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September 18, 2014

Last Comic Standing: Heckler Challenge

by Jay Black, posted Aug 2nd 2007 12:05AM
LCS Logo(S05E08) If you see several spelling errors throughout the course of my review, please excuse them. I didn't suddenly forget how to type it's just that... well, after I finished my review of the new NASCAR DVD (24x24 Wide Open with Jeff Gordon), I got pretty excited about how good it was. I mean, I'm not one to toot my own horn, but it was clearly above average (especially considering the source material).

Anyway, I read the review out loud to my wife and when I was done, I threw my keyboard on the floor in triumph!

It got smashed, of course, but you can't blame me, right? That's what artists are supposed to do when they feel like they've accomplished something. At least, that's what I learned tonight watching Dante's performance...

We'll get back to Dante in a moment. Before I do, I'd like to address something relatively important. If you go to a club, DO NOT HECKLE.

The comedians won't like it. The other patrons at the club won't like it. The people who came with you to the club won't like it. When you wake up the next morning and scrub off the dried-vomit crust from around your mouth, you won't like that you did it either.

Listen, a good comic makes his act seem improvised and conversational. I guess that makes people (especially people so drunk that if you listen quietly you can hear their livers calling out for help) think that they should become a part of that conversation.

But here's the thing: even though what you're hearing sounds improvised and conversational, the vast majority of us are reciting jokes that have been honed to Haiku-like precision over several years of practice. A joke is a Rube-Goldberg device -- a lot of really delicate parts have to work together to achieve the desired effect. Any little distraction, like oh I don't know, some Denny's Night Shift Manager yelling out "Hey Jay Black! Where's the Americans!?" midway through my set, at best kills the joke and at worst kills the entire evening of comedy.

You might be readying your comment fingers to reply to that statement with: "But Jay! I've been to a comedy club and have seen a comedian handle a heckler and a good time was had by all! I wish someone would heckle you... to death!"

The operative word there is "handled." By the time you see a comic at a respectable club, there's a good chance he's done enough 2 AM Prom Shows, VFW Hall Beef and Beers, and run-of-the-mill hell gigs that he can handle pretty much anything being thrown at him. That doesn't mean, however, that if you see a comedian "handling" the problem that you're getting the best show possible; what you're seeing is a guy trying to make the best of a bad situation.

I mean, you wouldn't put up with heckling at any other live show, would you? Imagine traveling into the city to see a revival of Glengarry Glen Ross and during Blake's big "Second prize is a set of steak-knives" speech, someone in the audience starts making loud fart noises. Maybe the guy playing Blake is a great improviser and manages to say "excuse me" after each farty noise without breaking character, but eventually you'd be a little mad that someone took what could have been a great night of entertainment and ruined it.

Why not show the same respect for stand-up comedy?

So, no matter how many times you've seen Punchline, no matter how many of your friends down at the warehouse think you should be a stand-up comic, no matter how many Mojitos you've managed to slosh down your gullet... DO NOT HECKLE.

I feel the need to write this lengthy public service announcement because NBC decided for the second year to bring back the worst challenge in the history of reality television. The challenge that makes it seem to the viewing audience that heckling is a natural and expected part of stand-up comedy. The challenge that basically says to the audience, "Hey, if you see any of these guys out on tour, make sure you do your best to ruin the show by shouting something obnoxious! It's okay! They're comedians! They'll handle it!"

At least last year Joey Gay had the guts and the class to opt out of the challenge altogether. None of our comics this year had the cajones to say "no" to the NBC producers. (Which raises a question: would I, even after all this bile poured, go through with the heckler challenge if, by some miracle of bad casting decisions, I was ever on LCS? That's a good question. Let me ponder the ethics of "selling out" while I drink this cool refreshing Fresca. Ahhhh, Fresca, it's delicious!)

As for the challenge itself, I thought it went a lot better when it was obvious the comics were having a good time rather than trying to actually hurt each other. I think that's probably the reason why LaVell won. He was funny and quick, sure, but it didn't hurt that Debora laughed heartily at all his jokes and it seemed like they liked each other.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Jon and Gerry. I got the sense that they weren't trying to be clever and enjoy themselves, but instead used the heckling challenge as an opportunity to try and insult the other guy. If nothing else, that challenge at least captured the pit-in-the-stomach feeling that the rest of the audience gets whenever there's some mean mojo being spilled between a heckler and a comic.

(Before we get off the heckler challenge -- how could there be 10 comedians in a comedy club in LA being asked to heckle and not one of them brings up Kramer? It was only the most infamous case of a botched heckler-comeback in the history of stand-up comedy!)

Now, back to Dante.

Okay, listen, we need to have a rule. Unless you're Chris Rock and you just rewrote the book on stand-up comedy with a triumphant and groundbreaking HBO special, you're not allowed to throw the mic down. Okay? You're just not.

