Last Comic Standing is the latest offering from NBC in the ever increasing talent contest genre. The show bills itself as A Search for the Funniest Person in America. “Who is the funniest? You will decide!” The competition is open to professional and non-professional comics across the country. Actor/comedian Jay Mohr hosts.
Basically, the show looks to be the comic version of American Idol. After semi-finals in Los Angeles and New York, twenty aspiring comic stars will battle it out in Las Vegas, reducing the field to ten. Those ten will live together in a mansion atop the Hollywood Hills while the field is narrowed down to the last comic standing. Gee, I wonder where they got that idea? The winner will get an hour long special on Comedy Central, and an exclusive contract with NBC.
As the LCS version of AI’s Dramatic Voiceover Man tells us that they saw thousands of comedians along the way, we’re treated to AI-style audition lines that stretch seemingly endlessly. The difference? I don’t remember seeing anyone in a banana suit in the AI lines.
The first episode is the West Coast Semi-Finals. What? Semi-Finals already? What happened to the auditions? The AI auditions were some of the most entertaining moments for me. They show one audition clip and I quickly realize that they’re doing us a favor by skipping the auditions. People that think that can sing when they can’t: funny. People that think they’re funny and aren’t: not funny. Usually painfully not funny.
The West Coast semi-finals, held at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood, CA, are being judged by three celebrity talent scouts; Joe Rogan, Mo’Nique, and Buddy Hackett. Okay, I know Rogan from Fear Factor. I know Hackett because he’s been around since the dawn of time. I have no idea who Miss ‘Nique is; they tell me she’s been on several sitcoms, but they all must be on the WB or something, because the only one that remotely rings a bell is Brandy. While Jay is introducing us to the talent scouts, we’re shown pictures of tense performers as they prepare backstage.
The first comedian introduced is Shawn Kemp. My first thought was that watching Mr. Kemp attempt to play in the NBA has become mildly amusing, but I don’t think he’s funny. As I watch this tall white guy in a cowboy hat walk up on stage, I realize my error – this is Shawn Kent from Austin, TX. He tells some jokes about Alabama and evolution that frankly, weren’t much better than my feeble Shawn Kemp reference.
Next up is Randi Kaplan from Staten Island. We’re given a brief behind the scenes moment with Randi; she tells us that the two-heart pendant around her neck is made from the wedding bands she and her deceased husband wore. I thought that was pretty sweet, but will she make me laugh? Randi tells a few jokes about being Jewish, and I found her mildly amusing.
Our third performer of the night is Tess, from Sandusky, OH. Our behind the scenes look at Tess reveals that she comes from a strong female family. Her routine consists of poking fun at her weight. I found her delivery to be solid and her stage presence was professional, but the material was run of the mill. Judge Mo loved her: “You commanded that respect, you just brought the funk, and I just want to say sista, you were wonderful, baby.” If she’d thrown in a “dawg” I would have thought she was Randy Jackson in drag.
Tere (pronounced Terry) Joyce from Torrance, CA walks on stage wearing a faux leopard jacket with a ragged faux fur colar. Her hair is bleached blonde and poked out in all directions with cigarette-sized spikes. I imagine that if Cyndie Lauper had become a bag lady, she would have looked something like Tere. As soon as that thought crosses my mind, Tere tells us that people ask her if she is in fact a bag lady. She tells some cigarette jokes. She’s weird, but a little funny.
Rich Frachese from Yonkers, NY is our next performer. He tells us that when he’s at the gym, he is often mistaken for one of the fitness instructors. “The other day a woman walks up to me and says ‘How many stairs do I need to climb to look good?’ Ever hear of Led Zeplin?” My biggest laugh so far comes when Joe Rogan has to explain to Mo’Nique that it was a reference to "Stairway to Heaven."
Our sixth contestant is Ant, from Londonderry, NH. Ant is flamboyantly gay, and his schtick is gay humor. He tells a joke about boxing being invented by homosexuals because it consists of two topless men in silk shorts fighting over a belt and a purse. I think his is probably the funniest performance yet. Rogan points out that while he thinks Ant is a funny guy, the boxing joke is an old one, and he’d also heard another one of his jokes in the movie Boiler Room. What? Do we have some controversy? Mo’Nique comes to Ant’s defense, saying that she’d never heard the jokes before, and that “he made them his own.” Good grief, maybe she is Randy after all. Of course, if Ant had come out and sung "Stairway to Heaven", she probably would have thought he’d written it, so I discount her opinion. However, Buddy also says that he hadn’t heard the jokes, and when Rogan tries to tell Buddy about the Boiler Room rip-off, Buddy goes off on him with something along the lines of “I heard you before, shut up you bleeping bleep!” Ant attempts to make light of the situation, stating “I didn’t know the gay guy was going to cause a riot.” Jay Mohr finally says something “Holy Moly! You’re GAY?!!!” “Yes, Jay, and thank your dad for the flowers.” Okay, Ant is funny and quick on his feet. I like this guy.
