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!
Want to know who moved on from Tuesday night's preliminary rounds of the stand-up contest for the 2009 Boston Comedy Festival? Well, here you go (and according to this news, apparently some comedians I know, and some comedians I don't know but know are funny, also did not advance to the semis, not to take anything away from the comedians I know who are funny and did advance! get it? got it? good!):
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...