Last Comic Standing: Audience Vote Round #1
He turned them down. His reasoning was simple. He had a great four minutes and would probably have killed; what he was worried about was that he didn't have the next four minutes for the second show. He wanted to kill every time he was called back. It was an audacious thing to do, turning down Johnny the Kingmaker, but we all know how it worked out for Jerry.
Tonight we got to see the final five's next four minutes. Some of them should have turned LCS down...
We're down to the final five tonight and the producers of LCS have decided that, to celebrate, they would become a flat-out clone of American Idol. It's ridiculous and insulting! Everyone knows that the only person qualified to uncreatively rip-off American Idol is Simon Cowell.
They even went so far as to flash to people in the audience holding signs for the different contestants. We can only conclude that either those signs were a legitimate and organic outpouring of love for five comics that have captured the hearts of Americans everywhere or the producers had a few PAs make them and then had them handed out to people as they were brought into the audience. Call me a cynic, but I'm gonna go with the latter.
That being said, NBC gave us what we've been asking for all along: more comedy. They're still shorting us (20 minutes out of 44 -- that equals a lot of over-produced "highlights" packages), but tonight's episode automatically becomes the best of the entire run due to the focus on comedy. Hopefully the ratings will spike upwards for these final five shows and serve as a signal to the producers that the extraneous crap is just that: crap.
Before we get to the individual comics' performances tonight, I want to write briefly about set construction. There are a lot of different philosophies for putting a set together, but all of them have one rule in common: start strong and finish strong. When I was coming up, I was taught that you put your second best joke first and your best joke last. You don't always have to do that, but it's a rule of thumb that most comics I know keep in the back of their mind.
On top of that, you also want to create something of a thematic flow that establishes both what you want to talk about and who you are as a person. A good set leaves people not only with the impression that you're funny, but it also gives some insight as to the person you are (or, at least, the person you're pretending to be on stage).
The complexities of putting together a good four minutes are such that Seinfeld decided he needed two years to get his act together for Carson -- and that's from a master comic!
We should therefore keep this in mind when criticizing the comics tonight. It must have been tremendously difficult to make decisions concerning what their strategies should be. Think about it (and if you're not a fan of analysis and just want to read what I thought of each comic's performance, skip down to the first paragraph that doesn't start with a number!):
1) Even if you have hours of material, a lot of that comes in the center of your act. As a headliner, you do 45-60 minutes of comedy. If a bit comes at minute twenty-six of your act, it would be scary to open with it. Seriously, these kinds of things worry comics. A lot of things change in a comic's act, but the opener and the closers are usually crusted into place forever and ever because they're your old, reliable friends. Now you have four separate openers and closers to worry about!
2) Presumably, the comics used their best stuff to get to the finals. We're now down to second and third tier material. For a guy like Ralph Harris who has been doing this for a hundred years, this might not be a problem. Amy Schumer, on the other hand, probably has considerably less to draw from -- her third-tier material might be something out of a notebook that she tried at an open mic once! It thus raises the Dat Phan dilemma: do you recycle? If the other stuff you have is weak (or, more importantly, perceived by the comic as weak), do you go with the tested material that the audience has already heard? Would it matter to the voters?
3) TV Clean. Remember, a lot of comics are coming out of the clubs where dirty no-no words like poop and buttocks are said with much regularity. I don't know these comics' club acts, but if I were a betting man, I'd wager that there have been a few tense discussions with NBC censors about what material is okay and what isn't. I think this is a huge consideration: I've done a lot of shows where I've had to take a tested joke and change one of its key words from "Jersey-dirty' to "Midwest-dirty" and it almost always screws me up. Comedians can be as bad as hockey goalies when it comes to ticks and rituals: you throw even one word out of alignment and it plays with our heads. Do you go with a reliable, but dirty joke (and change the words)? Or do you try a lesser, but TV clean joke?
