Ah, yes, onto the fun misadventures of Mr. McCarthy in Manhattan. The fun began on Tuesday, wherein I talked to PR guy Jules Feiler of 5WPR. A couple of colleagues had forwarded e-mails from him to me about something called the "funniest reporter on the planet" contest, being held at the Laugh Factory in NYC and LA on Jan. 5. Since it was Jan. 10, I figured I had missed it and was just trying to find out what happened, who won, and whether there’d be another event around the bend. Turned out the date of the "contest" got moved to Jan. 12, so Jules immediately asked me if I wanted in. Well, what do you think? You get offered free stage time at a New York City comedy club, you say yes. Even if you have to figure out how to get down to New York and back during the workweek (thankfully, I hadn’t yet used my New Year’s Day holiday, so logistically, I could pull it off). Even if you haven’t performed in years. Even if you have no idea what to use for material.
Cut to Thursday.
I chose Greyhound. Sure, Amtrak is a bit more comfortable, but with the on-and-off Acela problems, the train only gets you there about a half-hour quicker — and the Laugh Factory is located across the street from the Port Authority. And while the Fung Wah bus might be cheaper and faster, it might not get you there in one piece. Just saying. By the way, the people who ride the bus from Boston in the afternoon seem nice and friendly. The people who ride the bus from New York at 3:30 a.m. seem nice and friendly and smelly. Just saying.
Met up with the Lusty Lady herself, Rachel Kramer Bussel, before the show. We walked around the Times Square vicinity and jibberjabbed about writing, the various incarnations of Diet Coke and more writing. Then into the club. As more than one person observed, it looks from the front and the lobby a little like a funhouse. And not necessarily in a good way. It might scare some otherwise normal fun-loving comedy fans away. Hope not. Up the stairs and then you have several doorways to choose from. It’s quite the labyrinth. Three different rooms offered live comedy Thursday night — we had the larger room, with seating for upward of 300. Rich Vos (with wife(!) Bonnie), Keith Robinson and Christian Finnegan were working the crowds in the other rooms. Head to the "green room" to find several media-looking types milling about. Are they funny? Does it matter? Holy cow, is this Joe Franklin walking into the room? Now I know I’m in New York City. He is polite and gracious and yes, everything else you might expect out of Joe Franklin. Club owner Jamie Masada is milling about. (Note to self: Do not make Michael Jackson jokes. Do not say Joe Franklin raped me. And do not — do not — say Joe Franklin offered me Jesus juice.) One guy is walking around with a radio crew, another guy with a TV crew. I figured as much. Masada throws this benefit show featuring reporters, which allows the press to feature him and his club (which, from what I hear, has had some difficulties getting established in its first year against the myriad of New York City comedy club alternatives already entrenched in the Big Apple). And the reporters do these ego-stroking, self-relfexive stories about what it’s like to try stand-up comedy.
That said, stay tuned to NPR’s "On the Media" this weekend or perhaps next (looks like next weekend) to hear host Bob Garfield’s experience — and hope for a clip of me!!! Or this weekend, turn on CNN for "On the Story," and watch senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre talk about his experience — and hope for a clip of me!!! That show will air at 7 p.m. Saturday, then again at 1 p.m. Sunday.
By the way, if you shaved Garfield’s beard, would you find McIntyre’s face underneath?
And…we’re back. The "contest" (I keep using quotes because, for one, there is no prize other than bragging rights, and secondly, because all comedy contests are inherently subjective and political and not so much about finding the funniest person — and yes, I’d type that exact same sentence whether I won or not) had 18 media hacks taking the stage for five minutes each. I was No. 14 of 18 on the list. That they had an intermission halfway through allowed people to get a quick break, but it also allowed about 50 people to make a break for the exits, never a good thing in a comedy show when you’re at the end of the bill. The host was Gersh Kuntzman (you may laugh at his name now, since everyone else seemed to get a kick out of it, especially "judge" Dom Irrera, who got wrangled into the gig because he’s headlining the club this weekend and went onstage first to cuss and ramble on for a few minutes — the other judge was Pat Cooper — let all of that sink in before you try to figure out who may have won the night). Kuntzman used to write for the New York Post. Now he’s in Brooklyn. Kuntzman was a nice enough host, but had the bad habit of wanting to do lots of material between each contestant, which just made the show even longer than it already was. Garfield went up first and proved he is quite funny on paper. Live on stage, not as much, but his material was solid. On the whole, of the 18 participants, it’d be fair to say that six were funny, six were horrid train wrecks, and the other six were merely mediocre, such as you might find in any open mic or amateur night.
Some notes: Catie Lazarus won. That should surprise absolutely no one since Lazarus is funny and, well, she is a full-time comic and only part-time reporter — she freelances humor pieces for the New York weekly Jewish paper, Forward. The folks from MSNBC were really nice (that’d be senior producer Nikki Egan and freelance reporter Brian Balthazar, and Egan was extra nice enough to have several of her attractive co-workers come to the show!). One guy from New Jersey looked like a dead ringer for Morton Downey Jr., except Morton Downey Jr. is dead and would’ve been funnier. A few other people got brought onstage with intros saying they were humor columnists, which is only a good idea if you’re actually funny. Robert A. George is the funniest Trinidadian New York Post writer I know. And his friends invited me out to dinner with them after the show, and even though it was almost midnight, we were in New York City so it didn’t seem strange, although I didn’t take them up on the offer. Maybe I should’ve.
As for me, well, I didn’t win, but I feel like I won. And I say that because 1) after my set, several of the other contestants rushed over to me to offer congratulations, and 2) after the show, Jamie Masada came up to me unprovoked to tell me that I should’ve won and then he invited me to come back down to New York to host any upcoming weekend. Masada also introduced me to his business partners, and they both had nothing but kind words. From my past in stand-up and improv (I performed often back in the day in Seattle from 1997-2001, and rarely in Arizona from 2002-2004), I have a good sense of when people are offering faint praise or insincere compliments. This didn’t seem like that. Especially since I don’t live or work in New York, so these people and peers had no reason to say nice things to me. I am grateful they did, though.
Some of us retired across the street to the Westin. Dan Allen, a very funny guy who I first met over the holidays at the Comedy Studio, showed up at the Laugh Factory toward the end of our show to pick up his friend (and winner), Catie. I thought about alerting Dan to my presence beforehand, and now I really wish I had so he could’ve seen my set and offered comments. Nevertheless, we all went to the Westin along with Beth from 5WPR, the McIntyres and the crew from Newsday. I missed the 12:30 a.m. bus, which meant I now couldn’t leave town until 3:30 a.m., so I mostly killed the time hanging out with these nice people (who, in the interest of full disclosure, may have broken a little-known law regarding unguarded beverages).
This was the first time I had walked around New York City since July 4, 1993. Times Square may have looked a bit different, but the feeling I had breathing in the big city remained the same. The energy is palpable. I still don’t know that I would enjoy living there, but I sure know that I want to go back and visit more often. And now I have some very good reasons to do so.