(Quick side note: when I was first starting in comedy, there was a guy at an open mic who decided to end his set with the Chris Rock mic throw. Except that he wasn't Chris Rock or even a very good comic. The manager of the club stopped the show and made the comic walk back up to the stage and put the microphone very nicely back into the mic stand. It was one of the most beautifully tragic things I've ever witnessed and I would have traded a kidney if one of the NBC producers had done that to Dante tonight.)

It's kind of a shame that Dante had an early exit. Without him, there's no clearcut "villain" left. Not that we get much behind the scenes stuff on this show anyway, but the other comics' obvious dislike for Dante made for the best line of the night -- Doug's "Which comic do I want voted off tonight? I wish I could tell you, but I 'Cahntay.'" The comics remaining seem a bit too nice to generate that kind of back-stage jab.

On the plus side, I think the right comic won the competition. Ralph Harris was unbelievably likeable, energetic, and funny is his set. I'm not a big fan of the type of comedy he does (character pieces), but damned if he doesn't do a great job every time he goes on stage. He deserved the win.

Gina was a bit disappointing. Not that I didn't enjoy her set (she's got a great cadence and I loved the way she said "A dog could eat your face"), but she didn't reach the standard she had set in her earlier rounds. I was sorry to see her go, especially because she was the funniest "confessional" comic on the show. "I've got seven kids... well, seven eggs, but they still need feeding."

Dante was... well, from the way he threw his mic down, it seemed that he felt that he had done a great job, so he's got that going for him.

A few more random notes before we wrap up:

-- I don't watch reality TV all that much, so please correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't it seem like LCS wastes more time than any other show with recaps and teasers? I wish I had a stop-watch and a little more stupid tenacity: I would break down just how much actual "show" we're getting each episode. It can't be more than a 26 or 27 minutes when everything is said and done. It drives me crazy! We're 8 episodes in and we haven't seen one unedited set, but we're treated to 20 minutes of teasers for things that we'll see later on in the same show! How do people watch this show without TiVo?

-- Uh, why were in they in the LA Coliseum? And why was the photo booth spaced so far out from where the couches were? Was it so NBC could waste more time by showing us the comics walking in slow motion to the booth? Do you think LaVell was angry that he had to do that much walking for no good reason? Do you think they were there because there was a David Beckham appearance scheduled that was canceled at the last minute, but they were stuck with the pre-taped Bill Belamy on the big-screen intro, so they just went with it anyway? I don't know why this bothers me so much, but it does.

-- Amy Schumer is getting cuter by the episode. Her "I thought I took care of you in college" line (which I am really happy NBC decided not to edit as it was hilarious and shocking to hear on a network) was dead-on Sarah Silverman. I don't mean that in a bad way; I don't think she's hacking Silverman, just that she has that cute-innocent-dirty thing down the same way Sarah Silverman does. She and Matt Kirshen are the two I'm betting on to do something big once the show is over.

All right, that's it for this week. Be sure to come back next week -- I'm already preparing another rant on the way NBC is robbing comedy of its dignity just based on next week's previews. Jester's outfits? Really?

As always, for another take, check Shecky Magazine's coverage of the show here.

Who would you have voted to keep on the show tonight?
Ralph Harris97 (64.7%)
Gina Yashere29 (19.3%)
Dante24 (16.0%)

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Noel

Great review but I want to see the show and can't from the UK. I moved here August 1st and can't find a torrent for this show any place, somebody out there help me please?!

August 04 2007 at 8:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

Thanks for watching/reviewing. I have watched each episode on Tivo and initially had high hopes until they began naming the finalists. Now after your review as well as Shecky's, I think I'll just erase it and watch last night's Conan/TDS or Colbert Report instead.

I may stop Tivo-ing altogether based on the previews description.

Gina Y, btw, is playing the Comedy Works here in Denver this weekend after Hal Spears cancelled a few weeks back.
I'll pass. Kathleen Madigan plays the club next week and is a friend of sorts, so i have LOTS of questions for her. Bill Burr, a personal favorite and the type of comic you'll rarely see on LCS, is here the following week.

I had initial hopes for this season when Sean Rouse (who was fired from the Comedy Works a few years ago) got as far as he did. Remember the main producer of LCS also did "Saved By the Bell". That should explain a lot.

I wish Comedy Central or, perhaps, Spike would do a REAL stand-up comedy competition. I think if it were off network the "I just wanna be on TV even though I've never done stand-up" crowd might stay away and we wouldn't have comics waiting out in the cold for 4 days.

August 02 2007 at 1:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Little Willy

I thought Dante was frecking hilarious and am sorry to see him go. His starting bit during the hecklers' challenge, on barging into a shelter for abused women, had me in stitches. As for the mic throw, he did it in the context that he found out Bill Bellamy was screwing his wife. He didn't throw the mic down thinking he was Chris Rock or he just did the world's greatest set.
For the second time, Ralph Harris did an imitation piece. I want to hear some real jokes from him, not him mimicking somebody else. Gina Yashere has no business being on the show. I didn't find her funny during her audition bit or callback bit or elimination bit. She might be considered hilarious across the Atlantic, but she's not doing anything for me.
I think Amy Schumer is cute as a button but I'm shocked she is still using material from her Gotham comedy set many months ago. Sure she killed when she was heckling and being heckled, but she got no new material that I haven't heard from her Gotham Comedy set.
I think I'm the only one here who hates Lavell becuase all I hear from him are fat jokes and him poking fun of himself.

