Author: Sean L. McCarthy

I’m judging you, Boston (part four)

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...

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I’m judging you, Boston (part three)

Prelim 4 is when everything you thought you knew about the Boston Comedy Festival contest went out the window and onto the bricks and cobblestones below. A much stronger field of contenders — perhaps five or six of the 12 comics could’ve landed the two semifinalist slots. And yet. Well…let’s go to the recap. In order of appearance: 1) Jim Tews: Remarks on his Coast Guard past and how that’s not exactly the best thing to have on his resume. Has interesting uses for the memo line on checks. Being poor is the difference between bologna and ham. “Bologna tastes like failure.” Closes with a letter he wrote to cigarettes not long after quitting smoking. Understated, but quite funny. 2) Stewart Huff: Looks like a mini-Me Mitch Hedberg, but with a Tennessee drawl (and lots of other differences, but enough about that). His mic gets disconnected early on, which could spell trouble (they eventually trade out mics later in the show). Most of his set revolves around hick gas stations — the “pump-n-munch” — but it’s a fully-formed, solid routine. A good start to the show. 3) Benjamin Roy: Drinking, jail, sex, in that order. It’s funny, yes, but too raw for this type of contest. 4) Danny Rouhier: If you go to his Web page, you’ll see a Current TV video titled: “Are you a hack?” Rouhier ends...

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I’m judging you, Boston (part two)

Monday, Monday… OK, comedy fans. Whether or not you have a financial stake in the outcome of the Boston Comedy Festival contest, you still want to know what really went down last night in the third and fourth preliminaries. So here’s another opinion. But first, another opinion: Why didn’t host Kevin Knox explain the rules? Did Sunday night’s host skip that portion of the program, too? Because methinks most people in the audience, at least, might want to know, how come the guy or gal I thought was really funny didn’t win? The judges have these complicated scoring sheets — and even though I didn’t see them, they must be complicated because it takes 15 minutes to deduce the winners — so there must be several factors in determining the funny. In similar contests, those factors would include originality, stage presence, audience engagement and audience approval, in addition to the judge’s own subjective funny ranking. Also, there are several cameras taping the sets, but no mention of what that’s all about. The stage, changed from the usual Comedy Connection backdrop to the old cliched fake brick wall, also has a MySpace banner. Is that it? (Sources say no, that the tapes are for sponsor Sierra Mist, but shouldn’t someone let everyone else in on that?) Right. Enough questions. You want answers. Or at least a recap. Prelim 3 (in...

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I’m judging you, Boston (part one)

The Boston Comedy Festival kicked off with its ever-random charm last night, a stand-out stand-up show off the comedy club grid, a well-attended gay-themed show (last year’s had to be canceled) and two equally unpredictable preliminaries in the comedy contest. I’ve told people this before. As both a former participant (Seattle, 1998) and judge (Seattle, 2000; Boston, 2005) in stand-up comedy contests, you really need to take it all in with the proverbial grain of salt, throw caution to the wind, je ne sais quoi, devil-may-care attitude. Because — brace yourselves — comedy contests, more often than not, never determine who the funnies person in the room really is. There’s politics involved. Lots of BS. Your look might sway people as much as your 5-7 minute set. What’s the crowd like? Who are the judges? Have the judges seen your act before? What’s the scoring system? Where are you in the lineup? Who’s in your preliminary? And Boston adds another layer of madness, since it tries to fit the entire contest into one week. At least San Francisco and Seattle have full weeks of prelims and semifinal competitions — several nights in several different cities and venues — to weed out the flukes and let the premier comics rise to the top. Boston’s contest offers no such luck. Or rather, it’s often about luck. The funniest person in the...

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Josh Blue in the wake of Last Comic Standing

Josh Blue is experiencing that phenomenon known as TV fame in the wake of his win this summer on the fourth edition of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Had him on the phone the other day, fresh off a gig in Charlotte, N.C. — Blue is in town this weekend at the Comedy Connection with fellow LCS finalists Michele Balan and Kristin Key (in a couple of weeks, Chris Porter and Roz will be here, too). “It’s a whole new game,” Blue told me. How so? “I don’t really need to explain myself anymore. Before I had to explain who I was and make myself comfortable with it. But now, they know who I am. I can go basically into what I want.” And what’s that these days? “Just I talk about the show a lot.” How do you decide how much to talk about your cerebral palsy? “I don’t know if I’ve ever decided enough is enough,” he said. “I just tell the jokes I have. Might tell the new jokes, too. I don’t know. To a certain point, you don’t want to beat it into the ground. It depends on what the audience wants, too. If they’re getting bored about that subject, I try to steer away from it.” Blue went to Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., a place all Seattle comedians know as a carefree institution...

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