New York City" moment yet? My "only in NYC" moment happens whenever I cannot find parking...
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? I would tell any comedian moving here that geography will not make you a better comic. You have to immerse yourself in the scene, get on stage as much as possible, use the stage time to improve, write as much as possible.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? In five years I hope to be writing, performing comedy, doing something meaningful on television, like maybe -- on that MTV show Jersey Shore.
These days, you can see Vecchione perform regularly in clubs around New York City, including Carolines and the Comedy Cellar. He'll also be headlining the Catch a Rising Star in Providence, RI, on Dec. 18-19, 2009.
Here's a clip of Vecchione from Live at Gotham, talking about how far we've come from yesterday's problems, and offering solutions for today's problems. Roll it!
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com
How did two Mikes win the 2009 New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest? Well, it wasn't Michael and Michael having issues, because Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black didn't even enter; and it certainly wasn't Mike and Mike in the Morning, because that's a sports talk-radio show. No and no. The contest, part of the New York Comedy Festival, had two winners this year thanks to the addition of the People's Choice Awards.
Myq Kaplan took home the trophy and the cash prize as winner of the contest. But the audience said Mike Vecchione, who narrowly missed out on the prize last year, deserved to be honored -- and he won the People's Choice Award and will get to do so in Los Angeles when the awards are handed out in early 2010. Who gets custody of the award's opening slot in the New York Comedy Festival, as well as a weekend of gigs at Carolines? I don't know. Considering both guys would have done both already, I'm sure they'll work it out. Congrats to both!
Drum roll, please? The other five finalists advancing to the finals of 2009's New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest are (in alphabetical order): Geno Bisconte, Stephanie Holmes, Vidur Kapur, Carmen Lynch and Mike Vecchione.
Who's your pick to win?
If you were to ask me at the start of the 2008 New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest, who I thought would win, well, someone did, and before I could say "John Mulaney" (whoops, he's not even in the contest? wait, what? oh, right, Mulaney is headlining at the Punchline in San Francisco this week, so he already had plans), I thought, Julian McCullough was the only Carolines club comic returning from among the 2007 contest finalists, so, yeah, him. McCullough did win the $2,500 prize last night at Carolines, along with a week of gigs at the club and an additional spot opening for one of the New York Comedy Festival headliners.
"I'm going to move to Hoboken with this money," McCullough joked while holding the large cardboard fake-check, in between sincere sentiments about his fellow competitors. "I want to thank Carolines. They've changed my life over the past two years."
McCullough told me afterward that he already had a festival gig opening for Susie Essman at Carolines this weekend. Which makes me realize that picking the winner of this contest is simple! Last year, winner Wil Sylvince had a festival gig before the contest; this year, 'twas McCullough. So if you want to win in 2009, get yourself booked in the fest first!
As even McCullough pointed out when he opened his finals set, stand-up comedy contests don't mesh well with stand-up comedy personalities. "Take the hardest job in the world and pit us against each other," he told the audience. And this contest has some work to do, too -- it uses the same audition process as Last Comic Standing (preferring appointments over open calls), which gives an advantage to comedians who know the system and the Carolines staff; and the name, well, the name of the contest, "New York's Funniest Stand-Up," is about as much of a misnomer as Grammy's Best New Artist. Actually, it'd make more sense if they called it New York's Best New Stand-Up, because even if the stand-up has worked for years, he or she is new to the New York City scene and industry and at least that separates that title from the many great and funny stand-up comedians who live in the city. That said, it's great that the Carolines-produced festival addded the contest to its lineup, because it's one of those events that helps make this week in NYC comedy more special and unique than any other week.
Want to know who I think New York's funniest stand-up is? Want to know how everyone else did in the contest? Keep reading...
One of my newspaper alma maters, the New York Daily News, devoted much of its Sunday features section to comedy, thanks in part to this week's New York Comedy Festival, but also to how much comedy has impacted politics this campaign season. There's a story from Caroline Waxler about how comedians might react to an Obama presidency, brief interviews with fest headliners Sarah Silverman, Tracy Morgan and Carlos Mencia, a profile roundup of the 11 finalists in the New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest, and a look-back at some quotes from Bernie Mac, who appears posthumously in the new movies Madagascar 2 and Soul Men.
There was a tie! We don't know what that means, other than the fact that six more stand-up comedians made it into the finals of the 2008 New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest, instead of five, and they are:
D.C. Benny, Geno Bisconte, Hailey Boyle, Jordan Carlos, Myq Kaplan and Mike Vecchione
They join the other semi's "winners," Nate Bargatze, Esther Ku, Julian McCullough, Reese Waters, and Stone & Stone in the finals, to be contested Nov. 5 at Carolines as part of the New York Comedy Festival.
Mike Vecchione has taught in the schools and survived to tell about it, in jokes and such. He was on Live at Gotham over the weekend, and something tells me you'll be seeing more of him in other places soon enough...he gets an applause break on his opening routine on being a wrestler! And Jesus jokes! There are a couple of moments in which you see a little bit of influence from hanging around and performing with a comedian whose name rhymes with Tave Adell. I won't tell you which moments those are. Happy hunting!