EXCLUSIVE: Behind the scenes of Last Comic Standing

I may have boycotted the open-call line last Thursday for the New York City auditions for season six of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, but that didn’t mean I’d miss the boat completely on this opportunity to report from the belly of the beast. Especially when I learned on Friday that several comedians I know were getting called back for TV duty. No lines. Just a few dozen stand-up comedians, sitting around, biding their time for the cameras and special judges Richard Belzer and Steve Schirripa and host Bill Bellamy and everyone else to get ready to roll. Even Barry Katz was in the house, and shook my hand upon hearing me call out his name.

And here’s what that scene looked and sounded like. Dan Naturman, whom LCS viewers and comedy fans remember as the guy who got robbed of a spot on the show four years ago when the producers overruled judges Drew Carey and Brett Butler, returned for another go at it. Naturman and Baron Vaughn here talk about joke wording as Michelle Buteau, Eric Andre, Jackie Monahan and others wait for their names to be called.

Moments later, I catch up with host Bill Bellamy, here seen talking with Boston stand-up Myq Kaplan about character-based comedy versus stand-up.

Bellamy and I talked briefly about how his HBO Young Comedians special has been reairing, and he tried to recall his "Tingle Man" bit for us. Then producers called him over to record four takes of teases to intro the NYC auditions. Bellamy really liked pronouncing Schirripa’s Sopranos character name. Apparently, five or six comedians (Carla Rhodes and Carolyn Castiglia, among them) already had been waiting inside Gotham Comedy Club’s mainstage this whole time (at least a half-hour, maybe much longer) for their two-minute televised audition. Not that everyone, even among these professional comedians with appointments made via their agents and managers, would get the full two minutes. Belzer and Schirripa would prove tough to please. And I could see how it’d be difficult not to take their rejection personally, despite the fact that this is above all else a "reality" TV show. Because you don’t normally walk out of an audition, after hearing very critical things said about your performance, to find a camera crew on the other side of the door. As Mike Birbiglia said recently, comedians have to be delusional because an audience that doesn’t like your comedy in effect doesn’t like you. Some comedians fought back tears. Many muttered profanities about the judges. Eric Andre went into a tirade of riffs so hilarious that the camera crew could barely contain themselves, making me wonder if they might invite him to another audition because of it. That same afternoon, I heard a producer say he thought Belzer and Schirripa were perfect judges for LCS and wished he could have them on every stop. And they did say yes to more than a dozen acts, so they could be swayed. I tried to provide some moral support to Friday’s auditioners. Reminding them this is a TV show. Reminding them that it’s not about how much funny you have, but about making those two judges laugh in two minutes or less. Reminding them that the judges would already have an impression about you before you opened your mouth. That said, I’m not sure some of the comedians made the best choices to showcase themselves that day. And I definitely don’t understand why some of the yahoos who showed up at the end of the afternoon even bothered. The end of the day was when producers had the "wacky" contestants make fools of themselves, all for the chance to be mocked on national TV. Way to go. When Belzer walked back toward his trailer, some of the lucky few were filling out paperwork before that night’s showcase. Belzer stopped, pointed at God’s Pottery and shouted, "Funny!" He also stopped to praise Stone & Stone once more. No wonder, then, that both duos survived that night’s eliminations. But what are duos doing in a stand-up competition? Not sure. At least they’ll get some positive press out of it and perhaps some better gigs, if not more.

UPDATED: Oh, I forgot to mention this earlier, but if you thought making a joke about babies was going to get you on TV, you’re probably right. They also recorded Bellamy teasing a "dead-baby montage." Congrats?

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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One thought on “EXCLUSIVE: Behind the scenes of Last Comic Standing

  1. Isn’t the whole ‘comedy duo’ thing completely dated now? I don’t think it belongs on “LCS.” It’s not really fair to the solo acts, because with a duo you have someone to play off of. You’re not out there on your own.
    Not that I could do it, but I have the ultimate respect for those who can and do. It takes a lot of chutzpah to try to impress Belzer in 120 seconds. Schirripa was never all that funny in my meager opinion, but damn — Belz can still kill.
    Bravo to all who auditioned. My fragile writer’s ego could never handle such a thing.

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