After five straight nights of traveling, joke-telling and ego bruising, many of the comics are ready for this week to end.
It is fitting that the first round should end in a casino. For this is a mighty big gamble. The winner of this competition gets $3,000. But there is no money -- I repeat, no money -- for you if you don't make it out of the first round. You may get applause. You may even pick up some fans along the way. But you get no other compensation for your week on the road. It might actually cost you a pretty penny to compete in this thing.
Thus, the pressure mounts. Some of the comics still in the running have begun to second-guess their material. They add new jokes or try anything different to make a final attempt at the top five. Those of us who have been mathematically eliminated from advancing have a different view of the last day. A couple of people snap. Chris Maltby spends his final minutes of stage time explaining how the judges and audiences hated him for being gay. Scott Meyer decides to take this night to explain his madness to the other comics. Of course, this meant nothing to the audience.
The crowd was unnecessarily tought tonight. Considering how little they paid for the show -- the casino actually paid the crowd in gambling coupons for their attendance -- you would have thought they might have been more forgiving.
For the record, the top five tonight were:
1. Jan Barrett
2. Bengt Washburn
3. Mike Capp
4. James Heneghen
5. Joe Vespaziani
For the week:
1. Bengt Washburn, 53.16
2. Joe Vespaziani, 52.02
3. James Heneghen, 51.76
4. Kevin Foxx, 50.94
5. Jan Barrett, 50.16
6. Andy Andrist, 50.09
7. Damonde Tschritter, 48.77
8. Mike Capp, 47.27
9. Dean Evans, 46.02
10. Curtis Lee, 44.50
11. Stan Chen, 43.76
12. Gary Lucy, 43.64
13. Celeste Franklin, 40.56
14. Sean McCarthy, 39.16
15. Chris Maltby, 39.04
16. Amy Barnes, 38.27
17. Dave Dennison, 37.40
18. Scott Meyer, 35.89
I learned a lot during this past week. For one thing, I didn't finish last. Heck, I didn't even finish next to last, or next-to-next-to last. I learned that while it takes years to become a top-notch comedian, it can take only a couple of days to come up with a very funny bit. I learned that a comedian can tell the same exact jokes from a year ago and still win. I learned that a comedian can improve his or her score with the judges and the powers-that-be if he or she complains in the right manner. I learned that complaining just to complain, however, is not funny at all. I also learned that, if for some reason, you find yourself standing alone onstage dancing in your boxer shorts -- and no one else prompted you to take off your clothes -- you have no more shame. And I learned something very important about myself: Thank God I didn't quit my day job.
Well, well, well.
As we headed into night 5 of 6, things began to get a bit ticklish for many of the comics. The comics in the middle of the pack, score-wise, are feeling the pressure, knowing that they still have a chance to make the top five overall and qualify for the semifinals. But they probably feel less pressure than the folks already at the top, who know that two bad nights now can end their chances for the contest.
Joe Vespaziani, still the current leader in our week, confides in me that he's a bundle of nerves. He says he has not done well in Bellingham in years past. His spirits lighten a little when Scott Meyer emerges onstage tonight in disguise as El Destructo, a Mexican wrestler. With mask, cape, a "wife-beater" shirt and shorts, Meyer/El Destructo puts on a performance that has all of the comics -- and much of the audience -- in hysterics. Halfway through the set, he pulls out an effigy of Vespaziani and proceeds to beat the literal stuffing out of it. Despite that, Meyer earns a very low score tonight.
And the comics who do well are those who don't let the pressure get to them.
Kevin Foxx and Damonde Tschritter, the two British Columbians in the bunch, strike a chord with the Bellingham crowd. Dean Evans performs a carefree loosey-goosey set. And Mike Capp -- Mr. Bell and Horn to you -- finds yuks out of a couple with now seemingly obvious marital problems. After much tinkering, I finally figured out what it takes to do well in this competition. It helped that I was the last comic on stage. Finally I had a chance to go up later in the show and give the crowd what they wanted. Two of the three judges (one of whom is described as a Republican Catholic conservative) rank me among the top five comics tonight. Several women introduced themselves to me afterward and said they loved my set.
And all I did was have a woman take off my pants and perform a lap dance for a guy in the audience. Now that's comedy.
Your unofficial top five tonight:
1. Bengt Washburn
2. Dean Evans
3. Kevin Foxx
4. Damonde Tschritter
5. Mike Capp
Heading into Monday night's final night of round one, the leaders are:
1. Bengt Washburn
2. Joe Vespaziani
3. James Heneghen
4. Kevin Foxx
5. Andy Andrist
But I'll have you know, I beat Andy tonight. I have begun making my climb out of the cellars of mediocrity. I can smell the middle of the pack now. And it smells good.
Next stop: The end of the road at the Muckleshoot Casino near Auburn. Showtime 8:30 p.m. It's better than free. The casino is giving people gambling money to come to the show. I'll see you there.
This is a good opportunity to explain how life on the road for a stand-up comedian is not always all it's cracked up to be -- if you pardon the cliche.
