On last night's episode of Conan, stand-up comedian Ryan Hamilton let us all know that it's OK to be from Idaho or any state in between New York and California. I spent my first two years after college working at a daily newspaper in Idaho, so Hamilton and I often bond over our time in the land of potatoes. One thing I cannot relate to is hot air balloon rides. Neither can Hamilton, who explains the craziness of going on a hot air balloon ride, too.
Roll the clip!
Someone decided it was hot enough in here to buy some ice cream treats, stay home, and get giggly with it tonight. OK. Fine. It was so hot in NYC today that my brain obviously isn't working, so maybe the mush of the TV will make everything right in the world again. Either that, or Craig Robinson and a kitty cat will tell me it's time for the first part of the semifinals of season seven of NBC's Last Comic Standing. Finally we're getting somewhere. UPDATED: Now with video clips!
Are you ready for your first semifinalist, Myq Kaplan? I put the comma in the wrong place there, because he is more than ready, he is already done because this was a taped performance. Don't call in with your votes just yet. Kaplan is feeling bookish this evening, telling us about books, movies, and movies about books. Kaplan also is the first, at least if we're presuming they haven't edited the placement here, to have to deal with the hyped-up live audience at the Alex Theater in Glendale, Calif. Judges Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Andy Kindler all have nice things to say about Myq Kaplan. Kindler says Kaplan "absolutely killed" which means he lost the pool? "I can't think of a funnier line in comedy than Brad Pitt is in this book." And we're getting judges notes, as if it really is going to be the American Idol version of LCS. Then again, we did hear judges give notes to comedians during the semis in previous seasons, so maybe it's just time for a commercial break. Any predictions? I have one!
Jamie Lee is up next, and she admits backstage that she is terrified about being seen by millions on the TV. Too late! You're on TV! Lee gets whoops from audience members when she says she's originally from Texas, but wants to joke about her model roommate in NYC. Lee also mentions dating a comedian, and knowing it's bad when even their inside jokes were bombing. (Note: Lee already has told me that her jokes about her comedian ex are not really about her comedian ex, for those of you who were thinking about someone specific just then). Leggero says Lee has "huge potential," while Giraldo says it wasn't her best set. Based on these notes, you could swap them out with Idol, couldn't you? You could. You could.
Mike DeStefano wants to be so good, the audience sets the place on fire. I'm not sure that would actually be a good thing, but it makes for a soundbite. DeStefano jokes about how everyone in his neighborhood was Italian, including the old Chinese guy and the young black kid. Did you know that Italians shrink and get mean when they get old? This audience is so hot, they're hooting and handing out applause breaks for everything. DeStefano keeps saying "thank you, thank you" like a politician trying to get back to his stump speech. Because he wants you to know how he deals with pretty ladies. Kindler finds him "hilarious" and could not criticize any portion of his set. "And you have screamers," Leggero added. She asks about his Jesus tattoo, and DeStefano corrects her: "It's Jim Caviezel."
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.
When I first became aware of Ryan Hamilton, he was a cross between Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, because he told me and the audience so. When I learned he had grown up in Idaho, I, as an Idaho resident for two prime years of my life, felt he was OK in my book. Now let me share him with your book. He has updated his website just in time for you to see him here, or perhaps on the NBC television network's Last Comic Standing. Here's two scoops of knowledge on Ryan Hamilton.
Name: Ryan Hamilton
Arrival date: October 2007
Arrived from: Salt Lake City, UT, but I'm originally from Idaho.
When and where did you start performing comedy? 2001 in Utah. I also spent a little over a year early on in Seattle, and I also consider Boston a comedy home. I grew up in Idaho.
