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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Last Comic Standing: "Semifinals Part 1"

Illustration for article titled iLast Comic Standing/i: Semifinals Part 1
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The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even though Last Comic Standing tried to be "hipper" this season with cooler, more comedy cred-worthy judges and host, the show still participates in this uncomfortable dance of failed reality show ghosts that came before it. Comic bits, patch-worked together to drain the funny, over all too quick, uproarious applause, energy high, then SHUT THE FUCK UP EVERYBODY, LET'S HEAR WHAT THE JUDGES HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THAT SHIT!!! Judges on the spot, saying nothing insightful, polite acknowledgment from the audience, then LET'S KEEP THIS MOTHER FUCKIN' TRAIN GOING LET ME HEAR YOU MAKE SOME NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOISE!

After two hours, I thought I was going to be sick.

I guess it's because I've seen a lot of comedy shows, so the whole ritual got to me. The show tries relentlessly to seem edgy, yet all aspects besides the actual jokes themselves are polished until devoid of any substance. It was like the time I saw the brilliant Hannibal Buress at this one hacky Chicago stand-up club that still charges a two-drink minimum: I just wanted to get to the man's off-kilter genius, yet here were a host and an opener doing stilted crowd work and bits like, "I was having lunch with this guy…but I'm not a fag! No way! No queer for me! Hey-o! Men touching." Stop with this lame stuff, I just want to see what I came here to see. And yes, I do think it's weird you're still doing the whole two-drink minimum thing. I thought, as a society, we were past all that.


I come to Last Comic Standing for the comics I wouldn't see otherwise. Comics who have something to say and have exhausted other means of expression. Isn't that what Last Comic Standing is supposed to be about? If the show truly didn't want comedy fans to watch, why cast Andy Kindler? Why attempt to describe what people are doing on stage in comedy terms? Why make it a talent competition at all?

It's been proven that shows like this need judges, so as to create the illusion that the results aren't predetermined by the producers. (If I didn't know, though, Mike DeStefano's golden ticket should make the show's "rigged' nature abundantly clear.) And, as judges, they must "judge" the comedy they just saw. But the cameras are rolling, the pressure's on, and it seemed like more often than not, they didn't really know what to say. So they spoke just to speak, and said phrases like "you were hilarious" and "I thought some things worked and some didn't." I'd say half the comics got "you were hilarious" and half got "I thought some things worked and some didn't," give or take one or two. Why speak at all if you're just going to rehash the same stuff?

Personally, I think they should have saved their commentary for the end. Let every comic do their time so as not to break up the energy of the performances, then spend the last 10 minutes (besides the elimination) in a back room away from the audience, deliberating. I would have loved to hear what these three intelligent comedy fans thought of the performances in a less public setting. Maybe the conversation would be more nuanced, or rather, have a reason for existing at all.

So let's talk about the comedy itself, and the eternal question raised by tonight's performances: Break up your bits, or do one set all about the same thing? Most opted for the former, and those were the ones who got heavily edited and their sets seemed choppy. Yet the judges liked them, I'm guessing because it was easier to remember, in the moment, a stand-out line or two. Watching from home, though, I remember the ones who took the risk and did an entire "piece", like Lil Rel's story about the funeral and Ryan Hamilton's detailed account of the odd skydiving mishaps that befell him. Part of the problem with these sets is the comics seemed to end them abruptly, perhaps because time got called on them too quickly, and on a TV show you definitely cannot go any longer, period. Both those sets were missing the big oomph joke at the end, which would have retroactively made up for any extraneous set-up or tangents. Rachel Feinstein was like that, too, her stories about her grandmother cut short. But she had two little chunks of jokes, so I guess she was saved by split attention.


I think the best sets were the ones where solid, fleshed-out bits contributed to a larger story, and worked as a mini-act even in just a few minutes. Myq Kaplan, yet again, was the clear stand-out, with a routine that built riffs on "book people" and "the Bible" into a takedown of a few religious factoids. I also liked Chip Pope, who established his deconstructing sensibility right out of the gate and ran with it—Paul Simon songs, struggling to come out in a house with no closets. Plus, I gotta hand it to Jonathan Thymius, who figured out the only way not to get his act torn to shreds by the editors: Talk really slowly. Isn't it so much better when there's a natural build to the comedy?

This kind of audition should leave audiences wanting more, and I felt that way about the above three comics, plus Adrienne Iapalucci, and that was about it. (Though, like I mentioned in my first post, I was already in the can for Lil Rel.) I've already figured out Mike DeStefano's and Felipe Esparza's schticks, and I don't see myself being surprised by them any time soon. Yet they have points of view that are, hate to say it, ethnic, and it's not surprising they made it in. They're both clearly talented, I just know this kind of show wants its bases covered, so to speak. As for Rachel Feinstein, eh, at least she's on to something with her delivery.


So that's about 9 worthwhile minutes in a two hour show. Nothing against the other comics, I guarantee if I'd seen them more, they'd stand out more and we'd all have a better sense of how funny they are. But NBC wants me to know whether Greg Giraldo thought a comedian was "hilarious" or "some things worked and some didn't", so most of them are now falling by the wayside. The more things change, the more things stay the same: TV execs don't understand why people like live comedy.

Stray observations:

  • Shane Mauss did something smart by calling out the "uncomfortable theater audience." Suddenly, they're all going to be on his side.
  • Kyle Grooms has a good point about water parks: They are wasteful. Wastefully amazing!
  • "What I like about you Felipe is you talk about real life." Fine judging, folks.

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