Notes from Underground – Day 1

I’m sick.

I’m tired.

So officially, I’m sick and tired. I stayed up most of the night Tuesday balancing my day job (yes, some of us comedians — that would be the bad ones — still have one of those), watching election returns and desperately trying to figure out if I have any jokes.

And I mean any.

Some people laugh at me all the time, it seems. But I don’t tell jokes. Not the kind you tell around the water cooler at work the next morning kind of jokes, or even the ones you tell at the bar or in a comedy club (by far the best place to tell jokes). I’m more of a walking specimen of uninhibited madness, unleashed nightly to shock and amaze unsuspecting audiences.

And I’m about to do battle for six straight nights with 17 people who write and tell jokes FOR A LIVING! I’m competing in the annual Seattle International Comedy Competition.

Thank goodness for Jesse "The Body" Ventura. That’s Minnesota Governor-elect Ventura to you. His electoral win Tuesday taught me that the key to success in life is having a good nickname. After tonight’s performance, I could use a good nickname — or anything else — right about now.

I finished 14th.

An optimist would say that makes me funnier than four of the comedians in my group PLUS all of the comics who didn’t even get into the competition.

I prefer to look at it another way. This is a lot tougher than I had imagined. Only five of us 18 will make it to the semis later this month. And three of the comics already have proven their mettle by making it at least that far last year (Andy Andrist, Kevin Foxx and James Heneghen). They all finished in the top five tonight.

Much is made of the luck of the draw. Each night we draw cards for our slots in the lineup. Most people say going first is a death wish because no one is ready to laugh (read: drunk enough) yet. I went fifth tonight. Early enough to get in some topical jokes that hadn’t been said, but late enough to work the crowd a bit. Who went sixth, you’re sure to be asking? Joe Vespaziani. And seventh? Bengt Washburn. See for yourself how well they were able to follow my "heat."

Wednesday’s Top 5 (unofficial)
1. Joe Vespaziani, 11
2. Bengt Washburn, 10.74
3. Andy Andrist, 9.79
4. Kevin Foxx, 9.53
5. James Heneghen, 9.46
14. me, 7.98

Judges, usually numbering three, lay down the scores. Each comedian is given a score of 1-10 in seven individual categories: 1) Stage presence 2) Technique 3) Delivery 4) Audience rapport 5) Audience response 6) Material 7) Judge’s personal impression

Wally Glenn, "the shadowy man behind the scenes that cowers when exposed to the light of truth" and official scorekeeper, then works his magic. The scores are subtotaled, averaged, given a bonus encore point (if approved by the audience and host) or penalized for time (doing a set of less than 3 or more than 7 minutes), then adjusted so the top finisher has a score of 11. I got the encore point Wednesday. But so did just about everyone else. The only ones who didn’t were my buddies Mike Capp and Scott Meyer, who announced before the competition started that their goal was to torment and sabotage the other comedians.

At least they’re having fun. And so am I. Going onstage and getting laughs is an incredible rush. Even if the judges didn’t agree. Here are my individual scores from the judges…Judge 1: 53. Judge 2: 41. Judge 3: 15. You thinking what I’m thinking?

It’s a good thing you get to throw out the lowest score from the six nights. Let’s hope the judges are kinder — or I get funnier — Thursday night. Next stop: Comedy Underground, Tacoma.

Coming soon: A look at our cast of characters and more details about how this little competition is run.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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