What was your best credit before moving here? Live at Gotham or Last Comic Standing
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? I had come here for a couple of days to tape Live at Gotham a year before and I had a great time. I'd spent a lot more time in L.A. and probably had a little more going on there. But, I think I wanted to see for myself if I could make something happen in NYC. I was curious.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? By some magic, the first night I was here a friend got me on a paid show. I didn't know it was paid and the booker called me the next day to tell me I forgot to pick up my money. At that moment, I started to think NYC was going to be easier than I'd expected. No one in comedy anywhere ever had called me before and said, "Hey, you forgot your money." It felt like that thing when someone has never gambled before and then somehow wins big on their first game, I mean wins like a lot too, like $25 or something, it was like that. The show went under the next week, and I didn't get paid again in NYC for about a year probably.
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? Salt Lake City to NYC? No difference. Actually, Salt Lake City was great for me. There are three comedy clubs all within about 35 minutes of each other, and I could get a lot of good weekend stage time early on in those clubs. If I mixed it up with some road work, I could get a lot accomplished there. In NYC, of course, there is a big step up in the sheer number of amazingly talented comedians I'm surrounded by every day. That pushes me and forces me to work hard in my own specific direction. Also, when I'm home in NYC, even if I don't have a set planned, I can go out and still meet someone new or learn something new every night. I love that.
Do you already have an "only in New York City" moment yet? I enjoy carrying large pieces of furniture down the street in the middle of a summer night. I think that's a very New York thing to do. In the midst of it you're thinking, "This is great. I love New York. My arms hurt. Why isn't anyone helping us? How long are these blocks?" all the while maintaining a slight smile because of the obscurity of hauling a couch down the street in the middle of the night. I like things like that.
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):
As I type this, I'm still in NYC, taking care of a few last-minute details at HQ before heading over to Port Authority for the overnight bus to Boston. But the 2009 Boston Comedy Festival stand-up contest continued with the first half of the semifinal brackets. Comedians from the eight prelims got sorted out into four new groups for the semis. And the initial reports are in from Thursday night's first two semis.
Moving on to Saturday's finals...
They outscored Mike Whitman, Sean Sullivan, Joe List, Kevin Kneuer, Orlando Baxter and Alycia Cooper.
They outlasted Tyler Boeh, Justin Williams, Alvin David, Karen Rontowski, Harrison Greenbaum and Anton Shuford.
Two more semifinal groups of eight comedians apiece will face off tonight at the Hard Rock Cafe.
The Boston Comedy Festival's 2009 stand-up contest completed its preliminary-round action on Wednesday night. Did your favorite comedian make it to the semis, which will be held Thursday and Friday? That depends. I don't know who your favorite is/was, but I do know who advanced from the final two prelim rounds.
Apparently, at least 10 customers need to be in the audience to constitute an audience to keep this record bid afloat. And we're teetering on the edge of this number at 6:15 a.m., when Ryan Hamilton takes the stage. And somehow, the few remaining audience members feel compelled "to help." That's what one guy tells Hamilton after offering additional tags to a joke (note: they're not calling these tags, but you and I know what I mean, if you know what I mean). Another audience member, who says he's been here for 14 hours -- or some such gibberish at one point -- tells Hamilton it's now 6:16 a.m. and to take the offer of help seriously. Seriously? Hamilton knows what he's doing. We just need to find that morning crowd that arrived yesterday and things will get back on track. So if you're reading this, please head on over to the Comic Strip. Thanks.
John Oliver taped an hourlong Comedy Central special of his own two weeks ago in New York City, and despite technical glitches that interrupted both tapings (and kept the second show audience out in the cold that much longer), 'twas a rousing success. I may have mentioned that earlier today.
