TV Review: Last Comic Standing, The Semi–Finals
And so the semi-finals, where 32 are whittled down to 12. They’re split up into two groups of 16 over two episodes, and obviously they’re going to pick 5 from the first and 7 from the second because… okay I really don’t know why.
Again, 32 comics is too many to cover in any detail so I’m just going to stick with the ones that got through and two others that were interesting.
And again, each comic gets 3 minutes to perform, but we only see 2 minutes worth of most acts, despite the fact that there’s only 16 of them and it’s an 80 minute program with the adverts taken out. It at least feels more coherent this time around though, the reaction shots are even mostly genuine. Judges this time around are Steve Schirripa and Richard Belzer, but we actually don’t see much of their reactions, and there’s this awkward thing where sometimes Bill Bellamy tells a comic to come back as they’re walking off so the ‘talent scouts’ can either slag them off or praise them. But then other times he just lets them walk off, so we don’t get the judges opinion. Which is sort of a shame because I do want to know what Bobby Bacala and John Munch find funny, even if they’re dead wrong.
First act that gets through is Adam Hunter. He does a Myspace joke. It’s fairly middle of the road and somewhat hack stuff working off stereotypes but he does it well. The judges talk about how he’s great because he comes out and just does a lot of jokes and it becomes fairly obvious where the whole thing is going: namely we lose most of the interesting acts for the ones that appeal to your typical Jongleurs audience. Some acts do lots of jokes, others take longer to build to a more satisfying finish. It’s hard enough on the latter group as it with just 3 minute spots to impress with, but more on that later.
Second through is Jeff Dye. He’s actually quite good, but the audience are really not on side for the first few jokes but he pulls it around with some nice physical stuff. He’s interesting as he’s got this traditional pretty-boy look but there’s a slightly creepy subtext behind a lot of his material. It’s the sort of material that if it were done by chubby, spotty and geeky comic you’d be a little freaked out.
Christian-folk parody group God’s Pottery do their song tacking the thorny issue of pre-marital sex: “The Pants Come Of When The Ring Goes On” and slay the room. Brilliantly one of the camera men manages to find a female audience member with large breasts and a very low cut top with a big gold cross necklace to focus on during the line: “your beautiful chest that’s been blessed by the best, a golden cross riding between those breasts”. Can we put the camera man through the finals please?
I said it last time, but they’re brilliant because they never break character even in post-show interviews, and that’s why they’re going to be great on the show because they can be funny on and off stage, without it being forced. When Fearne asks how they’re enjoying Vegas they reply “We already did gamble: we hit the jackpot with Jesus”. I love those guys.
Ron G also goes through, he’s sort of interesting. His observational stuff doesn’t quite ring-true and he does this strange high voice thing which makes sense at the start and then seems to turn into some sort of tick. Again, it’s interesting and sort of funny but as observation it just doesn’t make any sense.
The UK’s Paul Foot is the last act to go through doing his stuff about moist cakes and the spacebar. Richard Belzer makes an interesting comment “if he didn’t have an accent I would have laughed”. It’s interesting because that’s the thing about Paul Foot – he does the entire surreal comedy character thing but he mixes it with really strong jokes and material. So while the US audience might not quite comprehend his Mighty Boosh-esque stylings, they still laugh at the jokes and as such are drawn in, making him less impenetrable for a US audience than many of the more surreal UK circuit acts.
That’s it for the first semi-final. Moving on to the second. I have a feeling these were filmed all on the same night.
First through this time is the single-named Marcus who has a fairly funny routine about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it’s a bit joke-light and reliant on acting out little bits of the film. Steve moans that he wasn’t doing any impressions, but he gets through anyway.
Next through is Iliza Shlesinger. She’s okay. Fairly hack subjects (but when you’re playing to 3000 people in Vegas they’ll probably get the biggest laughs) and a fairly decent approach. Seems to be pretty much the stereotypical US female comic.