4) Likeability. There are a lot of jokes that are dependent on your rapport with the audience. If they like you, it's a lot easier to get away with "edgy jokes." Not necessarily dirty, but jokes that push the boundaries of an audience's acceptance. Witness what happened to Gerry Dee two weeks ago in the jester competition. He made some Bush jokes and was booed right off the stage. Those jokes might work after forty minutes, when the audience loves you and will follow you anywhere, but might be a set killer if you trot them out two minutes in to a four minute set.
5) Finally, there's the very real worry about how much you should front-load your four minutes. What I mean is, let's say you have eight really strong, club tested, TV clean, likeable, tried-and-true material left in your act. Do you blow those eight minutes in the first two competitions and not worry about the final two? Or do you spread it out? In the former scenario, you make it deeper but hurt your chances of having anything left in the final show. In the latter, you make the good stuff last longer but might mediocre-up your set so much that you don't make it far enough to make it worth your while to save anything for the final shows.
I do not envy these comics at all.
But! I have to review them. Please let it be known that for all of these comics (well, except Bill Bellamy), I respect them and admire them for making it as far as they have. It's my job, though, to review the show. This show being all comedy, my hand is kind of forced: I have to review the comedy!
Seeing as there are five comics and five letters in the American grading system, let's put these comics on a curve and rate them from F to A (remember curves from college kids -- the F doesn't mean that the person "failed" just that they were the lowest performer in relation to the other test-takers).
F -- LaVell Crawford. From tonight's show, at least, it seems that all the fear the other comics had about challenging LaVell was misplaced. I thought his pacing was odd (especially on the sound effect with the crossing guard joke) and that his Mexicans as slaves joke was inching dangerously close to Dwight Kennedy's joke of the same premise from the semi-finals. Not so close to actually count as hack, but close enough that it merits mentioning. This grade is in part because of expectations. I think LaVell had set a high enough standard for himself that I was expecting big things (no pun intended -- hey, if you couldn't tell from his stand-up, LaVell is slightly overweight) from him tonight and he didn't deliver.
D -- Amy Schumer. She's funny as hell, but I really thought she ran out of steam towards the end of her set. More than any other comic, I'd say that if she had done the Seinfeld wait, she'd run away with this show. Last Comic Standing '09 would have been a complete Amy Schumer romp. I still think, though, that of all the comics on the show she's got the best chance of popping up in her own sitcom (or as the delightfully off-kilter best friend in somebody else's sitcom).
C -- Ralph Harris. Again, Ralph is likeable and professional, but I just don't find myself laughing all that hard during his act. Compared to his two face-off challenges, I thought tonight's set was stronger, which might bode well for him as that's indicative that he's got a lot of material to draw from.
B -- John Reep. Though he suffered from the most obvious producer-planted fan signs (do you really think those model-looking girls in the audience were such big fans of his Hemi commercials?), his set was fun and enjoyable.
(By the way, did anyone else catch that he talked about the fact that the audience was drinking? This fascinates me. Is the liquor free? Who provides it? Is NBC worried about a Jimmy Kimmel incident where the audience gets out of control? Are there bouncers there in case someone imbibes too much and decides to heckle the comic on stage? If you were a hobo, wouldn't waiting in the Last Comic Standing audience line be a good idea? These are questions that need answers.)
A -- Gerry Dee. My wife doesn't like Gerry Dee. She says things like, "I don't know why, but just something about him is very creepy." Women will say these kinds of things because they can. I bring this up because at the end of Gerry's set, my wife turned to me and said, "I hate to admit it, but he made me laugh the most." I'm not a big fan of the "our parents used to hit us!" kind of jokes, but I thought his stuff about wedding gifts was fantastic. Funny, clever, and true.
As a whole, I was disappointed with the performances tonight. I think these five (well, four after next week) have better in them than this and I can only assume that a lot of them were "holding back" for the final weeks. I'm expecting better next week.
One last note: did anyone else miss Matt and Doug as much as I did?
For another take, check out Shecky Magazine here.