How to Improve 'Last Comic Standing': Bring Back The House!
by Ryan McKee, posted Jul 19th 2010 4:00PM
'The Baltimore Sun' called the first round of this season of 'Last Comic Standing' "open-mike night." 'A.V. Club' said the show "failed to load properly." And there is talk around the TV Squad offices that this is the weakest group of 'LCS' finalists yet.
While I agree the first round of the finals fell flat for the most part, I know it's not a problem with the comedians' level of talent. I've performed on shows with almost all of the finalists (and most of the semi-finalists). This group is as strong as any other in American stand-up comedy at this level (well, the strongest NBC prime time will allow due to network standards and practices and focus groups).
The problem lays in this season's format. 'Last Comic Standing' has retooled every season, trying to find the right recipe, and this time they're short on personality.
I'm not saying these finalists do not have personality. They don't have enough screen time to show it. You could argue their acts should be enough. However, there is more to stand-up comedy than jokes -- otherwise, the form would be as obsolete as slam poetry because every joke has already been written .
What keeps stand-up alive is comedians' ability to draw an audience into their world. It's the same reason books are still relevant. Audiences like to escape their heads for a while and get caught in someone else's, thus gaining perspective on their own life.
By this point in the season, most of the finalists have burned through their material that's clean and relatable enough for network TV. That's the stuff they'd do during a set on 'Live at Gotham' or 'The Tonight Show.' That burnout would have happened every season, but we got to see the comedians more off stage: interacting with each other, stressing about the competition and dealing with daily life. This helped us relate to them and see things through their eyes, making their material more relevant.
In a comedy club, a comic has the space to connect with the audience. They can stop, address things happening in the room, interact with people, and establish a rhythm. On 'Last Comic Standing', they can only rapid fire their perspective for a couple minutes. This is entertaining for a few episodes, until they sound like interchangeable typecasts: The Mother, The Tough Guy, The Minority Who Talks About Being a Minority, The Attractive Twenty-Something Female, The Eccentric, The African-American With Life Experience, The Nerdy White Guy, etc.
Behind-the-scenes footage builds the rapport a comic has the freedom to do in a comedy club or during a longer TV set. When Mike DeStefano mentioned being a former drug counselor, it becomes more interesting if you known he's a recovering heroin addict whose lived with HIV for over 20 years. When Myq Kaplan said he's a tough guy like DeStefano, it's more relevant if you know DeStefano almost kicked Kaplan's ass offstage during the semifinals. When James Adomian performs, it's more exciting if you know he could be the first gay comic to win 'LCS.' Wait, you didn't even know he's gay? My point exactly. Bring back the house.
Do you think 'Last Comic Standing' has been sub-par this season? If so, how could it be improved? Check out the latest full episode below and tell us what you think.