Lessons learned from last night at the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival: Sometimes a comic plays very well to the back of the room, but not so much to the judges table in the second row; and sometimes, a show is so stacked with talent that it’s difficult to pick just two comedians to advance to the finals. It was that kind of night. But you want to know who advanced and why.

Semi #3 winners, advancing to Saturday’s Finals at the Cutler Majestic Theatre and a share of $10,000 in prize money: Rob O’Reilly and Mario DiGiorgio!

Wow. Just. Wow. Another comedian turned to me during DiGiorgio’s performance and said "a set like this will win the contest." Which sounds like a good omen for him on Saturday. What the comic meant, I believe, is that DiGiorgio structured his set in such a way as to have broad mass appeal, with well-thought out material and a heavily layered closing routine that would earn points from the judges — and for those of you who haven’t been at the contest finals in a while — those judges often include veteran old-time acts, such as Bill Dana, Norm Crosby, Shelly Berman, and this year, most likely the Smothers Brothers. You might be the cat’s meow to all the cool kids these days, but your sense of humor might fly right past some judges. Anyhow. Where was I? Right. You may hear DiGiorgio’s lengthy discussion of "the s-word" again on Saturday, so why would I ruin it? He also had a very clever idea about why Star Wars fan geeks might be virgins. O’Reilly went up after both Jessi Campbell and Andy Peters had raised their volume and the audience’s to about 11.5, and immediately changed gears, saying: "OK, let’s calm it down a bit." With his added time (sets expanded from 5 minutes in the prelim round to 8 minutes in the semis), O’Reilly joked about waking up drunk in Colonial Williamsburg and acting out the story of an early gig following a rowdy guy in an "urban" club. Campbell and Peters had gotten plenty of laughs from the back of the room, and Campbell, in particular, had gotten two separate applause breaks. One comic not in competition whispered, "First woman in the finals…nice." But it was not to be. Some of the judges thought Campbell and Peters were a bit too loud and/or in-your-face and/or inconsistent and/or overcompensating and/or something else they didn’t tell me.

Which left only two more spots for the finals…

Semi #4 winners, advancing to Saturday’s Finals: Dwight Slade and Baron Vaughn!

I’m glad I didn’t have to actually judge this group, because all of these guys had delivered in the prelims, so finding a way to separate them and pick only two meant looking for miniscule differences, really. Or not. As we learned watching the show, one misstep in your set could automatically rule you out for a finals slot. It looked like it’d be that close. So even when Vaughn got offstage, he whispered to me, "That wasn’t the set." Which means look out for what he may bring to the Finals, because he made the cut. Slade reproduced his killer routine from the prelims, added an airplane story and a recollection of the old-fashioned definition of "ejaculated," and everyone agreed he had his Finals invite locked up, too. But Joe Wong, going first, also nailed it. And Tyler Boeh had the audience clapping and hooting once again with his thoughts on the food/drug pleasure scale and his sexual sound effects. After those four performed, it almost took the wind out of the sails from the fifth-eighth comedians in the lineup. They all delivered able sets, but they couldn’t match what had come before them. Boeh, at least, gets to travel back to San Francisco next week and continue his journey in that comedy competition. Wong just gets handshakes and sorrys from his fellow comedians. It says a lot about the talent level in Boston this week. Festival organizer Jim McCue recruited some great up-and-coming comics from around the country with diverse backgrounds and comedy philosophies (though who knew so many would be schoolteachers and/or biracial?). Should be an interesting final.

Your eight finalists: Myq Kaplan, Joe List, Dave Waite, Andrew Norelli, Rob O’Reilly, Mario DiGiorgio, Dwight Slade, Baron Vaughn.