Last Comic Standing: London and Minneapolis
There are aspects I like about it (namely the maybe 45 seconds of unedited comedy that we get to see each week), but for the most part, I think the show takes something I love very dearly and turns it into something horrible. Watching it each week is like hanging out with an ex-girlfriend that you loved and thought you were going to marry, but then she developed a coke-addiction. You enjoy talking to her and reminiscing about the old times, but you can't help but notice how much she's gritting her teeth and begging you for money. It's sad. Just... sad.
Phew. Okay, let's get to the review...
A few points:
1) This is going to be a long review. Like 2000 words. I'm sorry. I can't help myself. I'm a comedian and I'm watching a show about comedians. I also type fast and am infatuated enough with my own fat head that I think every word is golden. If you're looking for a quick read, I'm very sorry. I'm giving you permission to come to one of my live shows and punch me.
2) They only gave out three tickets at the auditions. Why the reduction? Do the producers think that there are significantly less funny people in London and Minneapolis? If anybody has an inside scoop, please let me know.
3) Kathleen Madigan had the temerity to say that "As a rule, I don't like judging other comedians." Really, Kathleen? Perhaps you should have thought of that rule when you agreed to sign up to BE A JUDGE OF COMEDIANS! Did she not read her contract? How did that comment manage to slip by her when she said it, the associate producers when they logged it, or the editors when they decided to put it in the show? We missed a joke or two from some very funny professional comedians so that we could hear Kathleen Madigan say something absolutely ridiculous!
It's worth mentioning, though, because I think it brings up a bit of the duality and competitiveness of your average stand-up. We're all supporting each other (seriously, what's good for comedy is good for all of us: even this abortion of a show raises the profile of stand-up comedy and I appreciate that), but at the same time, it's impossible not to give into the temptation to judge our fellow comics. When we see someone doing something hack (there are several definitions, but a really good starting place if you're wondering what we mean when we say "hack" can be found here) or doing something easy or something corny, it's hard not to roll your eyes and condemn the comic that tells the joke or the audience that laughs at it.
It's counter-productive to do that though and worse, it might anger the comedy gods. I'm not going to speak for all comics here, but at least for me, there's an element of karma involved when dealing with other comics. I don't want to give into judging them too harshly because if I do, there's a chance that my own act might be judged. What if I call someone a hack and then find out that my killer bit "x" was something that Carlin did on an obscure 70s album that I've never heard? I copied it innocently through parallel thinking and the next thing you know, Joe Rogan is calling me out. I can't have that happen, so I do my best to keep my judgments to myself. I have a suspicion that Kathleen Madigan feels the same way: so much so that she actually tried to distance herself from being judgmental on a show where she was hired to JUDGE comics. That's a comedian for you.
The best summary of this feeling is probably Doug Benson, when he talked about how "no one in the room is hoping the other comics do badly except me." He turned it into a joke so he wants us to believe that he really does want the other comics to do well, but if you look a little past the joke you can see that he actually doesn't want the comics to do well, but he's trying to offload the bad karma by making a joke about it. We're all kind of trapped in that "non judgmental judging mode".
Does that include me having to watch this! show? God yes. And that's exactly why I'm not attacking any comics, even though I picked up at least one extraordinarily hacky bit from a comic that moved forward tonight. You'll have to find it yourself, though, because I'm scared to death to mention it (hint: it's almost word for word a rip-off of a Chris Rock joke).
4) I wish this show would be more honest about how they're casting the comedians. It's not about who is funniest. It's about who is funniest that also fulfills a certain "type". What I mean is, if the ten funniest comedians who performed were all black women, there's no chance that the show would have ten black women finalists. Race, sex, orientation, religion and age all matter. The show is being tremendously disingenuous by saying that the people who moved forward were "funnier" than the others. This is a dubious concept (after all, what does it mean to be "funnier" -- more laughs per minute? More clever laughs? More... uh... what?), but even if we take it on its face value, the "funniest" comic is not always the one moving forward in these rounds. It's the "funniest comic that we think would make for good television."
I have no problem with this. Every comic in the world knows that even on a crappy one-nighter in the midwest, the booker might want to "vary up the show" by having the middle be of a different race or sex or age than that of the headliner. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this idea: if you have three comics on a show that are all 30 and white and nerdy with a background in suburbia and Star Wars (as I am), you're going to have a pretty boring show. Mixing it up a bit guarantees the audience a few different points of view and that's a good thing.