Club Broadway is a big old four-story building in downtown Everett. The venue offers multiple shows every weekend. That's convenient for folks. But not for entertainers. We were set up on the third floor. While we tried to do our thing, actors were performing a murder-mystery next door. That wasn't as much of a distraction, however, as the KISS tribute band that played downstairs. The guitars and drums were loud enough at times to drown out the jokes and laughter in our room. Needless to say, it was a bit unnerving to many.
There were other problems, too. The stage had a railing that either made the comics look like they were caged animals or like actors on the bridge of the Titanic. The microphone had a shorting problem that muted several punchlines and launched Jan Barrett into a profanity-laced tirade (are there other kinds of tirades) DURING her act.
This answers one of last night's nagging questions.
Barrett completed her set, stormed off stage and yelled her way out of the building -- causing half of the audience to turn their attention away from the next comic's act. Any yet Barrett still finished second tonight.
Which leads us to the crowd. This was a decidedly different kind of comedy crowd. Older, more blue-collar, some may say staid, even. You could swear in front of them (I didn't) but you couldn't get completely in their face about much of anything. It was very much a Heneghen crowd. And he milked it for all it was worth. Heneghen is older (51), and has a blue-collar look to him, even if he was an engineer when he worked for a living. He also was a finalist last year. So he knows what works and what won't in this shindig.
So your unofficial top five:
2. Jan Barrett
3. Bengt Washburn
4. Curtis Lee
5. Andy Andrist
Only half of the 18 comics received the lucrative encore point. Joe Vespaziani, our overall leader so far, was not among them. But he predicted as much earlier tonight, saying he always sucks after the first half of the week. Plus, he adds later, "Everett's always my throwaway." Tossing out his low score keeps him in the No. 1 spot overall with two nights left.
Andy Andrist continues to do well. Before his set, he answers one of our other questions by saying he will introduce a level of physicality into his act tonight. "Uncomfortable movement is better than no movement at all," he says. Andrist also geared his set to the Everett crowd, making fun of Loverboy (who would be appearing next month at Club Broadway -- and you thought KitsaParty was their only big gig) and making fun of his set from last year (which several audience members seemed to remember). "Mitch Hedberg supplied me with all the drugs last year," he quipped.
And we still don't know why Dave Dennison is called Chili Dog. And frankly, we don't care why anymore.
Next stop: The food court in the Bellis Fair Mall, Bellingham.
Or so you might think.
Before tonight's show at the Cloverleaf, several comics come up to me looking for pointers or advice on local places they can use for their jokes. Somehow they got the impression that I know something about comedy. This was the one night when I knew I absolutely, positively could not afford to suck.
The Cloverleaf had a sold-out crowd. And most of these people live, work and shop in the same places I do. One bad joke -- or several -- and the rest of my days at The Sun would be marked, or should I say, mocked. How could I show my adorable little face again?
But I digress. The audience, seemingly filled with co-workers, friends and even readers (yes, I know what you're thinking, but some people actually read The Sun), roared its approval as I opened the night's competition. I thought it went well. But by the time the other 17 comics had done their time and the scores had been tallied, I came up short again.
Your unofficial top five for tonight:
1. Joe Vespaziani
2. Kevin Foxx
3. Andy Andrist (tie)
3. James Heneghen (tie)
5. Bengt Washburn
A trend has emerged. Three comics have placed high in each of the three nights. All five of tonight's top finishers are repeats from night No. 1. And I, though a crowd favorite I might be, I took a score less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Some lingering questions...
Why does everyone keep betting on when Jan Barrett will drop out of the contest? Why in the world is Dave Dennison known as "Chili Dog?" If Mitch Hedberg, last year's winner, had been in our group this year, would Andy Andrist have to change his act? Will Joe V. keep working his comedy magic on the masses? Tune in tomorrow to see these mysteries unravel and more. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Web Site.
Next stop: Club Broadway, Everett. Showtime 7 p.m.
Let me introduce a couple of my friends.
Joe Vespaziani. A man among men. Who else among us in the competition can say they've had a bum kidney, endured the pain of a catheter, and then written a hilarious bit about it? Who, I ask you? Who? Joe lives in Lynnwood. But don't hold that against him. Few people taking the stage today can write a joke as well as Joe can. And so far this week, Joe is enjoying the proverbial fruits of his labor. He has finished in the top two each of the first two nights, including his win on Wednesday.
"I've never had that happen before," Joe said before tonight's show.
He said he has always worried about what jokes to tell in the competition. And though he has placed in the top five a couple of nights in past years, he hasn't gotten his due. So this year he decided to throw out his typical set and give audiences what amounts to a greatest-hits package. It also helps, I should note, that he has gotten to follow me onstage both times. Actually, I owe Joe a lot in terms of my own comedic growth. For it was Joe who allowed Dancing Boy to see his day (or night) in the spotlight.
