Not all contest preliminary groups in the Boston Comedy Festival are created alike. That's the first thing that has to be said for prelims 3-4 last night. In the late show, you could make a case for at least eight of the 12 comedians to make it through to the semis, but there only were slots for four. As for the early show, well, that was a tougher show to grade, because quite a few comedians were off. Andrew Norelli, going up seventh in the order, used this as his opening remark to the audience at the Hard Rock Cafe: "I know we're making it look like it's not fun, but it's fun!" Also, each of the first four prelims has proved problematic for comedians attempting to deal with the wireless microphone -- grabbing it from the stand, at least one comic per group manages to turn the mic off, and thereby momentarily derailing their sets. Tech proficiency can be just as important in delivering and connecting with the audience. Please make a note of it. Thanks. With that, let's get to who advanced and why...
Norelli acknowledged the early roughgoing and proceeded to get the audience on his side by talking about steroids in baseball, and how other drugs might make it better. A routine on massages went from happy endings (predictable) to massage talkers and the inanity of the phrase, "Push the stress out your arms." He also has a good retort to porn stars who claim they don't know who he is as a comic, as well as people who claim they're broke but still have plenty of money.
Dustin opened with a passing remark to the stage: "Nice ramp. I would've brought my wheelchair if I had known." Tonight's show had plenty of comics noting their surroundings, by the way. But no one else in the contest had to deal with waitresses dropping the checks during their contest set. Dustin still managed to get their attention by talking about vibrators -- "OK, the lonely girl has spoken!" Dustin noted in reference to one shouty audience member -- and jokes about sex and work and things you don't want to hear in bed. I'd heard it all before. It still worked.
Hunter could have had a terrible set by opening rather loud on the mic, but once he focused his routine on one lengthy bit about the many enticements and redeeming qualities he offers the ladies -- namely, everything they tend to like and act like -- got his vocal delivery in a more appealing rhythm that worked. "I'll be by that instrument after the show," he said, in case you wanted to take him up on that offer. Good luck.
O'Reilly also overcame a mistaken gametime decision. For reasons only he can explain, he decided to stop his routine in the middle to engage in crowd work with retired women in the front table. Crowd work that didn't go anywhere. And this was in the middle of O'Reilly joking about sex. His jokes about being a bastard do provide him with a solid line, however, that he can use for callbacks and laughs.
Others in this group deserving mentions of one sort or another: Jono Zalay wore an American flag sweater but didn't explain it, instead delivering a routine about feeding cocaine to rats and monkeys (it's for his studies). Dustin Chafin was rough around the edges, which works better in NYC where he lives now than in the Hard Rock in Boston (especially with the retired ladies up front), and went with midgets, redneck jokes, Bush is dumb, and a good line about how Obama can look more patriotic (hint: Apollo Creed). "Yay!" may not be the most effective catchphrase to utter every 15 seconds. "Big" Alvin David and Kendra Cunningham both had a fun presence, and plenty of crowd support, but couldn't translate that into winning sets. Shawn Donovan picked his doctor just for the name and comedy premise alone, but needed to sell it better. I can see why Myq Kaplan liked Donovan's style (Donovan even borrowed Kaplan's phrase and inflection to deliver one punchline?!).
OK. Moving on...
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…