For many in the audience who only know him as a correspondent on The Daily Show with John Stewart (as pictured), Oliver's stand-up comes as a revelation. In fact, the folks over at Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch couldn't believe it. Believe it. In fact, much of his material has been honed over the past couple of years in the alt-venues of New York City, his Bugle podcasts with Andy Zaltzman (who appeared onstage as a professor for a sketch with Oliver that encountered audio problems during the first taping, and prompting Oliver to quip, "If you cannot speak without static, then I don't know what to say.") and even the Aspen festival last year for the comedy industry. Alone on the big stage at Symphony Space, though, Oliver had added production values at his disposal, allowing his biting wit and geo-political commentary to have more bite. Bits on a world math problem and unfair trade got visual aides on the screen behind him. Trust me, it's better to see Oliver's illustration of unfair trade on a big screen than on a folded-up piece of paper in his hands. Another routine he's performed often, on how the influential melodrama of layering power ballads from the 1980s and 1990s can make even the most poisonous rhetoric sound wistful, seemed even more effective with images displayed behind him. We also learned in this hour why Oliver became a comedian and not an athlete. Throughout the taping and its pitfalls, we saw Oliver remained quick on his feet. From the beginning, when stagehands rushed a mic offstage to him, when he said, "This gig has not yet begun and yet I am talking. Don't let the maverick beginning fool you. It'll get much more conventional soon enough." To the end, when he stumbled over the word "protest" and uttered "plotest" instead: "We can invent words...change your Scrabble boards."
John Oliver's Comedy Central special is tentatively scheduled to air April 20.
Ryan Hamilton had the tough task of coming out cold to warm up the audience ("I'm just here to get the wheels greased"), but in 10-11 minutes managed to get them going with his regular opening bit about looking like the white Chris Rock or the illegitimate child of Jerry and Elaine from Seinfeld, his views on speed dating, glitter, garbage disposals, and an energetic/nostalgic bit about bike safety and getting the wind knocked out of you.
Local 20-year-old Dan Boulger — let me repeat that — 20-year-old Dan Boulger took home the top prize and an estimated $7,000 as winner of the 2006 Boston Comedy Festival stand-up comedy contest! Boulger told me afterward that the only gig he has lined up so far is a date in October in Portland, Maine, at the Comedy Connection there opening for Jimmy Dunn. That should change. As an even more surreal moment, last night, Jimmy Dunn was standing outside Remington’s on the sidewalk with Tony V. I told Dunn that he’d be working with Boulger soon. Dunn didn’t even know. Yes, my friends. The Boston comedy scene got a little bit of a healthy shake-up. Methinks this will be a good thing.
The final order of finish in last night’s finale:
1) Dan Boulger
2) Darryl Lenox
3) Ryan Hamilton
4) Brad Upton
5) Stewart Huff
6) Floyd J. Phillips
7) Shane Mauss
8) Russell Bell
I have no major complaints or quibbles with the judges’ cumulative scorecard here. I had it between Boulger and Lenox, and in my cynical heart of hearts, didn’t think the judges would side with the kid over the comedy vet, but impressed that they did. Hamilton could’ve had a shot, too, but going up first is a hard sell.
What do comedy contests and criticism offer to the stand-up comedian? Validation. Feedback. Two things most comics desperately desire. Or, another way to look at it: Am I funny? Why did they think I wasn’t as funny as that other comic? At the Boston Comedy Festival, the annual stand-up contest has its own quirks. Among them, the lack of feedback. The comedians who don’t place in the top two (or three) have no idea what happened. Did they get disqualified or penalized for going too long? In Seattle, everyone in the room, audience included, knows if a comic goes over the time limit by seeing the red light. In Boston, you don’t know Jack unless you ask Jack, the volunteer with the pen flashlight. Also (and I hate to keep using Seattle as the reference, but it’s the one I know best), all of the comics know where they rank each night, from first to last, and that allows them to gauge what’s working and what’s not. So perhaps having me judge one of the prelims (I got asked to fill in at the last minute) will offer even more guidance and feedback.
For instance, the scoring system. Each judge is asked to give a comic from 1-10 points in the categories of stage presence, originality, audience response and judge’s opinion. Top score, then, would be 40. On my sheet, you would’ve seen a lot of 8s and 9s, with a few 7s and 10s and rare 6s. One of the comics asked me later last night how he did, because he truly wanted to know. For everybody else, here is the recap.
Prelim 5 (in order of appearance)
1) Brian “Sheckymagazine.com” McKim: A fiendishly delicious treat, not just to judge the Male Half of the Shecky enterprise but also to watch him perform. McKim somehow manages to be comfortably stiff onstage, so to speak. A nice turn on the age-old “Employees Must Wash Hands” sign. Jokes about Phoenix, Ariz., that I appreciated from having lived there, even more so because he managed to describe the heat in jokes I hadn’t heard hundreds of times before. Did he do that for me? Probably not.