At the other end of the competition's spectrum is Scott Meyer. Meyer -- even his wife calls him that (go figure) -- is a 27-year-old from Edmonds who is a veteran of five Seattle competitions. Meyer, like Joe, writes darn good jokes. He makes a decent living at it, too. But somehow, someway, the competition does not shine brightly on my friend Meyer. So this is his last go-round, he says. And he plans to make it memorable. On night one, he finished last, portraying "The Intellectual," a smoking jacket-wearing, martini-sipping guy who tells the lowest of lowbrow jokes. "So far, I'm right on track with the Meyer plan with dead first or dead last," he said tonight. "Tonight's set is designed to put me under the top. I've given up with even being pleased with my score. I was pleased with my performance."
He certainly enjoyed himself tonight as he demonstrated the miracle of life by giving birth onstage. But he did not finish first or last. Last place arrived on the doorstep of yours truly, thanks to a mind-numbing six minutes that included a pause where I forgot what joke I wanted to tell next, and two bits that I never intended to do outside of an open mike. Let's just say me mind was on other things, shall we? Needless to say, I did not get the encore point tonight.
Your unofficial top five tonight:
1. Andy Andrist
2. Joe Vespaziani
3. Kevin Foxx
4. Damonde Tschritter
5. Stan Chen
The encore point is a tricky and entirely subjective bonus that makes or breaks your chances of placing in the top five. When you're done telling your jokey jokes, the host (Arnold Mukai for our week) comes back onstage and announces your name. The audience then gives its approval with applause and appropriate hoots and hollers. If the applause is "tremendously obvious" to the host, he/she will award you an encore point. That gives the host some say in the matter, you might think. But tonight, the judges decided that at least one comic, Curtis Lee, had been robbed of his encore point. It didn't help Curtis make the top five. But it kept his score in the running. And when you've still got four nights to go, every point matters.
Next stop: A homecoming of sorts for me at The Cloverleaf in Bremerton. A word of warning -- I have drawn the dreaded pole position. That's right. I will be going first. I am going to throw down the gauntlet. Let them try to follow my heat. Just let them try.
So officially, I'm sick and tired. I stayed up most of the night Tuesday balancing my day job (yes, some of us comedians -- that would be the bad ones -- still have one of those), watching election returns and desperately trying to figure out if I have any jokes.
And I mean any.
Some people laugh at me all the time, it seems. But I don't tell jokes. Not the kind you tell around the water cooler at work the next morning kind of jokes, or even the ones you tell at the bar or in a comedy club (by far the best place to tell jokes). I'm more of a walking specimen of uninhibited madness, unleashed nightly to shock and amaze unsuspecting audiences.
And I'm about to do battle for six straight nights with 17 people who write and tell jokes FOR A LIVING! I'm competing in the annual Seattle International Comedy Competition.
Thank goodness for Jesse "The Body" Ventura. That's Minnesota Governor-elect Ventura to you. His electoral win Tuesday taught me that the key to success in life is having a good nickname. After tonight's performance, I could use a good nickname -- or anything else -- right about now.
I finished 14th.
An optimist would say that makes me funnier than four of the comedians in my group PLUS all of the comics who didn't even get into the competition.
I prefer to look at it another way. This is a lot tougher than I had imagined. Only five of us 18 will make it to the semis later this month. And three of the comics already have proven their mettle by making it at least that far last year (Andy Andrist, Kevin Foxx and James Heneghen). They all finished in the top five tonight.
Much is made of the luck of the draw. Each night we draw cards for our slots in the lineup. Most people say going first is a death wish because no one is ready to laugh (read: drunk enough) yet. I went fifth tonight. Early enough to get in some topical jokes that hadn't been said, but late enough to work the crowd a bit. Who went sixth, you're sure to be asking? Joe Vespaziani. And seventh? Bengt Washburn. See for yourself how well they were able to follow my "heat."
Wednesday's Top 5 (unofficial)
1. Joe Vespaziani, 11
2. Bengt Washburn, 10.74
3. Andy Andrist, 9.79
4. Kevin Foxx, 9.53
5. James Heneghen, 9.46
14. me, 7.98
Judges, usually numbering three, lay down the scores. Each comedian is given a score of 1-10 in seven individual categories: 1) Stage presence 2) Technique 3) Delivery 4) Audience rapport 5) Audience response 6) Material 7) Judge's personal impression
Wally Glenn, "the shadowy man behind the scenes that cowers when exposed to the light of truth" and official scorekeeper, then works his magic. The scores are subtotaled, averaged, given a bonus encore point (if approved by the audience and host) or penalized for time (doing a set of less than 3 or more than 7 minutes), then adjusted so the top finisher has a score of 11. I got the encore point Wednesday. But so did just about everyone else. The only ones who didn't were my buddies Mike Capp and Scott Meyer, who announced before the competition started that their goal was to torment and sabotage the other comedians.
At least they're having fun. And so am I. Going onstage and getting laughs is an incredible rush. Even if the judges didn't agree. Here are my individual scores from the judges...Judge 1: 53. Judge 2: 41. Judge 3: 15. You thinking what I'm thinking?
It's a good thing you get to throw out the lowest score from the six nights. Let's hope the judges are kinder -- or I get funnier -- Thursday night. Next stop: Comedy Underground, Tacoma.
Coming soon: A look at our cast of characters and more details about how this little competition is run.