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!
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.