August 02 2007 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim

I was torn on the heckling challenge. Some of it was funny; some just mean-spirited. ("What's that on your neck?" Are you serious?)

What surprised me was how good some of the actual stand-up material was, especially Hickory's set.

Jay had exactly the same thought I did: that Dante must be a prick off camera, because the little we've seen of him so far was excellent. In other words, I wouldn't have challenged the guy who brought the house down with his "Wizard of Oz" bit.

Which brings me to another thought: If Dante thought that mocking his 4-year-old daughter and accusing his wife of sleeping with a black man was "his best set ever," he has some screws loose. I'm curious how long the actual set was because what we saw was abominable.

(Am I alone in thinking he was coked up when he performed? Could LCS be as dirty as the Tour de France?)

Nice review, though. I'll have to check out your Jeff Gordon piece. And there was only one misspelling that I saw: There are two Ls in Bellamy.

August 02 2007 at 8:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TK101

Lavell makes me laugh, I'll admit it, but the fat jokes are so one note...I'm getting bored. Same with Deborah - I get it, you're overweight and have no men. Next premise please.

Young Matt is great, and that Amy is really coming alive. Her heckler set and the line about not having insurance (classic) had my wife and I cracking up.

I felt the tension between Jon and Gerry, but it seemed like Gerry was the one with the issues. Jon did a great job with his set.

And Dante...wow, you've been at this for 20 years and THAT set was your best? Are you KIDDING ME? You deserved to get your ass handed to you with that set. Ralph wasn't perfect, but he was hands down better than Dante. Gina just got lost in the shuffle.

I'm glad we have no "house" for them all to live in, and that we're seeing some comedy. But for an hour show, GIVE ME MORE OF IT. I'll pay to see almost any of these folks live - they're all really funny (when NBC lets them be funny).

TK

August 02 2007 at 8:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

This is my first time watching LCS and as I've commented in previous weeks, I enjoy it for the comedy routines. I was never really bothered by the talent scouts ("a black, a gay, and feminazi walk into a bar!") like some of the other commenters were, but this week, I realized how grateful I was that they weren't part of the show.

The heckler bits were well done, and I was glad to see Lavell win the contest, as he was clearly the best performer-handling-a-heckler and the best heckler-heckling-a-performer. I also appreciated how the other contestant in each pairing seemed genuinely entertained by their opponent.

The show lost me with the whole L.A. Coliseum bits. I have no idea why they were fabricating drama, and of the realities shows I've seen, it was the most faux moment to-date for me.

I thought all three contestants at the LCS theatre gave sub par performances, though I agree with Jay's thoughts on Ralph's energy. Dante wasn't the least bit funny in the theatre. He built it up before the camera by muttering something about how this would be his best set ever, but I thought it was just weird and didn't really work.

Finally, I'll note that if he can continue to come up with fresh material, I think this is Lavell's show to lose. He's won the audience contests a few times now, and he's the only one who consistently has me smiling and laughing every week he appears on LCS. If he can get away from the fat jokes and do other material, I think I'll be rooting for him!

August 02 2007 at 8:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
emor8t

@Chester,

The review wasn't that long, it was the diatribe about heckling that sidelined the article. And no, it doesn't. Now if you go to his house and start looking at over his shoulder and pull a Peter Griffin, "Oh yeah, that sucks, you probably should write that, sssssh" then you might be a heckler.

August 02 2007 at 6:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
eli

Great explanation on "Why you shouldn't heckle a comic," Jay.

On heckling a play - True Story: Years ago, I was playing multiple minor roles in a big professional production of "Hamlet." The theater company helped finance the production by getting a grant to bus in inner-city high school kids to see the matinees. Of course, there's nothing your average teenage black kid wants less than to watch 40 white actors perform an uncut 3-hour Shakespeare play. Most of them are well-behaved, but bored. Or sleeping.

We get to the scene where the people revolt, demanding that Laertes become king. (Act IV, Scene V) I'm revolting, too--carrying a sword and yelling. I'm standing over the supine Queen Gertrude, preparing to rape her, when Ophelia enters for her final big "mad" scene.

Only the director put Ophelia in a transparent gown. Nipples and bush clearly visible.

The kids in the audience go wild. After two hours, they finally see something interesting. They whistle, they holler, and none of the actors can be heard over them.

So the actress playing Queen Gertrude turns toward the audience and shouts "SHUT UP!"

I was so surprised that I nearly dropped my sword on her.

It wasn't really a clever heckler comeback, but it worked. And she knew she could get away with it, because she was the director's girlfriend.

-- Eli

August 02 2007 at 2:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chester

Your review takes longer to read than the "actual show" had of comedy.
Does the above statement make me a "heckler"!!?

August 02 2007 at 12:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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