However, from a purely "funny" stand-point, there's a good chance that by "mixing it up a little bit" you're substituting a slightly less funny comic for one that might be better on a laughs-per-minute basis, but who happens to be of the same race/sex/sexual orientation as the headliner of the show. You're giving people "variety" by sacrificing "funny".
And let me repeat: there's NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS! But when a show bills itself as one that is looking for the "funniest comedian in America", they've bastardized this process by casting for "type" rather than out and out laughs. I don't understand why they feel the need to hide this fact. I mean, wouldn't you, as a viewer, be interested in who the television producers think would make for good TV? Wouldn't you like to be privy to the meetings?
"Howsabout <comic x>? He's not all that funny, but wow, he's a jerk. I can really see him mixing it up in the house."
"Well, he's good, but we already have a Chinese Little Person who rides a scooter. Is America ready for two Chinese Little Persons who ride a scooter? Let's shoot it around the room."
I bring this up because last year, when Josh Blue won the competition, I heard rumors that a very funny (but similarly handicapped comic) from the Northeast was told that they wanted to move him forward but that they "already had a handicapped comic". This kind of thing happens all the time, and if you're going to show what it means to be a comic, you really ought to show this part of the process.
5) Ant. When is The Smoking Gun going to publish the deal he signed with the devil?
6) Is it me or do you find yourself laughing a little harder at the British comics just because that accent makes you believe that they probably know more than you? I know I certainly did. More seriously, though, I have to agree with what Paul said last week regarding the Australian competition: it was a breath of fresh air to hear comedy from another continent.
7) My favorites this week: Matt Kirshen (the 26 year old who looked like a kid) and Tommy Jonagin (the guy who won the audience award in Minneapolis). Both of them, I thought, were very funny and original and I'd love to see them make the top ten.
8) Buddy, the "alterna" comic from England who bombed (though, I have to believe with all the edits in his set, they made it look a lot worse than it actually was) brought up an interesting issue regarding alternative comedy: most of it is really very terrible. Patton Oswalt (a favorite of mine and often labeled an "alternative comic") speaks about alternative comedy here and has a good breakdown of why a lot of it is so bad.
9) Please, NBC, if you're reading this: more stand-up! The only redeeming quality this program has shown us thus far is that there are a ton of great, relatively unknown stand-ups out there. Was I the only one who was frustrated every single time they cut away from a comic to give us some more "insight" from the judges? Or gave us a poorly-constructed American Idol ripoff montage of "bad" comedians? Listen, America still loves stand-up comedy. You don't need to dress it up with all these ridiculous bells and whistles. Give us 5 comics from each town and give them 5 minutes a piece. Pick the best two (or the two that best fill the "types" your looking for) and that's it. That's a show I'd watch.
10) A word about the "bad" comedians. I've been hearing from a lot of comics since the show started that for a lot of those montages, they're taking one bad moment out of an otherwise good set and editing it such that it looks like that comic is horrible. A lot of the comics you're seeing in those montages are full-time professionals who are at the mercy of the contracts that they signed in order to have their shot on LCS (which say, I'm sure, that the producers reserve the right to edit their set any way they see fit). I haven't heard that this has harmed any careers yet, but I'm sure it can't help. I wish they would stop doing this or, at the very least, I wish I somehow get a hold of a sex-tape from one of the producers that I can edit into a montage of "bad sex from NBC reality show producers" and sell to TMZ.com.
11) I'm a little calmed down since I wrote those words way at the beginning of this review. I start writing these reviews the second the show ends and I think when I first started writing tonight, I was still angry. I'm not changing my tune -- I hate what the show is right now -- but I do think that it'll improve as we get through these tedious "audition" rounds and get into the actual competition. I'm looking forward to seeing some great stand-up!
12) For another take on the show, be sure to check out Shecky Magazine's review here.
|Yes! He knows what he's talking about! They're terrible!||38 (44.2%)|
|No! I'm gonna find him at a live show and punch him. NBC is doing a great job!||12 (14.0%)|
|I don't feel as strongly as Jay, but I do think the show will improve next week.||31 (36.0%)|
|I don't watch LCS, I just like long-winded reviews.||5 (5.8%)|