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.
Are these the names you were looking for? The 2009 Montreal Just For Laughs comedy festival presents the "New Faces" for the industry to discover, fawn over and scrutinize. It looks to be a very strong class, just from the faces and names I already have come to discover, fawn over and scrutinize right here on The Comic's Comic.
So here they are! The New Faces perform in two groups tonight, Wednesday and Thursday -- this year at the Cabaret Juste Pour Rire (much closer to the rest of the action than the far-out Kola Note). Send your wishes of well to the following comedians...photos and links after the jump!