What do comedy contests and criticism offer to the stand-up comedian? Validation. Feedback. Two things most comics desperately desire. Or, another way to look at it: Am I funny? Why did they think I wasn’t as funny as that other comic? At the Boston Comedy Festival, the annual stand-up contest has its own quirks. Among them, the lack of feedback. The comedians who don’t place in the top two (or three) have no idea what happened. Did they get disqualified or penalized for going too long? In Seattle, everyone in the room, audience included, knows if a comic goes over the time limit by seeing the red light. In Boston, you don’t know Jack unless you ask Jack, the volunteer with the pen flashlight. Also (and I hate to keep using Seattle as the reference, but it’s the one I know best), all of the comics know where they rank each night, from first to last, and that allows them to gauge what’s working and what’s not. So perhaps having me judge one of the prelims (I got asked to fill in at the last minute) will offer even more guidance and feedback.
For instance, the scoring system. Each judge is asked to give a comic from 1-10 points in the categories of stage presence, originality, audience response and judge’s opinion. Top score, then, would be 40. On my sheet, you would’ve seen a lot of 8s and 9s, with a few 7s and 10s and rare 6s. One of the comics asked me later last night how he did, because he truly wanted to know. For everybody else, here is the recap.
Prelim 5 (in order of appearance)
1) Brian “Sheckymagazine.com” McKim: A fiendishly delicious treat, not just to judge the Male Half of the Shecky enterprise but also to watch him perform. McKim somehow manages to be comfortably stiff onstage, so to speak. A nice turn on the age-old “Employees Must Wash Hands” sign. Jokes about Phoenix, Ariz., that I appreciated from having lived there, even more so because he managed to describe the heat in jokes I hadn’t heard hundreds of times before. Did he do that for me? Probably not.
2) Taylor Connelly: Young Boston comic. Essentially delivers his Comedy Studio set, opening with riff on his first name. Funny observations, including, “People will try to eat chalk if you put it in an Altoids container.” His closer, on hipping up Jesus, gave me a brief flashback to David Crowe, not that many people in the room would know that. The crowd loved him. Taylor, I mean.
3) Jan Davidson: Describes how she is a terrible mother, but humorously explains “The Facts of Life” to her daughter (and the audience). Ends with a clever closing bit, showing her best actress delivery on saying goodbye to the audience. A strong set. Already three good sets and still nine comics to go. Why are the comedy blogging gods mocking me?
4) Mark Serritella: His Festival bio says he could be seen on Dat Phan’s 2006 College Tour. Is that something to brag about? Fortunately, he does not mention this onstage. Instead, he explains why women never need breast implants and describes his life as a kindergarten teacher. Funny remark about how no one knows the new Iraqi prime minister, but he might as well be named Hassoontobe Hassassinated. Note: I might not have spelled that correctly.
5) Jennie McNulty: Talks about how all politicians are crooked and suggests that anyone who wants to be president automatically should be ineligible; instead, fill the office like jury duty. It’s funny, but I’ve heard it before. She also plays football (that I haven’t heard before), and describes how the emotions play out on the field. And yes, she is a lesbian.
6) Renata Tutko: Good set. However. The front of the room didn’t love her nearly as much as the back of the room. That’s a weird sensation. I wonder what the people sitting fairly quietly up front were thinking while they heard all of that laughter behind them.
7) Mike Whitman: Got off to a slow start, it seemed, as he tried to find his words and his place onstage. Made up for it in the end with his bit about the absurdity of chainsaws in horror movies.
8) Marty Laquidara: He’s a scream, all right. No, make that a screamer. He loves the ladies, or so he keeps saying. He also did drugs — only one time — from 1989 to 1997. Get it? The audience laps up his true cocaine story nonetheless.
9) Amy Tee: I’ve seen Amy Tee do well and I’ve seen Amy Tee bomb, so I wasn’t sure which Amy Tee I’d see. OK. I have to stop writing the words Amy Tee. Let’s leave with a joke of hers about being separated from her wife. That’s not an image people want in their heads: “Two lesbians not having sex?”
10) Kjell Bjorgen: Opens lamely by asking the audience if they want to rock, Ashlee Simpson style. But Kjell quickly senses this, saying, “Too aggressive? Let’s take a step back.” From then on, all solid gold. Makes a case for sneezing on children rather than yelling at them or hitting them. Also a strong closing bit about keeping records as a waiter.
11) Ryan Hamilton: Wait. Didn’t I see him last year as the Sierra Mist comedian of the year, or something like that. And isn’t Sierra Mist sponsoring the festival? Not that I’m suggesting anything dubious. Or am I? Anyhoo. Hamilton starts by referencing his look. Yes, he looks sort of like a white Chris Rock, and looks/talks sort of like a blonde Jerry Seinfeld. Uses the overused, “I am single, if that’s not apparent” line. Funny joke about speed dating, though, followed by “a facetious heel kick — you don’t get that very often.” Jokes about Lasik seem very familiar, but then again, I did see him last year.
12) Lamont Ferguson: Announces that the happy train ride is over, time for Mr. Cranky. Notes he has been performing stand-up for 24 years, and his experience shows. He talks about getting rid of hyphenated American labels. You won’t find an African-Englishman, he notes. True enough.
Moving on, advancing, winning, whatever you want to call it were: Ryan Hamilton and Kjell Bjorgen.
Is that what I had on my scorecard? No and yes. Who do you think I rated higher? Can you tell from this recap? Do you want to be able to tell from this recap? Stay tuned for part two of last night’s prelims…