Jeff Brown from Chicaco, IL is our next performer. In his behind the scenes clip, he reveals “The only person I can compete against is myself.” Um, Jeff, you might want to tell that to the mob of comedians in the club tonight. He does a decent job on stage, but I wasn’t overly impressed.
Martha Kelly of Torance, CA gives us an intentionally uncomfortable, somewhat geeky persona. Her humor is winding and quirky, and I laugh. Rogan tells her “That was the funniest joke I’ve ever heard.”
Lang Parker from Muskego, WI leaps on stage looking like a buffer, blonder version of Jeanine Garofalo. Her butch lesbian routine is pretty humorous, and Buddy actually says “You are a star.”
Our tenth performer of the evening is Magdelana of Gross Pointe, MI. We see her tell one joke, and there is no behind the scenes clip for her; she has no chance. If this was Star Trek, she’d have been one of those anonymous crew members in a red shirt that always got killed at some point in the show, just to remind us how much danger our heroes were facing.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Brian Sheil of Maplewood, NJ; Red Shirt.
Recently, Houston, TX was named the fattest city in the United States, and I’m guessing that our next comedian had a little something to do with that stat. Our next aspiring comedian, Ralphie May isn’t overweight; he’s enormous. Ralphie must weigh at least 400 pounds, and not surprisingly, his behind the scenes clip shows him cooking a huge pot of gumbo. Ralphie comes up on stage wearing a bright red shirt and matching baseball cap worn backwards. Wait a minute – a red shirt?!!! I hope that isn’t prophetic. He does a bit about ordering at the drive-thru at Jack-in-the-Box in Ebonics that has me and the judges absolutely rolling. Jay jokes “Ralphie, I want to make sure that we don’t have a conflict of interest – you were never a contestant on Fear Factor, were you?” Displaying his quick wit, Ralphie counters “No, but I could be an event. ‘We’ve hidden something in one of Ralphie’s crevices; you have 35 seconds to find it.’ Hell with it, I’ll eat the bugs.”
Tina Kim of Shoreline, WA is so stiff that it’s like she’s actually reading her jokes. And to make matters worse, the material isn’t funny. I don’t think she has a chance of advancing.
Rob Cantrell, Washington, DC is next. He says that there are a ton of 5’11” goofy white guys out there doing comedy, but he thinks his comedy comes from a different place. Hopefully it comes from someplace funny. It does, and I can’t possibly hope to explain it here. Just know that it discussed surfing and sharks and a gorilla attacking quarterback Jeff Garcia, and Rogan’s comment was “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that.”
Our final contestant of the evening is Dat Phan from Santee, CA. His video clip is very moving. His family came to the United States from Viet Nam when he was two and a half months old. He grew up poor. With tears trailing slowly down his face, he tells us of going to the Welfare office when he was five years old and translating for his mother because she couldn’t speak English, asking if they could have some cash right away so they could eat that night. He goes on stage and absolutely kills the audience – this guy is hilarious. He hypothesizes that Viet Nam has come up with a plan to take over the world through pedicures. My wife frequents nail salons, and this hits home with me; even in my little white-bread mid-western town, every employee at every nail salon is Vietnamese. All the judges love him, and I think he will go very far in this competition.
Well, it’s finally time to reveal the ten semi-finalists. A crowd of about twenty-five comedians gathers to the side of the stage hoping to hear their name. Apparently NBC chose to spare us from the worst of the Red Shirts. Jay awards tickets to Las Vegas, the site of the next round, to Jeff Brown, Rob Cantrell, Tere Joyce, Ant, Ralphie May, Randi Kaplan, Lang Parker, Tess, Shawn Kent, and Dat Phan. Ralphie informs us “I don’t think I’ll win, but I don’t need to win. If I get into the house, then I’ll have already won.” Is it just me, or does that sound like Yogi Berra? Dat gets a little emotional and tells us “I’m a stand-up comedian. I can actually say that now… and believe it.” If this guy’s emotion translates into humor, he’s going to run away with the competition.
Coming up next: The East Coast Semi-Finals.
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