2) Taylor Connelly: Young Boston comic. Essentially delivers his Comedy Studio set, opening with riff on his first name. Funny observations, including, “People will try to eat chalk if you put it in an Altoids container.” His closer, on hipping up Jesus, gave me a brief flashback to David Crowe, not that many people in the room would know that. The crowd loved him. Taylor, I mean.
3) Jan Davidson: Describes how she is a terrible mother, but humorously explains “The Facts of Life” to her daughter (and the audience). Ends with a clever closing bit, showing her best actress delivery on saying goodbye to the audience. A strong set. Already three good sets and still nine comics to go. Why are the comedy blogging gods mocking me?
4) Mark Serritella: His Festival bio says he could be seen on Dat Phan’s 2006 College Tour. Is that something to brag about? Fortunately, he does not mention this onstage. Instead, he explains why women never need breast implants and describes his life as a kindergarten teacher. Funny remark about how no one knows the new Iraqi prime minister, but he might as well be named Hassoontobe Hassassinated. Note: I might not have spelled that correctly.
5) Jennie McNulty: Talks about how all politicians are crooked and suggests that anyone who wants to be president automatically should be ineligible; instead, fill the office like jury duty. It’s funny, but I’ve heard it before. She also plays football (that I haven’t heard before), and describes how the emotions play out on the field. And yes, she is a lesbian.
6) Renata Tutko: Good set. However. The front of the room didn’t love her nearly as much as the back of the room. That’s a weird sensation. I wonder what the people sitting fairly quietly up front were thinking while they heard all of that laughter behind them.
7) Mike Whitman: Got off to a slow start, it seemed, as he tried to find his words and his place onstage. Made up for it in the end with his bit about the absurdity of chainsaws in horror movies.
8) Marty Laquidara: He’s a scream, all right. No, make that a screamer. He loves the ladies, or so he keeps saying. He also did drugs — only one time — from 1989 to 1997. Get it? The audience laps up his true cocaine story nonetheless.
9) Amy Tee: I’ve seen Amy Tee do well and I’ve seen Amy Tee bomb, so I wasn’t sure which Amy Tee I’d see. OK. I have to stop writing the words Amy Tee. Let’s leave with a joke of hers about being separated from her wife. That’s not an image people want in their heads: “Two lesbians not having sex?”
10) Kjell Bjorgen: Opens lamely by asking the audience if they want to rock, Ashlee Simpson style. But Kjell quickly senses this, saying, “Too aggressive? Let’s take a step back.” From then on, all solid gold. Makes a case for sneezing on children rather than yelling at them or hitting them. Also a strong closing bit about keeping records as a waiter.
11) Ryan Hamilton: Wait. Didn’t I see him last year as the Sierra Mist comedian of the year, or something like that. And isn’t Sierra Mist sponsoring the festival? Not that I’m suggesting anything dubious. Or am I? Anyhoo. Hamilton starts by referencing his look. Yes, he looks sort of like a white Chris Rock, and looks/talks sort of like a blonde Jerry Seinfeld. Uses the overused, “I am single, if that’s not apparent” line. Funny joke about speed dating, though, followed by “a facetious heel kick — you don’t get that very often.” Jokes about Lasik seem very familiar, but then again, I did see him last year.
12) Lamont Ferguson: Announces that the happy train ride is over, time for Mr. Cranky. Notes he has been performing stand-up for 24 years, and his experience shows. He talks about getting rid of hyphenated American labels. You won’t find an African-Englishman, he notes. True enough.
Moving on, advancing, winning, whatever you want to call it were: Ryan Hamilton and Kjell Bjorgen.
Is that what I had on my scorecard? No and yes. Who do you think I rated higher? Can you tell from this recap? Do you want to be able to tell from this recap? Stay tuned for part two of last night’s prelims…