Third through is Indian comic Papa CJ who opens with his “yes, even your comedy is being out-sourced” line which I think he did at both the auditions too. I wish I knew what the rules on repeating material were. He repeats another joke from the auditions too. He’s good, and deserves to get through but I can’t see him lasting long as he doesn’t appear to have the depth of material.
Now lets talk about Mary Mack for a bit. She doesn’t get through. She is however, awesome. It’s selling her short somewhat to call her a female Andrew Lawrence but she sort of is. She has the same very low key, slightly disturbing delivery style and there’s also that very sharp writing underneath it all with some beautifully constructed jokes. One could argue her stuff is too clever and she’s too weird for the show, but y’know, it’d probably be a lot better show if there was a greater variety and contrast in performers’ styles. But then it’d probably be harder to come up with silly comedy competitions for them to compete in. So she doesn’t get through. And the judges moan at her for being too slow to get started because she only has 3 minutes and so didn’t get enough laughs. But she’s clearly one of those acts that shouldn’t work that well in a 3 minute slot, but she does do a great job of establishing the character and hence setting her act in context very quickly. But it seems an act requiring any set-up longer that five seconds is doomed on this show. It’s a shame as I’d go as far as to say she probably had the sharpest writing of any of the acts that made it through to the semi-finals.
But alas, we have to push on to a Mary Mack-less final 12, so lets see who else got through. Louis Ramey. Possibly the most traditional comic of all of them, and also the one most at home on stage. His 3 minutes storm it, and notably our judges are laughing heartily at his material joking about how small people from Singapore are. Remember that, it’ll be important later. Still he’s good, and while far from my favourite, I’d peg him as the favourite to win the show. The material isn’t particularly inventive but it’s presented very, very well. The rhythm of it is so spot on you’d laugh even if the material was atrocious.
Next: Sean Cullen get through after doing a song about porn, and some very crazy surreal stuff about “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. I like him, it’s hard to judge when you only really have one comedy song to judge on but it’s delightfully silly. Very much looking forward to seeing more of him.
Someone else that doesn’t get through: Heath Hyche. He describes himself as a one-man sketch show, and he’s pretty good. But he spends most of his 3 minutes acting out a World War 2 fighter pilot movie. Honestly, it’s not that good. He probably didn’t deserve to go through. But part of it involves him putting on glasses with squinty eyes and doing a dodgy Japanese accent. Is it racist? It probably is. But for a start the point is he’s doing a one-man WW2 movie where, shock, that’s how the Japanese were portrayed. Richard Belzer decides at this point that he’s “allergic to ethnic stereotyping in 2008”. Clearly he just hates Singaporeans then because that was okay. Shut up, Richard. You’re ruining John Munch for me, and I nearly leaped out of my chair in glee when I saw him in The Wire. Please Richard, shut up.
Next is Esther Ku. She’s really, really cute. She was born here, but her brother was born in Korea, so she does three minutes doing Korean stereotypes. Over to moral compass Richard Belzer, who tells us it’s okay laugh as “it’s legal for an ethnic group to make fun of themselves”. Even though she points out that she was born here, and doesn’t consider herself Korean so it’s all somewhat dodgy ground. Not that I’m attacking Esther, I didn’t find it particularly funny but I’m not saying we should censor her. Just that Belzer is being a hypocrite. Shut up, Richard.
Jim Tavare goes through last. He does a really strong 3 minutes, he uses his double-bass a fair bit but isn’t over-reliant on it. He’s a quintessentially British comic and it’s interesting after nearly 3 hours of US comics with only Paul Foot to break them up how obviously different the prevailing styles of comedy are. Tavare is a lot more laid back, his material feeling a lot more scripted in some ways, though this isn’t a bad thing. Richard Belzer jokes “I like the fact you have your axe with you” and no-one laughs. Hah!
And that’s it. Don’t think I missed anyone. I’m now only one week behind. Will be caught up by Saturday? Is anyone reading these? Or am I just going to get comments from comics randomly Googling their names and moaning about their edits? (don’t let me discourage you, it’d be nice to piss off some US comics to go with UK ones that hate me…).